Education

What should we teach in history: is everyone included?

There is a great deal of interest in how Wales’ history is taught. This subject topped the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee’s summer 2018 public poll. The Assembly’s Petitions Committee has also taken evidence on the subject after a Petition on teaching Welsh history gathered over 5,500 signatures, and there was a Plenary debate in June 2019. But whilst people have called for more detail on how Welsh history is taught in schools, the Welsh Government is introducing a new, less prescriptive curriculum that seeks to give teachers greater freedom about how to teach their subjects.

Estimated reading time: 4 Minutes

10 January 2020

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

An interest in history

There is a great deal of interest in how Wales’ history is taught. This subject topped the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee’s summer 2018 public poll.  The Assembly’s Petitions Committee has also taken evidence on the subject after a Petition on teaching Welsh history gathered over 5,500 signatures, and there was a Plenary debate in June 2019. But whilst people have called for more detail on how Welsh history is taught in schools, the Welsh Government is introducing a new, less prescriptive curriculum that seeks to give teachers greater freedom about how to teach their subjects.

Our previous blog article, the History of Wales – how is it represented in the curriculum? provides some background information on history in the current curriculum, the Welsh Government’s Task and Finish Group and proposals for history in the new curriculum.

A Welsh perspective

A key concern raised in the Committee’s inquiry and the Petition was that pupils may learn more about the history of other countries rather than Wales and their own locality.  In her evidence to the Petitions Committee in July 2018, the Minister for Education agreed that, previously, at GCSE there had been a lack of focus and a lack of  explicit expectation that Welsh history would be taught, but the introduction of revised history GCSE and A levels had meant a  greater emphasis on the need to teach children aspects of Welsh history .  However, the Culture, Welsh Language and  Communications Committee heard that pupils still do not know the story of their community or country., and it recommended that Estyn should be asked to consider how schools are meeting the Welsh content of history GCSEs and A levels.

A common body of knowledge?

In the new Curriculum for Wales 2022, history will be part of the Humanities Area of Learning and Experience (AoLE) and not a separate, specific subject as at present. Further information on the AoLEs can be seen in our blog post the Draft Curriculum for Wales 2022 (May 2019)    The Welsh Government’s draft statutory guidance on the Humanities AoLE states that:

In Humanities, learners of all ages should be able to engage in learning related to local, national and international dimensions. […] All learners should have opportunities to ground their understanding of an issue in their locality and then relate it to the international context.

The draft Humanities AoLE does not provide specific details of what events in history should or must be taught.  It intends to support learners to: 

develop an understanding of Wales and their own understanding of what it means to be Welsh. 

And that schools and teachers should ensure that they select curricular content that allows learners to gain a thorough understanding of their locality, of Wales and the wider world.

Many of those giving evidence, including Welsh historical societies, spoke of the need for there to be certain events or themes that all learners should know. One society suggested  a list of ‘must-have’ topics that all the pupils in the country should to be taught to ensure a rounded knowledge of the events that have formed modern-day Wales.

The Minister for Education has maintained that setting out in detail what all learners must be taught contradicts the ethos of the new, non-prescriptive curriculum.  Nevertheless, the Committee felt that it is necessary for all pupils to learn a common set of topics and events which have shaped the nation in which they grew up and recommended that the new curriculum should include guidance which sets out a common body of knowledge for all pupils studying history.

Inclusive history?

Race Council Cymru told the Committee that although people from other countries, such as Somalia or the Yemen, have been settled in Wales for very many years, their stories are not told in Wales’ schools. They said that nobody tells the stories of courage and contribution, innovation or science.

The Committee heard from the Heritage and Cultural Exchange that, in the current curriculum:

there’s nothing about being black and Welsh. There is an assumption that they’re from somewhere else.

Since the Committee published it’s report, there have been concerns expressed that, in the 2021 census, there will be a tick option for white Welsh, but not for any other ethnicity.  That has to be written in separately.

The draft Humanities guidance states that promoting an understanding of the ethnic and cultural diversity within Wales will help learners appreciate the extent to which Wales is part of a wider international community.  The Committee agreed that the history of Wales is multicultural and recommended that the Curriculum for Wales 2022 should have diversity as a core element.  They also recommended that the Welsh Government should set out their efforts to increase the number of Black, Asian and minority ethnic teachers in Wales.

The Welsh Government rejected the Committee’s recommendation that there should be a common body of knowledge, although it states that it will be working with education practitioners to commission new resources which refer to key events and topics in the histories of Wales and the world .  However, the Welsh Government accepted the recommendation that diversity should be a core element of the new curriculum, citing that one of the four purposes of the curriculum is to ensure that children and young people develop as ethical, informed citizens, ready to be citizens of the world.

The Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee’s report, Inquiry into the teaching of Welsh history, culture and heritage [PDF1.2KB] was published in November 2019 and will be debated in Plenary on 15 January 2020.  The Welsh Government published its response [PDF 235KB} on 8 January 2020.


Article by Sian Hughes, Senedd Research, National Assembly for Wales

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