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Could history be a thing of the past?

history a thing of the pastTHE WELSH Government’s Education Minister has launched a controversial new policy that could force schools to prioritise literacy and numeracy over all other subjects.

History, geography, and even science, could be side-lined as the Welsh Labour Government gets tough on alleged falling literacy and numeracy standards in our schools.

The new policy, known as the National Literacy and Numeracy Framework (LNF) is being introduced this term across both primary and secondary schools. The central idea of the framework is that ALL subjects across the curriculum will now be required to have embedded planning that takes account of literacy and numeracy skills.

Unlike in previous thinking, whereby teaching objectives were limited to those of the subject being taught, this would mean that additionally each subject teacher would also need to assess pupils’ achievements in literacy and numeracy, that some teachers feel is even being prioritised above the subject itself. One teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, said:

“This would mean that if I was teaching a lesson in history where I wanted my pupils to understand as to why the Holocaust happened, it would not be enough just to know they could explain this.

“Additionally, I would also have to plan for them to show me they were using literacy or numeracy skills as well, depending on how I could fit such an objective in. I think in such a lesson, surely, an understanding of such an awful and complex event is the objective, not for example as to whether they can spell Holocaust or not?”

The teacher added:

“The problem with this new framework is that it just adds more work to an already over-subscribed workload that teachers simply do not have the time to do.

“I got into teaching history to teach history, it is what I am qualified to do. You have to ask who is supposed to assess these additional numeracy or literacy objectives? Will it be me, who is not a specialist in these areas?”

More worryingly the teacher continued by stating:

“I attended a course for the LNF only a fortnight ago where I was told by the Course Leader that in the next five years it was possible that all primary teaching would be centred around literacy and numeracy, and all other subjects would be planned around these two core subjects.

“It is very worrying. It is all very well just teaching children to read and write, but if they do not have a much broader education and learn about the world, and people around them, then what will they have to write about?”

The Welsh Government responded to The Herald:

“The LNF has been designed to support teachers to embed literacy and numeracy across the curriculum. The LNF is made up of clear, precise expectation statements which will enable teachers and schools to judge with far more precision how learners are progressing and what specific support they require.

“If learners are not supported to develop excellent literacy and numeracy skills from the beginning of their education then they will not be able to access the subject specific knowledge within the National Curriculum Programmes of Study.

“We have issued guidance which explains that the LNF should be taught in subjects where there is a natural fit and there is no need to contrive ways to include literacy and numeracy into subjects where it simply doesn’t fit.

“We have also produced exemplar materials and classroom tasks which give teachers examples of how the LNF can be taught in a way that supports the wider curriculum and enhances the programmes of study for all of the subjects within the National Curriculum.

“We have seen many examples of schools that are teaching literacy and numeracy skills as part of the wide and varied curriculum which develops both learners’ skills and subject based knowledge in a joined up way”.

On the issue of teachers’ abilities to teach outside their subject areas, the Welsh Government went on: “The National Support Programme (NSP) offers tailor made support to schools in implementing the LNF, this could include developing the literacy and numeracy skills of teachers. The NSP also disseminates good practice examples of how schools can deliver the LNF in a meaningful and interesting way.”

Over the next year the Education Department will be anxious to see whether such a policy can start to achieve its aims. Parents and teachers will hope it does not detract from the importance of the learning of other subjects, essential to a holistic education for our country’s young people.