Britain risks losing sight of its heritage because schools are failing to teach history properly, according to the head of the National Trust. Dame Fiona Reynolds said many children were leaving school with no sense of how the nation had been shaped. This is from the Telegraph…
Appearing at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, Dame Fiona, who steps down as director-general of the trust next month to become Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, was asked if Britain was losing its culture of heritage. “I worry, if I’m honest, about the teaching of history and geography in schools today,” she said.
“Organisations like the trust do a wonderful job in keeping history alive. But there is a generation of children growing up who know about the Romans and the Tudors and the Second World War, but know nothing about what joined them all together — or even, in some cases, what order they came in.
“Knowing and understanding about history gives us such an insight into the challenges of today. I often look at politicians and think: just get a grip, read, learn about the past. We need to campaign for history and geography teaching because we need to remember our past and relish the extraordinary landscapes and experiences that have led to who we are today.”
Since taking over at the trust in 2001, Dame Fiona has boosted membership from 2.7 million to nearly four million, and doubled turnover to £400 million.
Delivering the annual Summerfield Lecture at the festival, she said the organisation had stayed true to the aims of Octavia Hill, its co-founder in the 19th century, who sought to establish “open-air sitting rooms for the poor”. But Dame Fiona said she was also proud that the trust had diversified, taking in grand country houses, stretches of coastline and unusual acquisitions such as a back-to-back terrace in Birmingham.
One of the last initiatives announced under her tenure was the 50 Things To Do Before You’re 11¾ campaign, a list of outdoor activities for children including flying a kite, building a den and playing conkers. “We were quite shocked to find children today can be as deprived of nature and beauty as those in the 19th century,” said Dame Fiona. “Poverty is still with us, of course, but for many people it’s not financial poverty, it’s poverty of experience and opportunity.
“It’s not for the National Trust to tell parents what to do, we’re very clear about that. But, given the chance, children and families actually like to take on the outdoors and get muddy and have authentic experiences rather than pre-packaged, costly theme parks.”