Titbit teaching: the educational sin of our age

As a former history teacher, and now as a private tutor, I am astonished to see how widespread modular teaching, or titbit teaching as I call it, has become in British education. Titbit teaching is the style of teaching which offers a bit of information from here and a bit of information from there but fails to create the wider picture, the perimeter of the puzzle as it were. Pupils are offered fragments of relevant information, but not a wider, more general and unified view.

It is not uncommon in history lessons for pupils to learn about the Norman conquest of England in 1066 during year 7, the Tudor monarchy during years 8-9, Nazi Germany at GCSE and then, perhaps, Imperial Russia for A-level. Such a sequence is entirely disjointed, and little effort is made to give pupils the broader flow of history or the causes and consequences of long-term historical developments. Worryingly, little time is spent on British history and the development of institutions which have made the country what it is today. It is no wonder that pupils have only a superficial sense of what British values are, since they have not studied the historical developments which gave rise to these values.

Many of my tutees comment that their experience of GCSE and A-level History is one of confusion and incoherence. This is awful, since history forms the essential background, however imperfect, to understanding the future. The study of history also provides a useful means and insight by which to understand politics, economics and society. The fact so many school leavers do not have a proper sense of their own country’s history, have not been made aware of how their studies fit together in terms of the wider picture and are unable to link their studies to the broader reality of life is not just sad but dangerously selling the next generation short.

The British curriculum and exam structure needs to foster a better connection between subjects. In the case of history, specifically, a clear sense of sequence of historical events and links between different historical periods is vital. Small modules, lasting only part of one academic year, need to be replaced with broad thematic subjects taught across multiple years. One of these should be a thorough overview of British history from 1066 to 2000 so pupils can understand the country in which they live, work and call their home. Another should probably be an overarching study of European political history from the Crusades through to the end of the Cold War. Such subjects would finally provide pupils with a breadth of knowledge and understanding of historical causation, something they now distinctly lack.

In an ever more complex world, the ability to see the wider picture and think critically, creatively, rigorously and comprehensively will be more important than ever. To simply know fragments of history is not good enough and pupils will not get far in life with this information. They must understand history. This understanding is not possible with titbit teaching, and so urgent whole scale government reform of how history is taught and learnt is required.

By Hugh Pickering-Carter, a Bonas MacFarlane history tutor.

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