War history: Youngsters today... What do they know about the First World War?

Between now and 2019, two pupils and one teacher from every state-funded secondary school in England will be invited to join a four-day tour to the Western Front Between now and 2019, two pupils and one teacher from every state-funded secondary school in England will be invited to join a four-day tour to the Western Front

Monday, May 12, 2014
12:05 PM

Thrilled by this week’s news, Mike Peters − Galloway’s resident military historian and chairman of the International Guild of Battlefield Guides − explains why it’s important to study the First World War in schools and colleges.

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Between now and 2019, two pupils and one teacher from every state-funded secondary school in England will be invited to join a four-day tour to the Western FrontBetween now and 2019, two pupils and one teacher from every state-funded secondary school in England will be invited to join a four-day tour to the Western Front

This week has seen an exciting development for all of us involved in battlefield tours. The UK Government launched its First World War Centenary programme for schools. Thousands of teachers and schoolchildren in England will be given the opportunity to take part in a unique education programme run by the Institute of Education (IOE). It’s designed to help them develop a deeper understanding of the First World War and includes a tour of the battlefields.

Between now and 2019, two pupils and one teacher from every state-funded secondary school in England will be invited to join a four-day tour to the Western Front, accompanied by IOE staff and professional battlefield guides.

These tours will visit sites such as Tyne Cot Cemetery, the Indian Memorial at Neuve Chappelle or the Newfoundland Memorial Park on the Somme in France. All will take part in the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium. A number of pupils and teachers have already attended pilot tours and describe them as “an experience we will remember forever and will take through for the rest of our lives”.

In addition, all teachers will be able to take part in an innovative IOE-led professional development programme. This is designed to challenge them to think about what and how they teach the First World War, both in the classroom and on fieldtrips. It is to be run through face-to-face courses and via online learning.

The IOE’s First World War education team is already supporting a number of schools and academies in developing commemorative projects to ensure that a lasting legacy is created from the centenary programme. Resources have also been developed that enable history, citizenship, English, drama, art and music teachers to focus on the Great War and engage local communities in post-tour projects.

Although it’s not compulsory, the majority of schools elect to study the First World War in Key Stage 3 (years 7-9), most looking at it in year 9 when students are 13-14 years old. A visit to the battlefields, with all the associated emotional experiences and practical understanding that it brings, is viewed by many schools as critical to a student’s understanding of the war and remembrance. Many go on to study it in more detail at either GCSE or A-level.

At Galloway, we have been taking schools to the Western Front for nearly 50 years and it is encouraging to see so much support being given to what we all believe is a valuable lesson for our young people. So the next time you question if our history is still relevant to youngsters today, perhaps a better question would be “What else can I learn?”

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