Thursday, April 8, 2010


Lord Faulkner of Worcester asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they will invite the examinations board, OCR (Oxford, Cambridge and RSA), to abandon its proposal to discontinue the subject of ancient history at AS and A-level.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Adonis): My Lords, the Government are not content to see the withdrawal of ancient history as a free-standing A-level, and we have invited OCR and the QCA to come forward with proposals for its continuance.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, what a splendid Answer—gaudeamus igitur! Is my noble friend aware, and I am sure he is, that his decision will be greeted with great joy not just by the ancient historian academics who have fought so hard against this ill conceived proposal by the examinations board but by thousands of others as well, particularly the pupils in state and independent schools who are increasingly taking up ancient history because they feel it gives them an insight into the birth of democracy, the growth of Christianity and indeed the shape of modern Europe? Will he also gently remind the examinations regulator, the QCA, that it has a continuing responsibility to protect minority subjects such as ancient history which are provided by only one examination provider?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his remarks, to which I will draw the QCA’s attention so that it can see what he said. On ancient history, which we regard as a very important A-level, the number studying at AS-level rose from 749 to 951 between 2005 and 2006, while the number of candidates for the A-level has also been increasing. I am glad to say that the number entering for Latin and ancient Greek has also been increasing. I would like to think that that had something to do with the appointment of an Adonis as Schools Minister, but I am told that it has rather more to do with successful projects such as the Cambridge classics project, outstandingly successful books such as Robert Harris’s Imperium and Tom Holland’s Rubicon, and films such as “Gladiator”.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the study of the roots of our democracy through ancient history is crucial to the understanding of the importance of having a contested election rather than a coronation of the leader of the government?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the Romans were also quite good at dictatorship and subverting established governments, so, as ever in history, you can take your pick.

Baroness Warnock: My Lords, will the Minister also draw the attention of the examination regulators to the fact that ancient history is an extraordinarily useful subject? It is a tool subject for pupils at A-level because it teaches them in a manageable way what it is to seek and use evidence, both literary and archaeological. It is an ideal A-level subject.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I entirely agree. I am at one with Cicero:

“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?”.

I assume that that is what the noble Baroness meant.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I declare an interest: I took ancient history A-level and did rather badly. I hope that the Minister’s comments will go into the future, because we fought the same battle over archaeology A-level. In the first round, the Government said that they were quite keen for archaeology A-level to remain, but since then it has been discontinued as an A-level subject, which is unfortunate considering the popular interest in archaeology throughout the country.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the noble Lord is living proof that there is no such thing as grade inflation. I take his point about minority subjects, and we see it as our responsibility to safeguard them.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, if it was such a bad idea to drop the subject of ancient history, why did the examination board make that proposal in the beginning?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I have no idea.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, if we are going to learn ancient history better than we ever have before, can we hope that we will learn British history in its entirety at some stage in the future?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, we are safeguarding the teaching of British history. Indeed, we have made changes to the content of British history in both GCSE and A-level that will see it given greater prominence, to meet the noble Lord’s concerns.

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