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Publication date: 1st March 2002 by Robert Phillips

Historical significance - the forgotten 'Key Element'?

How many history departments regularly discuss the quality of their enquiries and teaching processes that relate to historical significance? It would not be unusual, in 2002, for a history department to spend time in a department meeting reflecting upon pupils’ learning about causation or to explore the connection between pupils’ evidential understanding and their growing historical knowledge. Yet the prescribed curriculum for 11 to 14 year-olds in England and Wales gives almost equal attention to the concept of ‘historical significance’ and has done since 1991. Rob Phillips argues that historical significance has been wrongly neglected as a key aspect of the conceptual structure that informs the discipline. Exemplifying the principles through practical activities he offers models for teaching pupils to explore the idea of significance and argues for its connection with citizenship education. In citizenship, as in other current areas of curriculum development commonly linked with history, such as ‘thinking skills’, history teachers now need to be clearer than ever when debating with non-history colleagues and managers what constitutes a legitimate historical focus or a valid historical question. Rob Phillips’ work on the under-represented concept of significance provides history departments with fresh criteria to support such experimentation and debate.