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The Prince of Wales Summer School 2003


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#1 John

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Posted 05 July 2003 - 11:46 AM

"This week saw poet Seamus Heany rubbing shoulders with historian David Starky playwright Tom Stoppard linning up alonside dective writer P.D James and historian Simon Schama flying from New York. Prince Charles breifly attended (the gathering) arriving by helicopter to criticise "the fashionable ideas of experts and educationalists" who he claimed have left the children of British culturally disinherited...."

The article goes onto say,

"Michael Wood TV presenter and historian (?) said the Empire was the cornerstone of Britain's 'national narrative,' a view endorsed by Scott Harrison, history adviser to OFSTED who told the private audience the Empire deserved a much greater share of classroom time..."Guardian 6th July 2003 'The Empire Strikes Back"

Is this what it has come to, a so called 'private' selection of info-tainment psuedo historians, backed by the prince himself, retreating to golf course in middle of the highlands, to completely attack the education and teachers, for implimenting prescibed government changes?

A room of white male millionaries slapping each other on the back and blaming the youth's 'cultural disinhertence' on lack of Empire teaching in the classroom.

Are this people real? Well here it is -, I'm just emerging from that youth generation which to quote the prince is 'culturally disinherted.' I am culturally disinherited because of people like these, who when they mention the term Britain they still think like the colonial white male millionaries of the British Empire, gin slings in Dehli and then on to the Orient for ride down the Yantzee on a gunboat.

A one Professor Fegurson telling this meeting of heavy weight intellects that the British Empire "wasn't good or bad thing, it was both." Prof Fegurson ex-Oxbridge and no doubt Eton graduate. Dear proffesor exactly who was the British Empire good for? The 1000 or innocent people who died at Amritsar in 1919. Opium trade which enslaved a entire nation. Or what about the 1 million British 'youth' sent to their deaths in 1914-1918? It is good job I wasn't born a hundred years ago, or I could have been 'culturally disinhertied' in the Battle of the Somme.

These people expect you to stand up infront of the desendents of all these nations, and the desendants of the British people who were put in prision for being poor, in the 21st century, and then 'brainstorm' good or bad points about the Empire.

But then who I am to say, Oxbridge professors are always right.
What do you think history teachers?

#2 Andrew Field

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Posted 05 July 2003 - 11:54 AM

Is this what it has come to, a so called 'private' selection of info-tainment psuedo historians, backed by the prince himself, retreating to golf course in middle of the highlands, to completely attack the education and teachers, for implimenting prescibed government changes?

:lol: What is quite funny about this is that Stephen Drew was actually there. I believe it was a History and English course that included some extremely high profile people. I must say in Michael Wood's defence he is an excellent historian and presenter. He did the Domesday series years ago and is currently presenting an examination of Shakespeare that started last Sunday - a fabulous piece of television.

This aside, you are indeed correct to raise important questions about sweeping statements made by these individuals. From what I've heard, I don't think that the message was that "Empire was Great - teach everyone this". I thought the message was that Empire and Imperialism should be studied, not for some 'Isn't Britain great' viewpoint, but to actually make youngsters aware of the terrible things that you mention!

The article you mention in the Grundiad is http://www.guardian....,992079,00.html. This suggests the statements were more towards simply encouraging a study of Cultural Imperialism - meaning students become aware of impact that Britain in the world. To quote: "The argument of European history teachers was and is that if European imperialism was the most important world trend of the 19th century, and the British empire was the biggest and most important, why doesn't it figure more prominently in British syllabuses?"

I heard Starkey being interviewed on Radio 4 last Monday evening. He was making an interesting point that we, as history teachers, have become too focused on trying to teach students the skills of a historian that we miss the opportunity to help students learn about the real stories of history. This is an interesting debate in itself.


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#3 John

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Posted 05 July 2003 - 12:26 PM

If Mr Drew was there, I quite like to hear what went on at this secret meeting of the world's richest people
I don't think they did bash on about the Empire is great teach it all, however, I do clearly percieve this was politically motivated debate.
I can picture Charles and Camilla debating the 'yuouf' of today over fine sniffder of Jamersons, fourteen year old malt of course, as they spent a quiet morning, pinicing and walking through the highlands, reflective contemplating the Queen's death, shooting things for fun, posting for a portrait etc...
They really need to take a reflective walk through the streets of Brixton at about two in the morning.

What upset me the most was the Royals stuck their nose in and what did they say......'Teach more Empire.' Unimaginately of course.

And what did high academia say, 'Teach more Empire.'

