GCSE pupils in UK secondary schools know more about the history of the American Wild West than they do about their own country, the Education Secretary claimed yesterday.
Michael Gove produced figures to show they are far more likely to study the American West or the Nazis than any aspect of the UK's past, and called for more focus on British history so that teenagers can "take pride" in their country's history.
He said: "I don't believe it's necessarily propagandistic to have a national curriculum that is broadly sympathetic to our past and our values.
"Of course, we don't want our national curriculum to be the scholastic equivalent of the Last Night of the Proms. But nor should it be our morale-sapping exercise in self-flagellation."
Mr Gove, who was addressing a conference of history experts at University College London, said figures showed 40 per cent of pupils opted to study a schools history project for their GCSEs.
With the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance exam board, for example, only 8 per cent chose British history as the in depth topic compared with 48 per cent opting for the American West and 44 per cent German 1919-45.
Mr Gove singled out three key episodes in British history which portrayed the country in a favourable light as being on the side of freedom and democracy. These were the signing of the treaty of Runnymede, the Glorious Revolution and the Great Reform Bill.
Mr Gove is embarking on a review on the national curriculum and is facing calls from senior historians to make history a compulsory subject up until the age of 16. At present, students can drop it at the age of 14.
He said the review would consider whether to make the subject compulsory up until the age of 16 – bringing the curriculum into line with almost all other European countries.
"I have a totally open mind on the subject," he said.