Why the humanities in primary schools matter now more than ever
05 January 2021

Why the humanities in primary schools matter now more than ever

2020 was a very difficult year and a time of great uncertainty for everyone, including children and their parents and teachers. Let us hope that 2021 is a much more positive one.

The lockdown emphasized the importance of schools for all children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The challenges faced by those
from minority ethnic backgrounds and the need for a more inclusive curriculum have been highlighted by Black Lives Matter.

While schools and teachers are rightly concerned with a ‘recovery curriculum’, this should involve a radically different approach which is more engaging for all children, not just ‘more of the same.’ A recovery curriculum must address children’s social and emotional, as well as academic, needs and provide opportunities to make sense of what they, and other people, have experienced.

We welcome Ofsted’s encouragement of a broadly-based and balanced curriculum and that many schools are responding to this by a greater emphasis on the humanities and the arts. This should not just entail spending more time spent on history, geography and RE, art, music and drama, though that would be welcome. A broadly-based primary curriculum provides a wide range of experiences, especially first-hand and practical ones, which interest and challenge all children, enabling them to become more self-motivated, more able to make informed judgements and more resilient. These qualities are essential if children are to become active, engaged citizens.

Humanities 20:20 resulted from a widespread concern about the marginalization of the humanities in primary schools. Recent events have shown that the humanities matter now more than ever. They help children to gain a broader perspective and explore views different from what is familiar to them. This is vital in a world where too many people only encounter, and pay attention to, views similar to their own.

The humanities help children to deal with complexity and uncertainty. Studying the humanities encourages children to explore how things should be, not just how things are or have been. This involves thinking about difficult and complex issues, like the climate emergency, migration and discrimination, not just memorizing facts and information. Enabling childrn to ask and explore such questions, often with no definite answer, is at the heart of good humanities teaching. This does not mean that literacy, numeracy and science do not matter, but a better balance is required with more opportunities for children to learn about themselves, other people and cultures and to respond to the world around them.

Many people say that young children cannot deal with such issues- or will be upset by them. We disagree. With skilful teaching, exploration and discussion of these ideas can be introduced at an appropriate level even with very young children; and with increasing depth and sophistication during Key Stage 2.

We would love to hear about, and share, what you are doing to promote the humanities in your own school or group of schools; or any comments on this article. Please let us know on if you are prepared to do this. In the meantime, our best wishes for the year ahead.

Tony Eaude

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