Children think VE Day is a new mobile phone

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The Independent Online

More than three-quarters of today's secondary school pupils have no idea of what VE Day stands for, according to a new poll.

More than three-quarters of today's secondary school pupils have no idea of what VE Day stands for, according to a new poll.

Taken ahead of the 60th anniversary celebrations of the end of the Second World War in Europe next week, the poll showed that nearly one in 10 thought the initials stood for the end of the Vietnam War.

Six per cent thought it referred to the latest model of mobile phone from Motorola. A further 4 per cent believed it denoted a sexually transmitted disease - with a similar number thinking it related to a music festival. As many as 43 per cent said they did not know the answer.

Only 21 per cent identified it as the commemoration of the end of the Second World War in Europe - Victory in Europe Day.

Historians said they were "disappointed" rather than "surprised" by the findings of the poll of 628 11- to 18-year-olds - carried out for the Royal British Legion

Heather Scott, who chairs the secondary education committee of the Historical Association, said: "We work very hard in secondary schools to cover the world wars. But in key stage three [for 11- to 14-year-olds], for instance, we only have an hour for history and we just don't have time to go into everything in as much detail as we'd like to.

"We're so pushed we don't have time to go into the intricacies of masses of history. We're squeezed out by the core subjects of English, maths and science. They have their targets to meet and are judged on them in the Sats tests [national curriculum tests for 14-year-olds]. We're constantly arguing for more time to be devoted to history."

She said the picture would be different in many schools, including her own - Challenge College in Bradford - which had organised its own events to commemorate VE Day. "We've had survivors talking to pupils and children interviewing them - so our pupils would know," she said.

The findings also coincide with a call from government education advisers for a U-turn in how history is taught. New guidelines published by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority call for the clock to be turned back to the days of "1066 and all that" - stressing the importance of pupils memorising chronological dates from history.

Dr Ken Boston, the chief executive of the QCA, said: "The dates of key events in history are an important part of learning."

He is unlikely, therefore, to be impressed by other findings from the poll. It makes grimmer reading when pupils are asked the date of the anniversary. Only 5 per cent correctly identified 8 May - while 86 per cent either did not answer or said they did not know.

As to which anniversary it was, 25 per cent identified it as the 60th - a fact which heartened British Legion veterans. Fifty-six per cent could not respond. One in 100 thought it was the centenary anniversary.

Asked whether they knew "something" about how the Second World War ended, 36 per cent said "yes" and 64 per cent "no".

At least those who did say they knew something made a good fist of it when asked what they associated with the end of the war: 48 per cent mentioned troops coming home, 46 per cent said Sir Winston Churchill made a "V" for victory sign, 30 per cent said street parties were held, 14 per cent said cities on the Continent were freed and 10 per cent talked about the Royal Family standing on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

Brigadier Ian Townsend, the general secretary of the Royal British Legion, said: "We are encouraged by findings which suggest that many children have a good level of awareness of the end of World War Two, but there is obviously much to do. We hope the events which will take place this year will provide ample opportunities to interest and excite children. We would appeal to teachers and parents to make sure they make the most of these opportunities."

Questions and answers

Question 1: What do you associate with "VE"?

1 End of Second World War 21%

2 End of Vietnam War 8%

3 Latest model of mobile phone from Motorola 6%

4 A music festival 4%

5 A sexually transmitted disease 4%

6 Vodafone's new tariff 3%

7 None of the above 12%

8 Don't know/no answer 43%

Question 2: Are you aware of what is meant by "VE" in VE Day?

1 Yes, Victory in Europe 20%

2 Yes, other answers 3%

3 No 75%

4 No answer 2%

Question 3: What is the day of the anniversary?

1 8 May 5%

2 10 July 4%

3 15 August 2%

4 20 August 1%

5 11 November 1%

6 Don't know/no answer 86%

Question 4: Which anniversary of VE Day is marked in 2005?

1 20th 2%

2 30th 1%

3 40th 2%

4 50th 10%

5 60th 25%

6 70th 3%

7 100th 1%

8 No response 56%