History books move into fiction

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The Independent Online
NEW NATIONAL curriculum history textbooks are getting facts and dates wrong, according to a report produced for the Government's advisers on the curriculum.

Officials at the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, which commissioned the paper, are worried that the new textbooks reflect teaching which puts too much emphasis on skills and not enough on knowledge.

Nick Tate, the authority's chief executive, said yesterday: 'There has been a culture among some teachers that has been unwilling to make sure pupils know the central narrative of the history they are studying. Some of these books are very good but some are very weak on narrative and information.'

The paper, by a team of academics, seems to back right- wingers who say modern teaching encourages pupils to use original sources before they know enough to make judgements about them.

The books are 'attractively presented, often in full colour, and contain a large number of useful illustrations'. But the paper adds: 'Though most materials are generally accurate, the number of simple errors and the extent of inaccuracy in others give cause for concern.'

Some books offer too brief an introduction to topics and do not give enough information. Others 'provide an entertaining but intellectually undemanding introduction to the topic'. Some authors are so busy trying to be interesting they fail to cover the facts. In the 16th century, for instance, they concentrate so much on Mary Queen of Scots that Elizabethan Puritanism gets far less treatment than Elizabethan Catholicism.

Jim Belben, chair of the history panel of the Educational Publishers' Council, said the report was 'peddling a particular view of national curriculum history' which believed schools should teach much more information.

Factual errors include:

Queen Anne succeeding to the throne in 1715, not 1702.

George II succeeding in 1722, not 1727.

Act of Union giving Scots 45 MPs out of 513 in the English Parliament rather than 'in addition to'.

Battle of Culloden dated 1745 (wrong) and 1746 (right) in the same book.

Vikings as pagans: most became Christians.

Inaccurate illustrations:

Kittens playing in houses in ancient Greece in a period when cats would have been rare foreign curiosities.

A Viking longship with rudder on the wrong side and shields over the side while being rowed.