Harris, Richard J and Haydn, Terry
Pupil perceptions of history as a school subject
At ECER 2006 Geneva. European Conference on Educational Research Geneva 2006.
13 - 16 Sep 2006.
The paper reports the outcomes of a Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) funded study of pupil perceptions of studying history at Key Stage 3 (between the ages of 11-14). The research aimed to explore how enjoyable pupils found the study of history compared to other school subjects and how important pupils felt it was to do well in history compared to other school subjects. Particular attention is devoted to pupil feedback on what aspects of studying history they found interesting and enjoyable, and their views on the usefulness of studying history in school. The research took place in the context of increasing concern about disaffection and disengagement from learning in UK schools (see for example, Elliott, 1998, DfES, 2003, White, 2004).
A questionnaire and focus group survey was conducted across 12 schools in East Anglia, London and the South Coast. Within the constraints of the sample size, an effort was made to obtain data from a range of different schools in terms of socio-economic and ethnic background of pupils, and types of school. The survey consisted of a questionnaire survey of 1,740 pupils from the 12 schools and focus group interviews with 160 pupils from eight of the 12 schools. The results were analysed using SPSS and Filemaker Pro software.
The findings suggest that many pupils (according to this survey 48%) arrive at secondary schools with negative perceptions of the subject. Roughly half of the pupils surveyed acknowledged an interest in history outside the classroom, in the form of reading, websites, site visits or watching history programmes on television. Pupil responses suggest that many of them do regard history as an important subject. However, many pupils were unable to give reasons for studying history which reflected the aims and purposes of the subject as indicated in recent curriculum specifications. Their reasons were often very vague and general, or based on fairly inchoate or limited ideas about employment possibilities. Many pupils either did not feel that history was relevant or were unable to articulate why it might be useful. There were wide variations in the number of pupils who regarded history as interesting and important, with substantial differences within as well as between departments. The survey provides some insights into pupils' understanding of the purposes of school history, and into the factors which persuade them that the subject is interesting, enjoyable and worthwhile. Although this study confined itself to pupils’ views of history as a school subject, research along similar lines may provide further insight into pupils’ attitude to learning in other subjects.
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