History classes to focus on Britain

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The Independent Online
PLANS to devote three-quarters of the school history curriculum to Britain and only a quarter to the rest of the world have caused anger among historians.

The Roman Empire, Christopher Columbus and the Aztecs will no longer be compulsory subjects. Pupils will learn about the French Revolution and the American War of Independence in terms of how they affected Britain.

The new curriculum, drawn up by advisers who have been asked to halve its content to reduce pressure on school timetables, has proved controversial with both ends of the political spectrum.

Teachers' representatives say it is too Anglo-centric, pointing out that it goes even further than Margaret Thatcher demanded. She increased the British content in the history curriculum from 40 per cent to 50 per cent when it was originally drawn up; in future it will be 70 per cent, they say.

Right-wingers say that while they are happy with the amount of British history, there is too much emphasis on social conditions and political uprisings and not enough on great battles and events. 'This is more about Peterloo than Waterloo. It is the history of British social protest rather than the history of Britain,' one member of the advisory group said.

The revision is taking place as part of Sir Ron Dearing's review of the national curriculum. The proportion of pupils' time which must be spent on history is to be cut by half, and the subject will be optional from the age of 14.

Between five and seven, pupils must learn general principles, such as the fact that life has not always been the same. They must learn the difference between days, months, years and centuries.

From seven to 11 they must study four 'core' topics: Invaders, including the Romans, Vikings and Saxons; the Tudors; Victorian Britain or Britain since 1930; and Ancient Greece. They must do a project which might be on Columbus or Isaac Newton, and choose from a list of topics including Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and the Maya Indians.

In their first three years at secondary school, pupils will learn about Britain from 1066-1500; Crown, Parliament and people, 1500-1750; Britain from 1750-1900; and the 20th century world. The third of these study units will include Britain's colonial expansion and the effect of the American war and the French Revolution on Britain. They must also look at a European and a non-European society.