Letter: History today: too much gloss, not enough fact

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Sir: The Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority is right to be concerned about the quality of information in schools' history textbooks ('History books move into fiction', 13 October). My own survey of recently published books on the Roman Empire, a subject currently studied by most 12-year-olds in England, identified unreasonable numbers of glaring and avoidable errors of fact, mislabelled pictures and erroneous ideas long abandoned by most historians and archeologists.

How has this situation arisen? My experiences in educational publishing suggest the brickbats should be widely scattered, and not only at publishers who do indeed often cut academic corners for commercial reasons. They often ignore academic advice and typically do not give the same attention to factual content that they give to the design of books - on which factor sales are largely made.

Academics must also take their share of the blame since writing for children is widely seen as 'infra dig' and too few concern themselves with what is being taught in schools, or put in textbooks. There is just not enough communication of ideas and information between universities, schools and publishers.

But the immediate reason for the mess lies with successive education ministers, who allowed inadequate timetables for the introduction of the national curriculum, and so for the production of well-thought-out and thoroughly vetted textbooks.

Let us hope that, when the new revised national curriculum becomes operational next year, the Government will stop moving the goal posts long enough for us to sort out this serious problem.

Yours faithfully,

SIMON JAMES

London, SE13

13 October

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