Oh and what about the government, yeah, 'Teach more Empire.'

The million pound historians, 'yeah teach more Empire I see myself in a good series of T.V programmes.'

And what did the history teachers say, yeah, the guardian didn' really care too much.

#4 Richard Drew

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Posted 05 July 2003 - 12:41 PM

These people expect you to stand up infront of the desendents of all these nations, and the desendants of the British people who were put in prision for being poor, in the 21st century, and then 'brainstorm' good or bad points about the Empire.

sorry to be a pedant, but in my view there is not such thing as a good or a bad point about the British Empire. it is all interpretations, as all good history is.

so, to borrow from my colleague Alison Denton, a suitable enquiry would be:

"Why do historians disagree about whether the empire put the 'Great' into Britain?"

you cover the content of the key themes of the empire, but constantly through the concept of interpretations: why do eminent historians interpret the same events differently? to what extent does an historian's focus (political, economic, social, cultural) effect their interpretation? etc etc.

this way there is not dictation of someone's view as the universal truth, the pupils cover a great deal of ground in terms of content, they enhance their historical skills and they begin to understand why the british empire is still so contentious and controversial.

this is just my interpretation of course :flowers:
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#5 JohnDClare

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Posted 05 July 2003 - 03:13 PM

Strangely, I am just proofing the text of a textbook I am writing for Hodder which has a chapter on 'Should Britons be proud of the Empire?

The assessment task at the end of the chapter starts with two quotes from an internet forum:

>>  The Empire was a beacon of compassion and non-discriminatory treatment.  I am immensely proud to be a British citizen today because of it. 
Paulie (2002)

>> Why is it immoral for Nazi 2 occupy Europe only, but not immoral 4 Brits to occupy the world?  Shame! 
Questioner (2002)


and goes on to ask the pupils to pretend to be their parents and to write a letter to the headteacer arguing whether The British Empire' should be taught in school.

Topical, or what!!!

Of course, Richard is right. The highest marks go to pupls who see that the argument cuts both ways.

The joy of being a pinko-Liberal History teacher of the kind so loathed by Margaret Thatcher is that, where the traditionalists keep making me teach ever more and more conservative topics, they can't stop me teaching the facts.

#6 Stephen Drew

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Posted 05 July 2003 - 04:34 PM

I wondered how long it would take before somebody wrote a post attacking the Prince of Wales Summer School for History and Literature. I did not have to wait long, however I am surprised by the vitriol you apply John. I shall read this thread with interest and see how well informed the comments are considering that the overwhleming majority of history teachers were not actually there, and will have to rely on the media to inform them of what happened. (The same media that for the vast majority of the time people are only too happy to dismiss as being little more than paid liars).

First of all the conference was attended by 100 teachers of History or English from East Anglia and Kent. Every state school in Cambridgeshire, Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk and Kent was sent a pack offering places to an English and History teacher. There was no application form requiring you to say why you should go on the course or to set out your position on education. You simply signed the form and got your Head to countersign and then sent it off. The delegates were selected on a first come, first served basis. This was shown by the diversity of school represented and the range of teachers present. I teach at a school in Harlow in Essex, that is in an Excellence in Cities Cluster as well as being in waht the DfES categorises as "challenging" circumstances. I hardly think that my school fits in with the charcterisation of a set of posh nobs gathered together to slate teachers.

John's line:

Is this what it has come to, a so called 'private' selection of info-tainment psuedo historians, backed by the prince himself, retreating to golf course in middle of the highlands, to completely attack the education and teachers, for implimenting prescibed government changes?


is so off the mark that it is simply wrong. The conference was dominated by History and English teachers from state schools. The discussion groups were dominated by teachers and people like PGCE tutors etc. The discussion groups were led by teachers and the outcomes as presented in the plenary session were a faithful reflection of what we said, not what was said by the famous speakers or even by the Prince of Wales.

However in order to ensure some sense of perspective I shall make some statements here that reflect the facts of what was actually said.

1) Niall Ferguson argued that the British Empire was clearly one of the most important events in British and World History for the last 1000 years. Working from this perspective he argued that to not study the British Empire's development and impact would surely be to ignore a vital part of the history of our country and our world. He did not argue that the British Empire was a wholly wonderful, or indeed a wholly evil, thing. He simply argued that the British Empire was worthy of study and interpretation and that he believed it was important to do so. In fact he compled his lecture / questions session by saying that he did not expect teachers to go away and change their curricula to suddenly teach the British Empire as the heart of their course, but that as an historian he believed it was worthy of serious consideration as part of our shared heritage.

