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The purposes of school history

Some quotations from recent British Prime Ministers about school history


‘‘It is obvious that you must have some history and some geography: you are not a complete person unless you have that general knowledge. You simply must know, roughly chronologically, how things happened, what their significance was and why.'

Margaret Thatcher, in ‘Margaret Thatcher: the Downing Street Years': p. 595.

Children should be taught ‘those periods of history when greatest progress was achieved compared to earlier times and when Britain was furthest in advance of other nations.'


We are quite different from the rest of Europe… we alone have not been occupied or defeated for nearly a thousand years… they have, regularly. We alone defeated the tyrannies in Europe or rescued other people from it. We are a remarkable people and it's right that we should keep our sovereignty and national character.'

Quoted in Little, V. (1990: 326) A national curriculum in history: a very contentious issue?, British Journal of Educational Studies , Vol. 38: 3119-334.



Thatcher, M. (1992) Election address, Stockport , 23 March. Quoted in Stockport Express , 26 March.




‘I think it is really important to study history. If we are going to lead Britain safely into the future, it is essential that we understand our country's historical roots. If we can learn from the lessons of the past, we will be able to avoid making mistakes in the future.'

Tony Blair (source unknown)




“We love British history, Britain 's culture, the British way of life.'

‘History was always, along with English, my favourite subject at school… and I think it is fascinating, provided you can teach history in the right way, though I think sometimes when, I mean you obviously have to know when all the kings and queens came, and I can't remember now.'

Tony Blair, speech to WI, quoted in Daily Mail, 28 March 2001 .

Extract from podcast interview with Simon Schama, 22 March 2007 Guardian, transcript online at: http://pm.gov.uk/output/Page11325.asp .

(John Major also made public comments about school history and argued that there had been ‘an insidious attack' on traditional British History, and that the transmission of facts about Britain 's heroes and victories should be a prime purpose of school history).

See Chitty, C. and Simon, B. (eds) (1993) Education answers back , London , Lawrence and Wishart.

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