Research Report

2021 Historical Association Survey of History in Scottish Secondary Schools



Smith J, Burn K & Harris R (2021) 2021 Historical Association Survey of History in Scottish Secondary Schools. Historical Association. London: Historical Association.

- This report details the results for teachers in Scotland of the Historical Association’s survey of history teachers across the four nations of the UK. The survey was launched in May 2021 and remained open until the end of July. - Seventy Scottish high schools responded to the survey out of a total of 357. This 20% sample size is very high for surveys of this kind. - Despite the curricular entitlement to a ‘broad general education’ (BGE) until the end of S3, in 86% of Scottish schools, history became optional for students after either the first or the second year of high school. - A minority of Scottish schools (36%) teach at least one lesson on the British Empire in the BGE. Where this is taught, it is five times more likely to be taught in one or two lessons than as a discrete topic. Just two schools out of 70 agreed that their teaching of the British Empire ‘mainly focuses on the experience of empire on those who were colonised’. - Sixty-three per cent of Scottish high schools teach about the transatlantic slave trade in the BGE. - Around one-third of schools (34%) teach migration in some form in the BGE, but just three schools teach about migration from former British colonies - A minority (43%) of schools teach about a non-European society in its own terms during the BGE course. Indigenous peoples of the Americas are the most common focus for non-European study. - Just 17% of Scottish high schools teach about the Black British experience in the BGE, with just four schools teaching a whole topic about this. - Black people have a greater presence in the senior phase of the Scottish history curriculum than in the BGE, with the transatlantic slave trade and the US civil rights movement being the most widely taught topics at this level. However, there are legitimate concerns with the Black experience being so narrowly focused on two traumatic periods, and also concerns about the absence of a Black British perspective. - The histories of some historically marginalised groups were taught more than others. Women’s history (taught in 87% of schools) and working/lower class history (84%) were more widely taught than LGBT+ history (41%) and experiences of people with disabilities (44%). - Five per cent of schools agreed that they had made considerable changes to their history curriculum in the last five years to make it more inclusive. Among those who made some changes to their curriculum, a personal sense of social justice (88%) was the most common factor motivating them to do so. Conversely, 30% of participant schools said that they had made no changes to their history curriculum in the last three years to make it more inclusive. - Lack of time, lack of money and lack of classroom resources were perceived as the main obstacles to making changes to the school curriculum, while the Internet and the support of subject associations were seen as the main ways of overcoming these obstacles.

Publication date22/10/2021
Publication date online22/10/2021
Publisher URL…dary-survey-2021
Place of publicationLondon

People (1)


Dr Joseph Smith

Dr Joseph Smith

Lecturer, Education