History education

History education

I rather enjoy the portfolio of videos made by Simon Whistler, and recently watched one on how the history of the British Empire is taught in British Schools.

Like many, he tries to look at the benefits, such as increased trade, good government, and developed infrastructure, although this is focused on the later stages of the empire. It like Ferguson’s book Empire, but not the TV show, reviewed critically by Andrew Porter, ignores the destruction of Mughal Empire and its economy. Whistler quotes a UK educationalist later in the video, arguing that the colonised territories may well have developed these things themselves even where they did not have such things before the British arrived.

What took me to “Empire” was my memory of the line, about what may define the best of the Empire was the way it ended. Ferguson argues that Britain bankrupted itself fighting fascism in Europe and that its debts to the Commonwealth (and the US) and its impoverishment led to its dissolution. The catalogue of pre-war & post-war atrocities makes this hard to sustain.

The British Museum Reading Room by bobulous, from wikipedia, CC 2004 BY-SA

Whistler pulls no punches over Britain’s engagement in slavery, the slave trade, its active ethnic cleansing in India, both during the initial colonisation wars, and latterly during partition, the invention of concentration camps, the incidence of civilian massacres, and the use of famine as a tool of political control, although Whistler argues the last of these, and even the partition of India was incompetence, callousness and hubris.

Whistler looks at the development of the national curriculum, noting Thatcher and Cameron’s reforms; I studied history at school, from 1966 – 1974, i.e. before these governments and our curriculum for world politics ended in 1939, not as argued by 1066 and all that in 1945. Politicians and teachers were too frightened to allow recent history to be taught; they considered it politics and forbidden.

Whistler reports that the national history curriculum has always included difficult topics but getting them into the classroom was more difficult due to the curriculum being overfull and the topics actually taught were left to teacher choice and of course the remaining political scrutiny which has not gone away.

It reminded me of my experience as a history student at school, I remember having to ask for a lesson in my “A” level history course on “imperialism and colonialism”. We got 45 minutes, and my recollection is that I was disappointed in what was covered, it being more of a geography lesson, but I am sure the teacher involved had their eye on the likely questions in the exam. We were, for instance, taught nothing of the UK’s relationship with China and so remained ignorant of the Opium Wars and Boxer rebellion. Perhaps my teacher’s reticence to teach the topic was based on his knowledge of those very exam questions.

The biggest impact that slavery had on the then curriculum was its abolition, which avoided any mass struggle dimension posing it as a victory for moralism and definitely avoided the fact that British slave owners were compensated while slaves were not. My memory says it had no impact on the “A” level syllabus.

We spent more time studying Irish home rule movement, although my recollection is that we did not study the Irish civil war in 1916 nor its denouement in 1921. The focus was on Gladstone and his parliamentary struggles with the Irish question and, I’m sorry to say, that even in 1972 to 74, it bored me.

The revolutions of 1948 were, like the disgraces of empire, glossed over and much of Europe’s popular and democratic resistance rolled into studies of the unification of Germany while missing the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. WW1 came as a big shock. Did we even study the Russian revolution?

I have no doubt that, possibly despite the inclinations of my teachers, we were taught that Great Britain was great and that any blemishes on our reputation were ignored. Even after studying the reactionary politics of the role that Britain played in European politics after the Napoleonic war, in my mind, I failed to condemn Palmerston’s gun boat diplomacy, the opium wars and the later colonisation of Africa. This left me unprepared for Suez (although I was one at the time), the growth of Chinese power and its assumption of power in Hong Kong and the hostility of many black African countries within the Commonwealth. Fortunately, most of us grow up. …

Maths at 18

Maths at 18

Sunak has proposed that Maths should be taught to 18. I think this ambition i.e. of better equipping people to understand data and draw conclusions needs redesign earlier in the curriculum and would be informed by a study in the UK’s failure to adopt the Baccalaureate. Some say that they’ll need more [and better paid] teachers, which they seem unwilling to fund. I think this is just revisiting failed reforms of the last half century. I seem to remember some nonsense in the 70’s about scientists in the Civil Service, and after a bit of looking around came upon this review of the Fulton Report; it made little difference.

A common question has been how much have I used my A level and 1st year graduate statistics education. The answer is a bit. Linear & Quadratic correlation has been useful a couple of times, queuing theory at least once, and I had to mug up some hypothesis testing for that one project I did using 6 sigma. More than most maybe. Although at least once, my then manager’s own poor statistical education led to him putting it in the bin, because he didn’t have the confidence to sell the results.

Simon Pegg on twitter is more succinct and sweary in his defence of the need for arts.

When doing the 6-sigma project I discovered that many of the distribution tables needed to perform the statistical tests were encapsulated in costly software. I amused myself by bringing in my uni. text book, which had the distributions printed but which was older than many of my colleagues. They had remained useful, the tables that is, and I still have the book on my book shelf.

