Schools Minister: children are deprived of knowledge

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The Independent Online

A generation of schoolchildren has grown up without knowing who Miss Havisham was and thinking Nelson won the Battle of Waterloo, Schools Minister Nick Gibb said yesterday.

In his first keynote speech since taking office, Mr Gibb – who is responsible for the delivery of the national curriculum – made it clear he believed schools no longer put enough emphasis on imparting knowledge to pupils.

He called for an emphasis on "facts, data and narrative" in history and "the rich language of Shakespeare" which, he said, "should be the common property of us all". He added, speaking to an education conference organised by the think-tank, Reform: "Yet, to more and more people, Miss Havisham (a character in Dickens' Great Expectations) is a stranger and even the most basic history and geography a mystery."

A survey of first-year history undergraduates revealed that twice as many students thought Nelson was in charge at the Battle of Waterloo rather than Wellington. Ninety per cent could not name a single British Prime Minister of the 19th century.

"Knowledge is the basic building block for a successful of life," Mr Gibb said. His comments were echoed by the leading historian Niall Ferguson, who said history teaching in some schools was so poor that they would better off watching Simon Schama's The History of Britain to give them some sort of overview rather than the "Hitler and civil rights" idea of history they are left with. Mr Ferguson, the Harvard and London School of Economics academic, added in an interview with The Independent that the curriculum was "open to abuse" so some children never venture beyond the Third Reich.