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Last Updated:  Monday, 10 March, 2003, 13:51 GMT
Pupils 'need heroes in history'
Captain Scott
Polar explorer, Captain Scott, was an archetypal hero of British history

Pupils should be drawing their heroes from British history and not just the world of sport and pop music, says an independent school head teachers' leader.

Edward Mitchell, chairman of the Society of Headmasters and Headmistresses of Independent Schools, says that pupils should be taught more about British history.

And this could mean giving young people the example of Churchill and Nelson, rather than Beckham and Eminem.

"Too many young people don't have a solid basic knowledge of British history or a clear view of the significant figures from our past," Mr Mitchell told the independent school head teachers' annual conference.

"Ask them who their heroes are and they will all be ephemeral figures - stars of sport and pop music."

Literary heritage

"I am no jingoistic tub-thumper, but it seems to me that unless our young people have a secure knowledge of the history which produced the society into which they are emerging, beyond the obvious landmarks of the last half century or so, then we will have failed them and the future."

Mr Mitchell, head teacher of Abbey Gate College, Chester, also argued that the teaching of English literature also needed to be protected, so that pupils are aware of the national literary heritage.

"It is a relief to discover that Shakespeare survives in the national curriculum but that alone is not enough.

"It is all very well introducing new elements to the curriculum - American literature and world literature - but it should not be at the expense of the important and seminal authors in the English canon. There is, in my view, an awful lot of lightweight stuff being taught in the name of literature."

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