logo PGCE History at UEA
Learning to Teach History in the Secondary School



PGCE History Home
Student Teacher
Exam Classes
Class management
Inclusion and Diversity

The purposes of school history

Statements about history to develop a sense of morality, the cultivation of  desirable attributes and dispositions (e.g. tolerance, open-mindedness, a sympathetic and informed understanding of different nations, cultures and religions):

‘The key question may be whether history is for the transmitting and acceptance of values or, primarily, for their examination and understanding.’

Slater, J. (1989) Guardian, 25 April.

‘The child should be brought to realise the solidarity of mankind and to have a feeling of community, indifferent to class or nation or race.’

Drummond, H. (1929) History in Schools: 81.

‘History, properly taught, can help men to become critical and humane, just as wrongly taught it can turn them into bigots and fanatics.’

Christopher Hill (historian) (1953)

Suggestions on the teaching of history, Paris, UNESCO: 9.

‘The history class has a utilitarian function, for it is now designed to prepare students to live in a world of changing paradoxes. The teaching of history now requires a concern for behavioural objectives. To help ease social tensions, teachers of history are expected to concern themselves with the affective domain as well as with cognitive skills. The concern for behavioural, procedural, and substantive values leads teachers of history into regions they had formerly avoided in many of their classes.

P.D. Thomas (1970) The teaching of history in the US in the era since the sputnik, Teaching History, Vol. 1, No. 3: 281.

‘History teaches many useful skills – information gathering, problem solving, the public presentation of arguments and assessments. But that should be secondary to the broader objective of discovering how we were and how we got to where we are. It is not my aim to turn out tunnel-visioned computer operators concerned only about where their next Porsche is coming from. I seek to awaken in my students an open minded broad visioned humanity, informed by a love of learning, a love of ideas, a love of books, a love of argument and debate.

J. Richards (academic, Lancaster University) (1989) Independent, 8 April.

‘It’s not about skills but understanding and there is only a loose link between skills and understanding.’

Peter Lee, HTEN Conference, Homerton College Cambridge, 12 July 2000.

‘History now is about learning to manage complex subjects and manipulate data.’

Rollison, D., University of Durham History Dept, quoted in Daily Telegraph, 29 October.

‘History can help to develop a passionate drive for clarity, fair mindedness, a fervour for getting to the bottom of things, for listening sympathetically to opposing points of view, a compelling drive to seek out evidence, a devotion to truth as against self-interest.’

Paul, R. (1998) Quoted in ‘Turning the tables’, MacBeath, J., Observer, 22 February.


 ‘History is above all else an argument.  It is an argument between different historians, and perhaps, an argument between the past and the present, an argument between what actually happened and what is going to happen next. Arguments are important; they create the possibility of changing things.’

Arnold, J. (2000) History: a very short introduction, Oxford, Oxford University Press. (p. 13)

‘The Greek word which has become ”history” originally meant “to enquire”, and more specifically, indicated a person who was able to choose wisely between conflicting accounts.1

Arnold, J. (2000) History: a very short introduction, Oxford, Oxford University Press. (p. 18)

‘The reason for teaching history is not that it changes society, but that it changes pupils; it changes what they see in the world, and how they see it….  To say someone has learnt history is to say something very wide ranging about the way in which he or she is likely to make sense of the world. History offers a way of seeing almost any substantive issue in human affairs, subject to certain procedures and standards, whatever feelings one may have.’

Lee, P. (1992) ‘History in school: aims, purposes and approaches. A reply to John White’, in Lee, P, Slater, J. Walsh, P. and White, J., The aims of school history: the National Curriculum and beyond, London, Tufnell Press (p. 23-4).

‘The historical consciousness of these children matters because these children are human beings. History teaches us the meaning of humanness. These pupils, too, can experience the awe and the humility that a disciplined, stretching study of the past confers.’ 

‘sharing the vision for bringing historical knowledge and historical thinking to everyone, whether plumber, politician or policeman… because they are future citizens… because they are human beings.’

‘If neither adequate time nor specialist teaching is available, the alternatives are bleak. Are Martin and Geoffrey to receive some lesser version, with lower standards of subject rigour, just because they are ‘less able’? Are they to receive some diluted ‘history’, a hasty gallop through a few random landmarks with no time to make meaning, let alone remember anything? Or are they perhaps to receive the other extreme – some quixotic mix of intriguing vignettes but without any context of wider stories or trends?’

