History in Education

History in Education image

The History in Education Project was a major research project set up to look at the development of the teaching of history in English state schools from 1900 to the present day. It was funded by the Linbury Trust and based at the Institute of Historical Research. Under the direction of Professor Sir David Cannadine, from January 2009 the Project’s two academic research fellows, Dr Jenny Keating and Dr Nicola Sheldon, created a ‘history of school history’ across the twentieth century. They looked at archives across the country, gathered a wealth of primary and secondary source material and interviewed a wide range of former pupils and teachers, school inspectors, educationalists and secretaries of state for education.

The research and interviews were completed by March 2011. During 2011 the three staff of the History in Education Project collaborated on producing the final account of the Project’s findings, published as a book The Right Kind of History: Teaching the Past in Twentieth-Century England (Palgrave Macmillan). Jenny Keating researched and wrote up all the material for the period 1900-65, Nicola Sheldon did the same for the years 1965-2010, and David Cannadine wrote the book itself.

The book was launched at a conference at Senate House in Bloomsbury in November 2011. As well as the authors of the book, speakers at the conference included the Secretary of State for Education, the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, and former Secretaries of State, Baroness Shirley Williams and Lord Kenneth Baker, the Director of the Institute of Education, Professor Chris Husbands and a panel of current history teachers. The lively audience included academics, educationalists and a number of the former pupils and current and former teachers who had been interviewed for the Project. The book and conference received considerable coverage in the press and media. Professor Cannadine was interviewed in several newspapers and on the Radio Four ‘Today’ programme. He discussed some of the issues raised in the book in an interview for the Historical Association. To listen to this, click here. Podcasts from the conference were recorded and freely available here on the History in Education website.

The Project was set up to investigate both the major curricular changes in school history and also how the experience of teaching history – and being taught history – in English state schools changed over the century. It also sought to set the development of school history teaching in the context of changes both in general educational policy and in the wider political and social changes of the twentieth century. Material generated by the Project has been collected onto the History in Education website to support the continuing interest in the teaching of history in schools, not only amongst researchers, but also within the media and general public at large.

The Project generated a wide range of new resources and benefited from a large network of interested people who supported and contributed to its outcomes. Jenny and Nicola drafted and distributed a detailed survey form to look at people's experience of history in the classroom, which drew in responses from 205 former pupils and 136 former or current teachers. The respondents came from all over the country and their ages ranged from 19 to 91. Summaries of their evidence are available on the website. We also photographed a considerable number of exercise books and school history projects which respondents offered us – this material, ranging from the 1930s to the early 2000s, is also on the website.

A major feature of the History in Education Project was the creation of its oral history archive. Jenny and Nicola interviewed 68 people, including former secretaries of state, school inspectors, teacher trainers, former members of the History Working Group which devised the first National Curriculum and textbook writers, as well as teachers, both current and retired, and former pupils. The recorded interviews can be found on the website together with the transcripts which can be searched and downloaded. The website also contains self-contained chapters written by Jenny and Nicola which summarise the 'history of school history', together with background papers on various topics to set the changes in history teaching in context.

The website, together with the book The Right Kind of History, means that those interested in the development of history teaching in schools may easily access the materials generated by the Project. The state of school history in England continues to be a fiercely-argued topic of debate, not only amongst academics and researchers, but also in the media and amongst the wider public and we believe that the work of the Project offers stimulating and invaluable background to the debate.

Jenny Keating and Nicola Sheldon