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What’s the Point of History?

Monday’s assembly this week fell between two weekends on which special celebrations have been, or will be, held.  The first, Bonfire Night, prompted wonderful observations from the children ranging from the beautiful colours thrown into the night sky and the hot and tasty foods eaten during the evening, to how pets were looked after during the fireworks, so that they were not frightened by the loud and sudden bangs of exploding rockets.  Our assembly then moved on to the weekend to come, and to the meaning of Remembrance Day and why we bought poppies and what they represented.  I was very proud of the children’s thoughtful answers, which showed growing maturity and consideration – but there was an unexpected follow-up!  A little later that day, I was asked by one of our Key Stage 1 children why we had to think about things in the past, and why we needed to have history lessons, ‘because everything has happened and it’s over and gone!’ 

I thought about this a great deal, and remembered that when I chose Latin as an option at school, my friends all told me that it was a ‘dead language’ and of no use at all, as no-one spoke it.  Imagine my delight when, during translation exercises, I could prove this was not the case, by using a Latin root to work out the meaning of a French or Spanish word without recourse to a dictionary!  Latin proved to be both very much alive, and extremely useful!  So too, with history, which in making a record of past actions and behaviours, helps our children to understand how they have arrived at the present, and how they might determine and shape the future.  As they mature, a clear sense of their cultural and personal identity will be fundamental in shaping who and what they are and what they will become, and their heritage and past will inform and guide their choices. 

History also gives an insight into why customs and laws have developed, which enables us to identify current issues and how they may be solved going forwards.  This helps our children to understand the thoughts and actions of others, encourages greater understanding and tolerance of differing religious and political ideas, and helps to overcome the fear of the unknown, from which so many troubles stem.  It enables our pupils to analyse events and situations and to make informed and empathetic judgments, which in turn, engenders self-confidence and the growth of self-esteem.  History also broadens children’s horizons, and fosters curiosity, together with a desire to explore and imagine; in short, it encourages our children to embrace a global outlook on life, of vital importance as communication and technology increasingly cross boundaries and open-up our world. 

I very much hope that the answer I gave after that assembly helped the children to understand the importance and relevance of history to our everyday lives.  Certainly, the question highlights the vital link between the school’s academic curriculum and its pastoral one, as so many of the skills developed in learning history, are those we seek to develop throughout the school; in our PCHE and RE programmes, the weekly meetings and special activity days offered through the school’s House system, and through the everyday work of the Form Tutors and all the staff, in supporting and encouraging each child in our care. 

To the question, ‘What’s in history?’ the answer must surely be ‘What isn’t?’

Heather Hopson-Hill, Head Teacher



Published on 09/11/2017