(Why all pupils, including those of lower ability, should study history).

Counsell, C. (2006), Times Educational Supplement, 17 February.

‘Citizenship or PSE cannot replace history, no matter how well taught. These “subjects” can do much good work and I do not dismiss the achievements happening in their name. But they are not formal fields of enquiry with rules of evidence, with standards for establishing truth claims and with structures for establishing what counts as knowledge. They are not disciplines.’

Counsell, C. (2006), Times Educational Supplement, 17 February.study history)

‘Many stories are told, and they may contradict, compete with or complement one another, but this means that students should be equipped to deal with such relationships, not that any old story will do…  students who understand sources as information are helpless when confronted by contradictory sources.

Lee, P. and Ashby, R. (2000) Progression in historical understanding amongst students aged 7-14, in P. Stearns, P. Seixas and S. Wineburg (eds) Knowing, teaching and learning history, New York, New York University Press: 200.


‘History is highly relevant to us all and has an important job to play. Arguably it is so relevant to understanding our contemporary world that there is a strong case it should be compulsory to the age of 16, and in various guises, even beyond.’

HMI (2005) Taken from the Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector for Schools 2004/5, section relating to history in secondary schools.

‘History’s main contribution to the UK’s democracy has always been its plurality and unpredictability – different historians coming at events and people from different perspectives, using evidence critically and with integrity, and presenting different views.  Above all, history needs to provide young people with the ability to make up their own minds.’

HMI (2005) Taken from the Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector for Schools 2004/5, section relating to history in secondary schools.

‘Textbooks… keep students in the dark about the nature of history. History is furious debate informed by evidence and reason, not just answers to be learned.’

James W. Loewen (200x) Lies my teacher told me, introduction: 4.

‘The aim of the historian, like that of the artist, is to enlarge our picture of the world, to give us a new way of looking at things.’


James Joll, quoted by John Simkin (2006) TES Online Forum.

‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’

George Santayana

‘History holds the potential, only partly realised, of humanising us in ways offered by few other areas in the school curriculum.’

Wineburg, S. (2001) Historical Thinking and other unnatural acts, Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 5.

The skills which are traditionally fostered through history, such as imagination, empathy, critical judgement and analytical ability, are all essential to the development of an anti-racist perspective.’

Historical Association (1989) Submission to the working party on the National Curriculum, February.

‘The belief that history can, in itself, eliminate prejudice either in society or in individuals is unrealistic. Whatever decisions about content are taken, they will go for naught unless they are founded firmly on the skills of historical thinking with their insistence on the absolute necessity of having evidence to support statements made about individuals or groups. Thus, correct historical thinking is the implacable enemy of unexamined and stridently asserted stereotypes. Historical skills may not open closed minds, they may plant a nagging grain of doubt in them. Historical skills will not eradicate prejudice or create universal toleration; related to appropriate content, they can at least make some considerable contribution towards giving tolerance an intellectual cutting edge to challenge prejudice.’

HMI (1985) History in the primary and secondary years, London, HMSO: 32.

‘We cannot be surprised that some within the next generation do not value our parliamentary democracy if they know nothing of the English civil war, do not vote if they are not taught about the struggles to widen the franchise, and do not value any authority figures if they are not told the inspiring tales of the national heroes of our past’.

Tim Collins (as Shadow Secretary of State for Education) (2005) Address to National Catholic Heads Conference, 27 January. Online at http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2005/jan/27/schools.uk3,last accessed 21 August 2008.

History education should have as its goal the development of free individuals capable of independent democratic and socially responsible judgment, rather than overt or covert indoctrination…. A new historical awareness is needed today so that we can understand how the world arrived at its present state, how to build bridges across past and present divisions, how to articulate an understanding and appreciation for cultural differences, and how to make the world a better and safer place in which to live.

International Society for History Didactics (2007)

http://www.int-soc-hist didact.org/.

Back to purposes of school history

Back to historypgce


logo University of East Anglia Norwich NR4 7TJ UK
Telephone: (+44) (0) 1603 456161
Fax: (+44) (0) 1603 458553