History, Heritage, and Secondary School National Curriculum in the United Kingdom, 1970-2000

Suzanne Keen, Professor of English, Washington and Lee University

[Added with permission of the author by GPL]

Between the late 1970s and the late 1990s, the teaching of history in British publicly funded schools underwent a series of transformations in which observers can read aspects of the historiographical argument about history and heritage. As in an allegorical drama, 'Old Fashioned History' found itself displaced by a 'New History' invigorated by social-science method-ologies and changes in pedagogical techniques. Separated from traditional narratives of national pride and differing from the facts and dates studied by elder generations, this new history in turn found itself vulnerable to charges of redundancy. Downsizing of history departments and replace-ment by more relevant or practical options ensued. Curricular reform driven at least in part by a conservative nationalist agenda then brought History back as a required subject, though not for students of all ages. The reinstated History owed as much to a memory of traditional history as to the inventive pedagogy of the teachers who implemented the new curriculum. At each stage, teachers, policy-makers, legislators, and even the prime minister have weighed in on curricular matters perceived to be at the heart of Britain's identity and direction as a nation. The 1970s and 1980s saw the spread of the 'New History,' which integrated some of the techniques and topics of social history and social science into the school history curriculum. In part responding to new understandings of developmental psychology, innovators moved away from traditional chronological narration. The teaching of facts and re-ceived knowledge about (primarily) British history yielded some ground to thematically organized units emphasizing the scrutiny of primary source [155].

Related Materials


Keen, Suzanne. Romances of the Archive in Contemporary British Fiction. Toronto: University of Toronto, 2001.

United Kingdom

Last Modified: 24 September 2002