English schools ignore history before Romans

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The Independent Online

The history curriculum in England was condemned yesterday by leading archaeologists who say thousands of years of history are ignored because studies start with the Roman invasion.

While Welsh, Scots and Irish children are taught the pre-invasion history of the British Isles, the past begins only 2,000 years ago for pupils in England. Stonehenge, the Iron Age, Bronze Age, the evolution of agriculture, hill forts, hunter-gatherers and early Celtic settlements are simply not in the books, say the archaeologists.

The children are taught a history based on colonialism and invasion - invasions of Britain by the Romans, Vikings, Angles, Saxons and Normans, and invasions by Britain of Africa, Australia, India, North America, and Nazi Europe, say the experts.

"Why begin the concept of the past with an invasion from a 'superior' world of the Roman Mediterranean and dismiss all the indigenous development of Britain?'' asks Dr Caroline Malone in an editorial in the international archaeology journal, Antiquity.

Dr Malone, a leading archaeologist and Fellow of New Hall, Cambridge, who edits the journal, adds: "History is now restricted in scope.

"For English schoolchildren history begins with the invasion of the British Isles by the Romans, and touches briefly on Anglo-Saxons and Vikings before reaching the last half-millennium.

"In Scotland, the scope is broader, including prehistory and the early development of Scotland. In Wales, the whole of human history is included, with hunter-gatherers and early farmers as well as Iron Age Celts. In Northern Ireland a broader vision has the emphasis on the context of Ireland and Britain.

"It seems curious that England should be so restrictive in the scope of how history is viewed, when it was the English, above all, who were the colonisers in the expanding Empire of the last four centuries.

"Is there a moral here, or is it merely ignorance on the part of educators who perceive that the important lessons of the past are learnt from imperial colonisers and not from simple, less bellicose societies.'' Yesterday, Dr Malone, who is on a dig in Sicily, said: "It is extraordinary how different the curriculum is in each country. I think in England we are obsessed with invasions and colonialism, from the Roman invasion to the Second World War.

"England, more than Britain, has been this great colonial country which has gone out and thrashed poor indigenous people. Now it seems we are not even interested in our own indigenous past. Children are taught a bit about the Greeks and Egyptians, but nothing pre-Roman about this country unless they have a teacher who goes outside the curriculum.''

Dr Kate Pretty, principal of Homerton College, Cambridge agrees. "I think it is irrational to start time in a particular place because you then don't know the context in which the Romans came.

"There is no explanation of what was here before. It doesn't explain Stonehenge, which is an English monument and World Heritage [site]. Children are not taught how people came to the British Isles and where they came from.

"Colonialism does seem to be a strong thread in the curriculum - we are either being colonised or doing the colonising.''