2) Prince Charles did not arrive by helicopter, he arrived by car. Now I know that may seem unimportant, but of course saying he arrived by helicopter is so much more fun if you are intent of dismissing everything he has to say by making him out to be completely unworthy of attention. The Prince's main point in his speech was that he believed that there was a clear cultural deficit in both History and Literature teaching in the UK at the moment. He did not argue for a dates and monarch approach. He did not argue that children should only study British History. He did not argue that the Empire was a wonderful thing that should be taught without interpretation. He did not argue that children should be turned into identikit British subjects with one version of national indentity forced on to them all. In fact he simply argued that if there is no sense of a "story" from the past coming through in History teaching, and that literature is not placed in its historical and cultural context, then young people are not being served well by the education system of this country. He went out of his way to make it clear that he had no wish to force any agenda on any History or English teachers, or that he somehow required those present to go back to their schools and start teaching the "Prince Charles Curriculum".

3) The one thing that united David Starkey, Niall Ferguson, Simon Schama, Andrew Roberts, Anthony Beaver and Michael Wood (the leading historians who spoke) was there constant use of phrases such as "If I am wrong about school History please tell me" and "I am not a teacher, so I am not telling you how to teach" and "I want to learn about what school history is really like". They were all completely receptive to the truth about History teaching, and it was clear that all of them (even David Starkey) had changed their perceptions and opinions of the way that history was taught in schools by the end of their time at the conference.

4) Michael Wood is without doubt an historian of immense quality and skill. I too was slightly surprised at his presence alongside people like Andrew Roberts and Simon Schama, but after actually hearing him speak I am completely convinced that he is fit to make history television for anyone. He talked for an hour about his new Shakespeare TV series. He spoke as a compleley absorbed and expert historian of Shakespeare's life. He took us through the way in which he researched Shakespeare's life and work, from his birth through to death. He talked about the primary source recors and research he had done in a way that shows that he is a real and expert historian who I as a History teacher woud do well to match in terms of skills.

I could go on and on with real examples from my real experience of what actually happened at the conference, and I will do so as time goes by when I fell they are needed. However I shall finish by saying this:

My four days at Dunston Hall in Norwich at the Prince of Wales Summer School for History and Literature was one of the most inspiring and incredible experiences of my teaching career to date. I have come away feeling energised and encouraged that I am doing a good job, that my colleagues from across the Eastern region are doing a good job, and that the leading media and university luminaries in History in the UK are on the same side as we are. I also feel convinced that the most important people involved in the running and managing of History education in the UK have a greater awareness of what it is really like and how passionatly committed History teachers are to the education of all of the children in their schools.
"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts." - Bertrand Russell

#7 John

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Posted 06 July 2003 - 07:48 AM

Stephen - Please read the article in Guardian about the conference, and then compare that article, to the manner in which you have described the conference. There is a clear constrast between the two accounts. Your account does force me to acquiesce on my 'pseudo historian' comment and I really wish I could have the chance to attend the conference.

I personally would see the teaching of the Empire as a healthy portion of any child's 11-16 education, but surely not to the degree that Guardian suggested was being argued for that the conference. I would like to more specific detail about what actually would be taught in the British Empire section in the syllabus.

I believe that because we can see a direct influence in the ideology at the core of British Empire to almost every facit of modern Britian, such as our internal social policies, the nature of our politics, the nature of the monarchy, our econmic world status, our notions of our higher 'civilised' society showing uncilivised counries how to conduct their business, emigration, racial conflicts, blatent desregard for human rights over economic benfits etc... then I can say that universal truths do exsist for me, which are merely perpetuated by a non critical examination of the British Empire.

At the heart of this debate is the question, 'What image of the Empire do we want to perpetuate?' Are there universal truths we can take from the Empire's history? I feel that the teaching of the Empire is only worthwhile as long as we are examining it in a critical context. Without the critique then same conventions in modern Britain will continue, perpetuated by the notion of one 'universal truth,' being, that as long as Britain has big army we can do what we want to the world.

My last comment is again to Stephen - It was reported in the Guardian that Prince Charles arrived by helicopter. I could not say either way by which which mode of transport he chooses, and your right, the use of a helicopter does help me lever an arguement based on his ostentatious lifestyle against his viewpoint. As the Guardian may have or have not done, however I don't care - Prince Charles has nothing he tell me about life in Britain.

Edited by John, 06 July 2003 - 07:52 AM.


