Tim Collins: The study of history is vital to the health of our nation

From a speech by the shadow Education Secretary to the National Catholics Heads Conference
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The Independent Online

In days gone by there was a saying that certain events and historical facts were matters "which every English schoolboy knows". Today, sadly, it seems that most of that knowledge is a blank page to very many schoolboys and schoolgirls alike.

In days gone by there was a saying that certain events and historical facts were matters "which every English schoolboy knows". Today, sadly, it seems that most of that knowledge is a blank page to very many schoolboys and schoolgirls alike.

Today I announce a plan to revitalise history's place in our schools. The distinguished historian and biographer Andrew Roberts has agreed to chair a panel of academics who will draw up a simple but clear list of the key facts, personalities and dates which every child should be taught.

But we need to go further.

Currently we allow pupils to drop the study of history at 14. Two thirds do so. Among Western countries, only Iceland joins the UK in allowing history to be dropped so early. In most of Europe, it is studied by the majority until the age of 16 or even 18.

Some will say, why single out history? Why does it all matter? Why not allow knowledge of the past to become optional rather than essential? To them I say this. Nothing is more important to the survival of the British nation than an understanding among its young of our shared heritage and the nature of the struggles, foreign and domestic, which have secured our freedoms.

We cannot be surprised that some within the next generation do not value our parliamentary democracy if they know nothing of the English Civil War, do not vote if they are not taught about the struggles to widen the franchise, and do not value any authority figures if they are not told the inspiring tales of the national heroes of our past. A nation which loses sight of its past cannot long expect to enjoy its future.

It is for that reason that we must put history back where it belongs - at the centre of our school lives.

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