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Harris, Richard, and Haydn, Terry. “Pupil and Teacher Perspectives on Motivation and Engagement in High School History: A U.K. View.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), New York, USA, March 24-28, 2008.


Drawing on data from 1,740 pupil questionnaires and 160 pupils in focus group interviews, the paper explores pupils’ views on why they study history in high school. Although many pupils reported that they did consider the study of history to be useful, their views on why history is part of the school curriculum bore little relation to those given in curriculum specifications and in academic discourse about the purposes and benefits of studying history in school. The study provides insight into pupils’ ideas about why they study history at school and considers the implications of these ideas for history teachers and history teacher educators. In addition to suggesting that many pupils have very vague and inchoate ideas about the purposes of school history, the data also revealed a clear ‘school effect’ on pupils’ views about history. In some schools, quite a high proportion of pupils were able to articulate the benefits of studying history in terms which bore some correlation to the case for school history identified in official curriculum documentation, whereas in other schools, far fewer pupils were able to do this. It seems possible that many history teachers may be making assumptions about pupils’ understanding of the rationale for studying history in school. The variations between schools suggested that there are things that teachers can do to explain the purposes and benefits of school history to their pupils. The outcomes of the study also indicate that there is a case for history teachers devoting more time and thought to helping pupils to understand the purposes and benefits of studying history in high school in order to improve the motivation and engagement of their pupils.

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