The First World War in the Classroom

Are you a teacher? Then here’s a project that deserves support. A team of academics from Exeter and Northumbria universities are trying to find out what actually gets taught when the First World War is on the syllabus in schools, whether for History or English. As their handout explains:

This kind of survey has never been undertaken before. In the light of the forthcoming centenary commemorations, it is of vital importance in helping to understand the way young people interpret this seminal event in British and global history. We are interested to know what teachers think, whether they teach the First World War or not.

You can find the survey, and more information at the project website It’s quite a big questionnaire (which will take around 15-25 minutes to complete) but those who complete the survey will be entered into a draw for a £100 M&S voucher. The anonymity of all respondents is assured.
The handout continues:

By taking part in the survey, the benefit to teachers is twofold. Firstly, the survey will be used to inform the nature and content of the Institute of Education’s WW1 Centenary Battlefield Tours Project which aims to provide the opportunity for a minimum of two pupils and one teacher from every state funded secondary school in England to visit battlefields on the Western Front starting in 2014. Secondly, the survey results will help the project leaders establish an on-going and mutually beneficial dialogue between teachers and researchers interested in First World War literature and history. Teacher input will work towards improving communication between sectors and subjects and will enable the project team to create and link up resources and ideas via the project website.

If there is a good take-up of this, we should get an idea of how the Great War is actually taught in schools, and whether a different picture is given in History and English (war poetry) lessons. When I used to mark the AQA As-level Literature of the First World War paper, I got the impression that many teachers were only presenting their students with the ‘futility’ interpretation of the War – which in some cases limited the students’ ability to understand what texts were actually saying.
When the centenary jollies begin, there will probably be a lot more WW1 in the classroom (and on the telly and elsewhere). The fiftieth anniversary back in 1964 saw the firming of the ironic view of the War (thanks to A.J.P.Taylor, Oh What a Lovely War and so on). Will the centenary also be a turning point? I think our attitudes to warfare and to soldiers are changing (Look at the increased reverence for war memorials these days. In Huddersfield, which does not have a memorial in the town centre, the old Market Cross has been annexed as a memorial by those who feel the need for one. It is currently laden with flowers in honour of Lee Rigby.)
If a different way of looking at the War is indeed emerging, this survey may chart its early signs.


  1. Posted June 20, 2013 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    Lots of changes between 1964 and 2014, of course, but one I think that’s particularly important is that far more people in 1964 had been in the Forces at some point in their lives, either in the two world wars or as conscript National Servicemen. The rather empty sentimentality that pervades discussion of WWI today may have something to do with the fact that so few of us have any real idea of what being a soldier is like any more.

  2. Posted June 23, 2013 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Unknown Region.

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