Historical consciousness in sixth-form students

Teaching History article

By Marina Instone, published 4th October 2013

Moving forwards while looking back: historical consciousness in sixth-form students

A key concern driving debates about curriculum reform in England is anxiety that young people's knowledge of the past is too episodic - that they lack a coherent ‘narrative' or ‘map' of the past. While recent debate focused on what could be achieved by 14-year-olds (and whether a purely chronological approach would help), Marina Instone set out to examine the kind of overview that her A-level students had developed, after four more years' increasingly specialised study. Her interest was not merely in the story that they could tell, but also in the value they ascribed to it in the present, and the use to which they put it in thinking about the future. While she was generally reassured about such students' capacity to use the past cautiously as a frame of reference, she was surprised by the variety of their responses and intrigued by the fact that those most capable of presenting a coherent overview of the past did not necessarily make use of that knowledge in thinking about the present or future. Above all her findings highlight the range of influences, beyond as well as within school, that shape young people's developing historical consciousness...

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