For my foreign audience, in the UK, students from 16-18 study 3-5 subjects often reducing their subjects studied at the end of the 1st year. There isn’t really room to push Maths into that time table if a student has made otherwise sensible contiguous choices. This is supported imposed by the Universities who claim that early specialisation leads to our graduates being better qualified at the end of the first degree. I suspect that most US university academics would disagree, For my British readers, the early specialisation, at 16, is unusual, with other countries using other curriculum design techniques to provide a broad 16-18 education. Also the fact of a Prime Minster in the 21st Century educated at University in Greek and Latin must have been a source of amusement to the French graduates of the Ecole National d’Administration, an amusement enlarged by calling it Greats!

All this on the day when Starmer flags his second thoughts on Labour’s promise of abolishing student tuition fees.  …

Solidarity with the UCU

Solidarity with the UCU

The UCU have just gone back to work after a strike campaign in which they would seem to be in dispute with their management over most things but there is a particular dispute about pensions. However the Twitter commentary offered me the thoughts of an account known as University Wankings, which I felt I had to follow and they pointed me at the @THEworldunirank from the Times Higher Education supplement. I had a look at the ranking systems 10 years ago while I was helping my kids decide which universities to go to and I had been pointed at the best known ranking system of the time by my work on NESSI.

While I consider the measured quality of the UK’s Universities to be based on the fact that they all have English as a first language, the quality of research, innovation and teaching are an important, if not critical part of building an economic future worth living in, that and worker’s control.

Solidarity with the UCU! ✊ …

I’ll take the high road …

I’ll take the high road …

On a high note, I am glad this week’s election campaigning has ended with some serious policy announcements by Labour, on free internet involving the renationalisation of parts of BT, by John McDonnell and also by Jeremy and earlier in the week, free life long access to higher education led by Angela Rayner. The Manifesto will be agreed tomorrow so let’s hope we can keep this on a high note. It’s quite hard because so many people want to see the election in the gutter.

I have a problem because it’s so easy and not always unamusing. Oh OK! I have to go there! … …

War & Schools

In this article in the Guardian, Richard Norton Taylor looks at the UK defence budget, quotes its critical parliamentary scrutiny, the NAO and defence select committee through the prism of an examination of value for money; It costs too much, the nuclear subs and aircraft carriers are of questionable value and as suggested by Conan’s “Riddle of Steel”, weapons need to be wielded by people, we don’t have enough and they are not well enough educated.

It’s almost as if the ruling class and their educational policy makers have forgotten that the greatest educational reform acts were passed in response to the challenge to the nation of then recent wars. …

Education, …

Dianne Abbott in several meetings observed that one of the key events for those that become Involved in youth violence and gangs is exclusion from schools, this afternoon # voted to end academy’s governance structures and take them back into local authority control. Angela Raynor, Labour’s shadow education speaker stated that one of the reasons is to take over the entry and exclusion of students. …


Today we debated Education, I had been campaigning for this to be discussed to develop strong anti-academy policy, I think we got half way there. I wrote a speech but wasn’t called.

I wanted to make two points, the first is that the purpose of the Education system is to create a public good and not a revenue stream for the private sector and secondly that the profit motive clearly conflicts wit pedagogical excellence. (Someone else did get that word into their speech and like me if I’d been called stumbled on it.)

I am sorry that the words are so weak on the FEs.

Here’s Angela’s speech,

The motion text is below or overleaf.  …

Labour & Education

Labour Party Conference is just two months away and so I am considering what I would like to see discussed. I think it important that we workout what a National Education Service means and so I with some help from some friends have developed the following words.

Conference notes

  1. that the government continues to promote privatisation of the schools system through academies and free schools, with a culture of competition based on ever-more onerous testing and Ofsted inspections. This is bad for students, school workers and society.
  2. our manifesto pledge to “ensure that all schools are democratically accountable…”
  3. our manifesto pledge to “abandon plans to reintroduce baseline assessments and launch a commission to look into curriculum and assessment, starting by reviewing Key Stage 1 and 2 SATs”

Conference believes that “public”/private and grammar schools are also incompatible with an egalitarian and democratic education system serving the many, not the few.

We call for the next Labour government to

  1. Immediately stop all academisations and the opening of any new academies or free schools.
  2. Place all state schools & FEs into full local authority control.
  3. Abolish “public”/private schools by taking them into local authority control.
  4. Ensure all schools are comprehensive, secular community schools, open to all.
  5. Immediately abolish Ofsted, all SATs tests and league tables.
  6. Restore national pay bargaining for teachers, implement the National Education Union’s maximum class size demands, and introduce a national Workload Charter.

(196 Words) with no Trigger.

I say with no trigger because motions to Labour Party conference must refer to an event between the publication of the National Policy Forum report and the 14th September. This is referred to by me, as an event trigger.

Motions need to be under 251 words long. So if you think I’ve missed anything important add or replace some of the demands and we’ll put them together at the composite meeting. If you get this through your CLP drop a comment on this blog. …