MP, Chris Skidmore, has called for history to be made compulsory to age 16 because he feels too few pupils are taking it at GCSE. His Parliamentary question revealed that a 159 schools did not enter any pupils for GCSE History last year. There are indications that Gove intending to make History and Geography compulsory to 16. I spoke with the historian Kate Williams on BBC Breakfast about this, trying to argue the case that History shouldn’t be compulsory because it means that creative subjects in the curriculum get squeezed out. I had a tough time because one of the presenters was a historian and Kate Williams did a good job of defending History as a subject. Perhaps a little flippantly I said that many pupils were fed up of studying “dusty facts”, arguing that too often History can become bogged down in details that pupils find unappealing. Subjects like Art, Drama, Music, Design and Technology and Media Studies — all in my view just as worthwhile in their own way as History — would get squeezed out of the curriculum if History was made compulsory; we’re already seeing this happen with schools scrambling to fulfil the criteria of the E-Bacc. History is compulsory already to 14, I just think we need to give pupils more of a choice at this age and allow them to pursue other subjects if they so wish.

The chart showing the numbers of pupils doing History is interesting.

Table 1: Number and percentage of pupils (1, 2) entering GCSE history by ethnicity and free school meal (FSM) eligibility(3) in 2009/10
Pupils entering GCSE history
All pupils Pupils eligible for FSM
Ethnicity Number of pupils Percentage of pupils Number of pupils Percentage of pupils
White 147,436 30.9 9,072 17.3
Mixed 5,173 28.7 642 17.9
Asian 11,053 26.0 2,333 21.4
Black 6,006 24.9 1,506 20.4
Chinese 659 29.5 52 24.2
Other(4) 3,800 27.4 626 19.9
Total 174,127 30.1 14,131 18.3
Table 2: Number and percentage of pupils (1, 2) achieving an A*-C grade in GCSE history by ethnicity and FSM eligibility in 2009/10
Pupils achieving an A*-C grade in GCSE history
All pupils Pupils eligible for FSM
Ethnicity Number of pupils Percentage of pupils Number of pupils Percentage of pupils
White 99,301 20.8 3,661 7.0
Mixed 3,497 19.4 313 8.7
Asian 7,653 18.0 1,305 12.5
Black 3,617 15.0 789 10.7

19 July 2011 : Column 910W

Chinese 571 25.5 33 15.3
Other(4) 2,579 18.6 344 10.9
Total 117,218 20.3 6,445 8.3
(1) Pupils attending maintained schools (including Academies and CTCs). (2) Number of pupils at the end of Key Stage 4. (3)FSM eligibility taken from the 2010 Spring School Census (January 2010). (4) Includes pupils of any other ethnic group and for whom ethnicity was not obtained, refused or could not be determined. Source: National Pupil Database (final data)
Table 3: Number and percentage of students (1, 2 ) entering A-level history by ethnicity and FSM eligibility (3) in 2009/10
Students entering A-level history
All students Students eligible for FSM
Ethnicity Number of students Percentage of students Number of students Percentage of students
White 30,984 11.6 728 5.8
Mixed 946 9.7 62 5.0
Asian 1,615 5.9 221 4.1
Black 907 6.5 140 4.8
Chinese 123 5.6 10 5.3
Other(4) 1,210 5.6 84 4.1
Total 35,785 10.5 1,245 5.1
Table 4: Number and percentage of pupils (1, 2) achieving an A*-C grade in A-level history by ethnicity and FSM eligibility(3) 2009/10
Students achieving an A*-C grade in A-level History
All students Students eligible for FSM
Ethnicity Number of students Percentage of students Number of students Percentage of students
White 24,023 9.0 486 3.9
Mixed 757 7.8 46 3.7
Asian 1,225 4.4 153 2.8
Black 661 4.7 102 3.5
Chinese 98 4.4 7 3.7
Other’ 992 4.6 61 3.0
Total 27,756 8.1 855 3.5
(1) Maintained schools and FE sector colleges only. Students taking A levels in independent schools are not included. (2)Students entered for a GCE or Applied GCE A level or other Level 3 qualification equivalent in size to an A level and aged 16-18 at the start of the 2009/10 academic year i.e. 31 August 2009. (3) Students eligible for free school meals at the end of year 11. (4) Includes students of any other ethnic group and for whom ethnicity or first language was not obtained, refused or could not be determined. Source: National Pupil Database (final data)
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Published by: @wonderfrancis

Francis Gilbert is a Lecturer in Education at Goldsmiths, University of London, teaching on the PGCE Secondary English programme. He also teaches the Creative Writing module on the MA in Children’s Literature, which is run by Maggie Pitfield and Professor Michael Rosen. Previously, he worked for a quarter of a century in various English state schools teaching English and Media Studies to 11-18 year olds. He has, at times, moonlighted as a journalist, novelist and social commentator. He is the author of ‘Teacher On The Run’, ‘Yob Nation’, ‘Parent Power’, ‘Working The System -- How To Get The Very Best State Education for Your Child’, and a novel about school, ‘The Last Day Of Term’. His first book, ‘I'm A Teacher, Get Me Out Of Here’ was a big hit, becoming a bestseller and being serialised on Radio 4. In his role as an English teacher, he has taught many classic texts over the years and has developed a great many resources to assist readers with understanding, appreciating and responding to them both analytically and creatively. This led him to set up his own small publishing company FGI Publishing (fgipublishing.com) which has published his study guides as well as a number of books by other authors, including Roger Titcombe’s ‘Learning Matters’ and anthology of creative writing 'The Gold Room'. He is the co-founder, with Melissa Benn and Fiona Millar, of The Local Schools Network, www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk, a blog that celebrates non-selective state schools, and has his own website, www.francisgilbert.co.uk. He has appeared numerous times on radio and TV, including Newsnight, the Today Programme, Woman’s Hour and the Russell Brand Show. In June 2015, he was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing and Education by Goldsmiths.

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