Pupils’ ‘appalling’ history knowledge

Sir Edmund Blackadder was a real historical figure and Adolf Hitler was the prime minister who led Britain to victory in World War II, many schoolchildren in Britain believe. A survey of 200 pupils, aged between 11 and 18, found half were unable to link Oliver Cromwell with the English Civil War and 17% thought he was at the Battle of Hastings.

Two out of five pupils did not know that Henry VIII had six wives – 34% thought he had eight, the research by military history publishers Osprey found.

Only 36% knew the exact dates of the First World War and more than a quarter thought Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar was the Mary Rose.

Three out of five did not know when the Romans ruled Britain and nearly half (49%) were unable to date the Great Fire of London.

And over 50% could not name the reigning monarch the time of the Armada, with one in ten opting for King Harold out of five multiple choice answers.

Subject ‘squeezed’

The report said historical knowledge had hit a “shocking low” and claimed the situation would only get worse, with the subject being squeezed out of many school timetables.

More than a quarter of school students (26%) were not taking GCSE history because their school timetable made it difficult to arrange, the report claimed.

“Their level of knowledge has fallen to depths which highlight the appalling effects of reducing the emphasis on history in the National Curriculum,” a spokeswoman for Osprey said.

But despite the grim findings, more than half (55%) said they enjoyed history and one in five liked it “a great deal”.

Most felt that an understanding of the past was vital in order to understand what should happen in the future (55%).

“If there was no history there would be no us,” one 12-year-old girl said.


The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, admitted the situation was “worrying”.

The government had ordered a revamp of the curriculum “to bring history alive”, for example by including the story of the Bletchley Park Enigma code-breakers and the importance of their work in the Second World War.

It was important for children to know “key dates, events and figures”, he added.

Test results

Below are some of the multiple choice questions and the percentages of pupils choosing different answers. The correct answers are highlighted in yellow.

In which of the following was Oliver Cromwell involved?
Battle of Hastings 17%
War of the Roses 7%
Battle of Britain 6%
Falklands War 1%
Don’t know 19%
How many wives did Henry VIII have?
Four 4%
Eight 34%
Ten 4%
What was the name of Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar?
The Discovery 12%
The Golden Hind 6%
The Invincible 7%
The Mary Rose 27%
Don’t know 22%
Do you know the years in which the First World War began and ended?
Correct decade 15%
Correct century 27%
19th century 7%
18th century 5%
Earlier 1%
Don’t know 6%
Which British Prime Minister led Britain to victory in the Second World War?
Harold Macmillan 4%
Margaret Thatcher 3%
Adolf Hitler 4%
Benjamin Disraeli 1%
Don’t know 6%
When was the Great Fire of London?
1605 11%
1810 11%
1066 11%
1547 5%
Don’t know 12%
When did the Romans rule Britain?
200BC 24%
1000AD 14%
15thC 5%
150 years ago 5%
Don’t know 15%
At the Battle of Hastings, who were the English fighting?
Germans 2%
Welsh 4%
Vikings 10%
Scots 13%
Don’t know 5%
Who was the English Monarch at the time of the Armada?
King George V 9%
Queen Elizabeth II 6%
King Harold 10%
Queen Victoria 9%
King Henry VIII 11%
Don’t know 9%

Source: BBC News

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