Simon Schama, the historian who advised the Government on the new national curriculum, has issued a stinging criticism of the final syllabus, urging teachers to reject them. This is from the Telegraph…
Prof Schama, who visited classes as part of his research, called the finalised document “insulting and offensive”, “pedantic and utopian” and accused Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, of constructing a “ridiculous shopping list” of subjects.
The new curriculum proposes to teach children history in chronological order, and is intended to give them a sense of the triumphs of the British people.
But, speaking at the Telegraph Hay Festival, Prof Schama — who acknowledged his own contribution to the plans — said that the syllabus was like “1066 and All That, but without the jokes”.
“This is a document written by people who have never sat and taught 12-year-olds in a classroom,” he told an audience of teachers. “None of you should sign up to it until we trap Michael Gove in a classroom and tell him to get on with it.
“You want to say to him, ‘Let’s go into a class of nine-year-olds and do the kingdom of Mercia with them. I would love to see how you would do that’.”
He added the new syllabus would require teaches to “whoosh” through the English, Scottish and Irish civil wars in “something like 45 minutes”, while the French Revolution received “a drive-by 10 minutes”.
“The list of subjects seems to be essentially memories of A-levels circa 1965, embalmed in aspic and sprinkled with tokenism,” he said. “Tokenism of the wrong kind.”
He claimed that the proposals were too focused on white males, with too much emphasis on “how Britain influenced the world” rather than vice versa.
He added that the “insulting, offensive, imperviousness of what it takes to unite together the history of the glorious heritage of Britain” could be demonstrated by the inclusion of Clive of India, who established the supremacy of the East India Company in 18th-century Bengal.
Calling him a “sociopathic, corrupt thug”, who made “our most dodgy bankers look like a combination of Mary Poppins and Jesus Christ”, Prof Schama said the topic would not help ethnic minority children understand their own place in the world.
“History is not about self-congratulation. It’s not really about chasing the pedigree of the wonderfulness of us,” he said. “Nor about chasing the pedigree of the reprehensible awful nature of us.
“History is meant to keep the powerful awake at night and keep them honest.”
Among the omissions from the curriculum he condemned as “astonishing” and “staggering”, Prof Schama named the concept of “puritanism” and the “relationship between religion and secular power”.
He also referred to Mr Gove’s “pedantic, utopian scheme of knowing the names of all the main Chartists” and the “relentless emphasis on moving on to the next thing”.
Thoughts and feedback on Simon Schama’s intervention please using Twitter, the comments below or this form. Do his thoughts strike a chord or has he gone too far with his criticisms?