Ebacc plans dropped but curriculum changes prompt concerns

Fundamental changes to history curriculum proposed
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Rebecca Atkinson
The cultural sector has welcomed a government u-turn on replacing some GCSE subjects with English Baccalaureate Certificates (Ebacc), a move that would not have included the arts as core subjects – but has expressed concern about draft changes to the national curriculum in England.

The education secretary Michael Gove announced yesterday that introducing new exams in core areas was “a bridge too far”. It will instead focus on reforming existing GCSEs to maintain standards.

Arts Council England and Tate, which had previously warned that Ebaccs would marginalise the arts, have welcomed the move.

But revisions to the national curriculum, which was published yesterday, have caused concerns – particularly in the way history will be taught.

History will not be made compulsory for 14 to 16-year olds. The proposal also states: “Across Key Stages 2 and 3, pupils should be taught the essential chronology of Britain’s history… Pupils should be taught about key dates, events and significant individuals. They should also be given the opportunity to study local history.”

Natasha McEnroe, director of the Florence Nightingale Museum in London, said that she was relieved Florence Nightingale hadn’t been removed from the curriculum, as previously feared.

But she warned that the revised history curriculum would not encourage critical thought as it is too focused on chronological and objective facts.

“My concern is that the emphasis is moving away from individuals and how they lived, which is how younger learners in particular access history and is how museums make it relevant to them,” McEnroe said. “History should be where children are able to ask questions in a safe place. I worry about the ideology that history is somehow a series of objective facts.”

Nick Winterbotham, chairman of the Group for Education in Museums (GEM), said: “A very pragmatic threat to museums is the absence of anything after the 17th century at Key Stage 2. So many social history and themed museums rely on primary school visits that this could knock a major hole in visiting statistics.”

And Erica Davies, director of the Ragged School Museum in London, agreed that this would have huge ramifications for many museums that rely on Key Stage 2 school visits: “So much of what museums do is geared towards the Victorians. With Key Stage 3 pupils hard to attract, this could be a real killer for museums and leave them teetering on the brink.”

Members of the GEM email list also expressed concern that the revisions proposed represented a fundamental shift in history teaching.

John Reeve, the former GEM chairman and a lecturer in art, design and museology at the Institute for Education at the University of London, said the new history curriculum framework ignores diversity, social history and wider culture.

“It appears to be a white ruling class, Little Englander view of history as mainly great men and women, kings, queens and government – as taught circa 1960,” he said.

The revised framework for the national curriculum can be viewed here

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