An uncertain future for history students?

(c) SolGrundy

Georgia Lewis

In a rather one-sided piece in The Daily Telegraph, a Conservative MP said that Labour was apparently to blame for potentially one hundred and fifty thousand students missing out on the chance to study history. It was then pointed out that this decline in the study of history is only happening in state schools. History is as popular as ever in non-government schools. Cue further hand-wringing as these privileged students are more likely to get Oxbridge university places.

But instead of apportioning blame or indeed making a place at an Oxbridge university, the holy grail of British education, the subject of history needs a PR campaign. Gone are the days when teaching history was merely the mindless rote-learning of names and dates of the long-dead. It is a subject where we can learn from the past, where we can see how history repeats for better or worse, a way to understand the human race and the events that continue to shape our world.

It is a subject for students with a sense of adventure, for those who are not squeamish about learning about mankind’s dark side and for those who want to appreciate the very relevant concepts of democracy, war and peace. Even the study of ancient history makes us appreciate that while life is more comfortable these days, human nature and our motivations and desires are essentially the same.

Very few people who have finished school in the last 20 years regret taking history – and part of this is because it is a vocational subject. The skills learnt in the study of history – critical thinking, writing, analysis, the ability to see that there are multiple sides to any story – can be applied to a wide range of jobs.

It is all well and good for a Conservative MP to blame Labour but surely there comes a point with any government of any persuasion where blaming an administration is not constructive. If the current government is serious about getting more students in history classes, they have a responsibility to ensure there are enough history teachers and resources to go around. Closing libraries isn’t exactly helpful – there’s a policy that could be turned around. Chancellor George Osborne was warned that education spending could be cut by up to 25% over the four years.

Education deserves investment, particularly in government  schools as this should be society’s great equaliser, a means for students of all socio-economic backgrounds to have the same opportunities. And if history has taught us anything, it is that societies across the world have always evolved and improved when more people have access to education.


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