Imprisonment, Execution and Escape: Medieval History and the National Curriculum

Imprisonment, Execution and Escape: Medieval History and the National Curriculum

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Imprisonment, Execution and Escape: Medieval History and the National Curriculum

Megan Gooch (Curator, Historic Royal Palaces)

The final talk in Session #1041, Engaging the Public with the Medieval World, looked at what English children are being taught in school. How much medieval history is in the new programme that was released in September 2014? Megan Gooch, Curator at the Historic Royal Palaces breaks down the English system for us in her paper, ‘Imprisonment, Execution, and Escape: Medieval History and the National Curriculum’.

The English National Curriculum

There were sweeping changes made recently to the English National Curriculum. The National Curriculum was introduced in England in 1988 to rectify educational inequalities and give every child the same standard of education across the country. The government recently decided to change the curriculum because it wasn’t challenging enough to compete globally, arguing that it wanted to afford English children the best possible start in life. The Tudors and Victorians were stalwarts of the English system and helped out heritage sites like the Historic Palaces. Teachers also loved teaching these periods but with the new national curriculum this changed substantially, prompting some concerns.

What’s New?

  • Key Stage 1 (ages 4-7): Children are taught about ‘significant events’ in English history that can span any time period and events in ‘living memory’. They are also taught about ‘significant individuals’ and local history.
  • Key Stage 2 (ages 7-11) pre-1066: Children in this age group are taught (but not limited to) the Anglo-Saxons, Scots, and Anglo-Saxon laws and justice up to the time of Edward the Confessor. Local history is continued here as well.
  • Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14) post-1066: Children are taught post 1066- approximately 1509. There is a local history component in this study group. Topics include: The Norman Conquest, Magna Carta, the development of Church, States and Society, the Black Death, English Campaigns to conquer Wales and Scotland, the Peasant’s Revolt, the Hundred Years War, the Wars of the Roses, and Henry VII.


There was a backlash against Key Stage 1 and it was widely criticised by teachers. The government wanted everything to be taught chronologically but children in this stage don’t have a concrete conception of time. The other issue is that being taught events in ‘living memory’ is problematic since this is obviously not the children’s memory. Teaching ‘Globally Significant Events’ does not contain explicit medieval content. Regarding local history, it’s not clear what the boundaries of a locality are – these can vary wildly in England so it makes teaching ‘local history’ a bit more tricky.

Heritage Sites and Education

What’s great about heritage sites is that with new teaching tools, like live interpretation or interactive spaces for children to explore history, the children are asked questions, not just told facts. In the Normans at the Tower of London outside sessions near the White Tower, the actors engage with school groups, and involve children in their scenes by asking them to participate by doing things like holding their shield.

What would be the best possible outcome with the new educational changes according to Gooch? If children could come away from the new system and know basics, like, “The White Tower was built by William as a show of power and strength over the Anglo-Saxons.”. In the end, Gooch concluded her talk by saying, “History is not about recall, it’s not about shoving facts down people’s throats”.

~Sandra Alvarez

Follow Historic Royal Palaces on Twitter: @HRP_palaces

Watch the video: Liberal Arts in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (June 2022).


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