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The purposes of school history

History for employability (and underemployment, leisure time, early retirement?)

A curriculum which must give young people a sense of purpose and an awareness of the potentialities for their lives when they will not be working. Whatever we feel about the future of unemployment, all young people are going to be living in a world where they will retire younger, work shorter working weeks, and enjoy longer holidays. If the curriculum as a whole, and history in particular, does not defend its contribution to the use of leisure in a powerful, convinced and publicly unapologetic way, it will have contributed to major social problems for which the tax-payer retrospectively may well justifiably criticise the school curriculum.

HMI (educationalist) (1985) History in the primary and secondary years, London, HMSO.


A subject that insists on the critical evaluation of evidence … and encourages the analysis of problems and the communication of ideas, not only contributes to pupils’ general education but develops skills and perceptions that increase the employability of young people.HMI (educationalist) (1985)

History in the primary and secondary years, London, HMSO: 12.

‘History provides qualities of mind which can be successfully applied to a range of administrative and social tasks… Indeed, it is possible to argue that history is the best training for potential administrators, precisely because the problems it deals with are recognised from the outset as complex rather than simple, and with people whom it seeks to understand rather than to categorise… it emphasises consequently, powers of reasoning which are balanced and humane – characteristics that it may be hoped a society would want not only in its administrators, but also in its men of business and public affairs.’

Sylvester, D. (1972) ‘What’s the use of learning history’, Times Higher Educational Supplement, 11 February.

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