#8 Andrew Field

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Posted 06 July 2003 - 08:48 AM

Just more evidence how the Grundiad earned its nickname. ;)


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Posted 06 July 2003 - 12:29 PM

I heard Starkey being interviewed on Radio 4 last Monday evening.  He was making an interesting point that we, as history teachers, have become too focused on trying to teach students the skills of a historian that we miss the opportunity to help students learn about the real stories of history.  This is an interesting debate in itself.

It is indeed an interesting debate in itself. I would argue that the most important learning a child does is away from the classroom in their own reading and private study. This is why "skills" are an essentially important part of classroom delivery. The trouble with teaching "stories" from history is that they tend to get written by the winning side. Let's empower kids to make their own minds up .... this way we might get rid of the last vestiges of medievalism in our consitution by the end of this century - first come first severed ;)

#10 John Simkin

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Posted 07 July 2003 - 10:31 AM

To fully understand the recent comments made by people like, Charles Clarke, Prince Charles, Niall Ferguson and David Starkey, we need to look at a bit of history.

The origins of this debate goes back to the 1970s. Young history teachers entering the profession began to question what was going on in the classroom. They were struck by the difference in the way the subject was approached in university. We began to ask if it was right to use primary sources and to discuss different interpretations of history at university, why were we not doing it in the classroom. This was the big issue with the PGCE students in my year. However, some of us felt stronger about it than others. The dividing line was often to do with political philosophy. Those on the left were particularly keen to encourage critical thinking in our students. The problem we had was that commercially published teaching materials were not available. We therefore had to resort to producing our own.

The idea of using primary source, developing empathy and looking at different historical interpretations of the past became known as the New History. This philosophy was reflected in the work of the Schools History Project. Although we welcomed the intellectual support we got from the SHP we were critical of its published materials. They were not only very expensive and poorly designed, they were incredibly dull. The reason for this was that the SHP took a political decision not to cover controversial topics. They assumed they would not get too much flak if they encouraged students to question the historical interpretations of medicine, the American West or Elizabethan England. One of the reasons we established Tressell (and hence its name) was to put the politics into the New History.

It was to be remembered that at the time the New History had very few supporters. It was seen at the time as being dangerously progressive and very few schools taught SHP history.

The turning point came with the introduction of GCSE in 1984. The right-wing politicians had taken their eye off the ball and did not realize that the new examination course reflected the ideology of the New History. It included those lovely controversial subjects that SHP had avoided. The new examination meant that publishers had to produce different types of textbooks. Most history teachers (the traditionalists) were extremely angry about these changes (I know because I was heavily involved in delivering INSET for the introduction of GCSE). However, there was nothing they could do as it was imposed on them by a government who had refused to listen to their concerns. Once they decided it was inevitable that they would have to teach the New History at Key Stage 4 they began to worry about Key Stage 3. Those who had adopted SHP were at a distinct advantage. Not only had they taught SHP at 14-16 they had been using this approach lower down the school. In order for their students to do well at GCSE they had to change the way they taught their younger students. Sales of Tressell books soared and the commercial publishers quickly brought out similar materials for Key Stage 3.

The next stage in this story is the introduction of the National Curriculum. By this time the government was fully aware of the dangers of the New History. Kenneth Baker personally interviewed every person proposed to sit on the history committee. It was no surprise that the committee did not include one supporter of the New History. To understand why the history national curriculum eventually endorsed the New History I suggest you read Robert Phillips’ book History Teaching, Nationhood and the State (Cassell, 1998).

However, at this point I would stress two factors in this. First of all, by this time, the New History, had become established in all state schools. Even the history traditionalists had become supporters of New History. Opponents, such as Chris McGovan of Priory School in Lewes, were now seen as extremists.

Secondly, capitalism, in the form of multinational textbook publishers, were now fully in favour of the New History. They had invested heavily in books that reflected this new approach (it takes about two years for a textbook to be published).

Despite the attacks on the New History from right-wing activists (including cabinet ministers) it not only survived, it became compulsory.

So what are people like Niall Ferguson and David Starkey up to in 2003. The arguments they are using are very similar to those made by people like Chris McGovan in the 1980s. The main complaint is that there is significant gaps in the knowledge of history students and that they lack a sense of chronology.

One solution to this problem is to increase the amount of history teaching that students receive. This was partly the solution suggested by Kenneth Baker in the 1980s when he argued that history should be compulsory between the ages of 5 to 16. As we now know that plan was never implemented and Clarke shows no sign of reversing the current policy of gradually reducing the amount of history teaching that students receive.

