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History in Schools: A Tsar is Born

Following an invitation to help advise the government on the school history curriculum, what can a high-profile ‘telly don’ like Niall Ferguson bring to the classroom? Seán Lang wonders.

It has got to be any historian’s dream: to be dubbed ‘the history tsar’ in the press and be asked to help draw up the history curriculum for schools in England. Who could begrudge Niall Ferguson a sense of triumph after Michael Gove, the new education secretary, publicly invited him to take on the task following a talk given by Ferguson at this year’s Hay Festival? Of course some did just that and voiced dismay that the historian who had done more than anyone to revive public interest – some would say pride – in Britain’s imperial past should have any say in deciding the future shape of history for the young. 

There is a degree of double standard at play here. School teachers are pleased when their work is endorsed by a Michael Wood or a Simon Schama (both of whom have spoken supportively of teachers’ work at history conferences, though Schama has also criticised the narrow coverage of the curriculum). But they can get indignant when it gets criticised by a David Starkey or a Niall Ferguson, who are obviously living in an ivory tower with no idea of what it’s like teaching Year 9 on a Friday afternoon.

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