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Last Updated: Monday, 27 December, 2004, 01:55 GMT
History lessons to stress dates
Hastings reconstructed for the BBC series Battlefield Britain
Hastings reconstructed for the BBC series Battlefield Britain
A new effort is being made to get teenagers learning "1066 and all that".

England's Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) has produced guidance stressing the use of chronology in history to build up "the big picture".

It also aims to encourage learning about change and continuity - identifying themes such as how events affected people's working lives.

QCA chief executive, Ken Boston, said: "The dates of key events in history are an important part of learning."


He added: "Children need to know when things happened but also why they matter to the lives they lead today and the events that helped to shape our world."

What brings history to life is the impact that those dates still have on the world that we live in
QCA spokesman
Last year the then Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, asked the QCA to review the history curriculum - which is compulsory in England only up to the age of 14.

In an interview, he said: "A lot of people - people I respect - say that there is not enough of a sense of a timeline in history, so that pupils have too much detailed study of particular eras and not enough of a sense of context for what happened.

"That's not simply an appeal to go back to dates and kings and queens and that sort of thing but it is saying that by the time they are 14, children should have a pretty good appreciation of the history of this country, of Europe, and the context within which things happened."

Prince Charles had also complained about people leaving school without "valuable and essential knowledge and understanding about their national history and heritage".

Ecstatic peasants

Among the classroom activities suggested in the QCA's new guidance are "timelines with attitude", requiring pupils to place events on a timeline which acts as the horizontal axis of a graph while the vertical axis is used to describe feelings.

So they might imagine being peasants between 1348 and 1381, veering in mood from ecstatic to despairing, it says.

One of the suggested ideas that pupils in their first year of secondary school might explore is: "Did the Romans do more harm than good?" - which inevitably conjures up images of the "What did the Romans ever do for us?" scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian.

A spokesman for the QCA said: "To learn history well you need some basic knowledge, including dates, but what brings history to life is the impact that those dates still have on the world that we live in."

On the pivotal year 1066, the guidance says: "Pupils cannot be expected to understand the concepts of causation, or change and continuity, unless they can put events in the correct chronological order."

An exercise might be to draw on the following sentences to write a paragraph explaining what happened:

  • A great battle was fought.
  • Harold was crowned King of England.
  • King Edward died.
  • The King of Norway invaded England.
  • Another great battle was fought.
  • The Duke of Normandy invaded England.
A question might be: "Why would this task be easier if you had been given the date of each event?"

And: "If the six sentences are in the wrong order, why does this make it difficult to explain why the Duke became King?"

  • The book 1066 And All That, by WC Sellar and RJ Yeatman, published in 1930, was a joke at the expense of history teaching in England at the time.

    Famous for its catchphrases "A Good Thing" and "A Bad Thing", fun test papers in the book included the "memorable" instruction: "On no account attempt to write on both sides of the paper at once."

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