Most teachers in England do not know when the Holocaust began, study says

By Daniel Keane
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Most teachers in England do not know when the Holocaust began, new research suggests.

A number of misconceptions are still prevalent among teachers, nearly a fifth of whom have not received specialist training in the teaching of the period, according to a study by University College London’s Centre for Holocaust Education.

The UCL study was based on a survey of 964 teachers who have taught about the Holocaust in the past three years.

It found that, while there had been improvements in the subject knowledge of teachers since a similar study in 2009, there remains a number of “significant gaps and common confusions” in the teaching of the Holocaust.

Fifty-eight per cent of teachers were unable to identify when the Holocaust began, while only 45 per cent of those surveyed were able to correctly identify the proportion of the German population that was Jewish in 1933.

Less than half of teachers that took part in the study knew what the British government’s response was to learning of the systemic murder of the Jewish people, the research found.

However, the study found that certain areas of subject knowledge had improved between 2009 and 2019/20. The number of teachers able to successfully identify the Chelmno death camp had increased by 18 per cent, according to the research.

The researchers also identified a correlation between those who had received specialist training in teaching the Holocaust and greater historical accuracy. However, nearly a fifth of those with recent experience of teaching the Holocaust had received no specialist training at all.

Dr Andy Pearce, Associate Professor in Holocaust and History Education at UCL, warned that pupils could develop a “skewed” impression of the period if subject knowledge was not improved.

“It is troubling that such myths and misconceptions as these remain among large sections of the teaching profession,” he said. “Robust subject knowledge matters not i and of itself, but because of what – and who – it enables.

“In the case of the Holocaust, subject knowledge is cavernous, complex and complicated. It requires time to develop and establish, space to reflect upon, and expert guidance on how to apply the knowledge acquired into practice.”

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he was “concerned” by the study’s findings.

“School leaders and teachers work very hard to combat a range of false information and myths on a range of subjects that are spread through the click of a button in a society which has undergone a rapid and poorly regulated digital revolution,” he said.

“However, the reality is that schools and teachers face a huge number of pressures on their time in a crowded curriculum and constantly have to juggle many competing priorities.

“There is a wider need for the government to work with the education sector to review the many expectations on schools to make this situation more manageable.”

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