This was reflected in the way Clarke answered the question about the proposal by some LEA’s to make Key Stage 3 history into a two year course at the SHP conference. Clarke replied that he would look again at this idea. This suggest to me that he has already given his approval to this measure. I know the teachers in the Isle of Wight are under the impression that their LEA have been given the go ahead for this.

How then can teachers help to fill in these gaps in student knowledge? One way is to reduce or remove the in-depth studies. This was implied in one of the comments Clarke made in his opening speech. The other concerns the way we teach and goes back to the debate in the late 1980s. The right-wing traditionalists argued that the reason students had large gaps in their knowledge was because teachers were spending too much time developing historical skills.

As Andrew Field pointed out in the debate on the Prince of Wales Summer School for History and Literature “I heard Starkey being interviewed on Radio 4 last Monday evening. He was making an interesting point that we, as history teachers, have become too focused on trying to teach students the skills of a historian that we miss the opportunity to help students learn about the real stories of history.”

These two things go together. It is not just that Ferguson wants us to teach more about the British Empire. When this issue was raised in the 1980s the New History supporters said fine, we don’t mind that, as long as we use the skills approach and the students get the opportunity to work out what was “good” and “bad” about the British Empire. But Ferguson and other right-wing historians do not want this. What they want is for us to teach their interpretation of the British Empire. That is what this debate is really about and when it comes to it, Clarke has got to decide on whose side he is on. I suspect he has already made that decision but he is having difficulty finding a way of implementing it.

#11 John

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Posted 07 July 2003 - 01:05 PM

So it reasonable to assume that Education in Britain is being constantly pulled and pushed into political spectrums? If I can't understand that, then I will never make a 'good' teacher?
I think that History as a skill, or subject, or a story, is potentially one of the most stark challenges to political power in almost every nation.
In Japan recently the government came under fire for diluting the horrors of the Manchurian invasion. In America there are steps in motion to try and allow schools to have the choice between the creationism/Intelligent force ideas to be taught in American science lessons. In China, the issue of Taiwan has been wiped away from the history books, as if it never exsisted. In Australia, Aborginal history is being eroded from the text books. The history of history education has been one of control.
This is the work I would have enjoyed to study on my P.G.C.E.

I would like to reiterate my intial thoughts; when the monarchy call for more 'Empire Teaching' a sinister dark cloud starts circling Buckingham Palace and evil cackles can heard echoing down the corridors of Whitehall. Goats are cermonially killed at Chequers and everybody Queen puts on a episode of Twin Peaks.

Edited by John, 07 July 2003 - 01:07 PM.


#12 neil mcdonald

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Posted 07 July 2003 - 01:23 PM

The British Empire is a diverse and intersting subject - I have tuaght it and the rest of ETI using the title - Was Great Britain great for all? John mentioned his desire to see more specific details as per content, but for what purpose? The opporunitu to study the subject or to argue the case of oh it is white imperialist history'. But it is our history. Give teachers the ability to teach the empire in a balanced way highlight the positives as well as the benefits and let students not the teachers, not the government make their own minds up.
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Posted 07 July 2003 - 07:45 PM

let students not the teachers, not the government make their own minds up.

Thanks Neil I don't think I've heard a better argument for the skills approach to history :devil:

#14 Carole Faithorn

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Posted 08 July 2003 - 12:56 AM

To answer John's question: History is the most 'dangerous' subject on the Curriculum and has been a 'football' kicked by politicians for the whole of my career, but to understand that is not the be all and end all of being a "good teacher". The vital thing is to hold the integrity of the subject in the face of attacks from those who want to use History for political purposes. This has ever been the case - as any Historian knows ;)

John Simkins' account of what has happened in History teaching in the last 30 years is not one that I would broadly disagree with. .....besides he has an insider's knowledge of much that has gone on .... but I feel sure he will recognise that it is very much an interpretation of the past and not a value-free account.

#15 John Simkin

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Posted 08 July 2003 - 06:00 AM

Interesting point Carole. I have attempted to highlight this issue in the last activity in the Yalding Simulation. This involves the pupils being given a history of the village written by the bailiff, Thomas de Edenbridge. When the pupils read the document they realize it does not mirror their experiences of living in Yalding. Their task is to write their own history of the village.

I invite other members of the forum who disagree with this interpretation to post their history of the struggle for the New History. If they have not got enough information to do that, maybe they could highlight some passages where they suspect I have been guilty of inaccuracies.

I should also point out that Stephen’s account of the conference is also an interpretation of what took place. I am sure if I had been at the conference I would have seen it very differently.

Edited by John Simkin, 08 July 2003 - 06:05 AM.





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