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Raising Standards in Holocaust Education

Wider research has informed national plans for Holocaust remembrance and the role of education within that sphere.

UCL Centre for Holocaust Education teacher CPD class

20 February 2020

Teaching about the Holocaust has been compulsory in secondary schools since 1991. Yet, in 2009, ground-breaking research by the UCL Centre for Holocaust Education revealed significant issues, including limited professional development for teachers on how to teach this complex subject, serious gaps in teachers’ subject knowledge, and confusion about rationale, aims and definitions. 

In response, the Centre produced a high quality, research-informed professional development programme offered by its world-class experts. Over the last decade, this programme has benefitted over 12,000 teachers and counting. The Centre has continued to conduct large-scale national research, making its programmes uniquely responsive to the needs of teachers and students.  This includes a 2016 study of students’ knowledge and understanding of the Holocaust. Findings from the Centre’s latest research with teachers will be released in 2020. 

The Centre’s wider research has informed national plans for Holocaust remembrance and the role of education within that sphere. It has international reach, informing teaching and providing advice about intolerance and antisemitism through work with intergovernmental and education alliances in more than 50 countries. 

Findings and impact

Impact on teaching and learning in England

In 2016, the Centre further developed its professional development programme for teachers, to address key findings from its study exploring what students aged 11-18 years knew and understood about the Holocaust.

This study, based on research with almost 10,000 students, highlighted the limited knowledge and misconceptions students often have about the Holocaust. It indicated that research-informed teaching of the Holocaust must first develop students’ historical knowledge and understanding, otherwise students cannot formulate deeper and more profound meanings. For example, many students believed that Hitler was solely responsible for the Holocaust, but this narrow misconception prevented a more profound understanding of broader complicity and collaboration across Europe, and the potential implication of such human behaviour for contemporary society.

The Centre’s programmes, therefore, continue to transform learning through:

  • a national programme for new teachers - completed by over 5,000 beginning teachers to date
  • continuing professional development for teachers, including sessions to address students’ confusion about Britain’s role in the Holocaust and their limited understanding of antisemitism - completed by over 7,000 teachers to date
  • local support through the Centre’s 139 Holocaust education ‘Beacon Schools’ forming a dynamic national network of over 800 schools, reaching over 800,000 students on an annual basis, and improving teaching standards, raising pupil achievement and strengthening spiritual, moral, social and cultural provision
  • a new research-informed textbook (for publication in 2020), with at least 30,000 free copies being sent to secondary schools across England, increasing students’ and teachers’ knowledge of the Holocaust and reducing misconceptions. 

Impact on national policy and development

Through government commissions, cross-party and parliamentary committee inquiries, the Centre’s work has informed policy to ensure the memory of the Holocaust is preserved and that initiatives emphasize the importance of students drawing on sound historical knowledge and understanding.

  • In 2014, the cross-party Holocaust Commission was set up and later published Britain’s Promise to Remember: The Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission Report. The Centre’s research was used as evidence throughout the report, citing that effective Holocaust education is failing to reach significant numbers of young people. The commission recommended including a Learning Centre to be built alongside the proposed National Memorial.
  • In 2015, the Education Select Committee conducted an inquiry into Holocaust education. The Centre’s research-informed recommendations that the status of the Holocaust in the curriculum demanded high-quality teacher training which the Centre ensures through its programmes.
  • In 2015, the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism recommended the government increase its grant to the Centre with a view to expanding its work and the number of teachers it can educate and support.
  • In 2019, in partnership with the Holocaust Educational Trust, the Centre launched a DfE-funded national educational programme to commemorate and teach about Bergen-Belsen. Over 1,300 teachers and students will visit the site and education packs developed by the Centre will be sent to all 4,000 secondary schools in England for use with Key Stage 3, 4 and 5 students.

Impact internationally

The wealth of information derived from the Centre’s research has been shared around the world and its impact has international reach. It has been described as being ‘at the leading edge’ of Holocaust education internationally. For example:

  • teaching curricula and research-informed materials have been developed for the training of new teachers and senior school leaders in 57 member states of the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe, giving a potential reach of millions of students.
  • in 2020, the Centre will launch an online course in partnership with Yad Vashem, “the World Holocaust Remembrance Center”, to disseminate the Centre’s research to teachers with the aim of improving knowledge about the Holocaust. 
  • the Centre’s aforementioned textbook will be connected to the Wiener Library’s website The Holocaust Explained which is the third most visited Holocaust website in the world.

Policy recommendations

Drawing on the Centre’s international reputation and its national studies evidencing students’ limited knowledge and misconceptions, as well as the challenges teachers encounter when teaching this complex subject, policymakers are alerted to the following recommendations:

  1. Teachers continue to struggle to teach the Holocaust. It is imperative that schools can continue to access state of the art, high-quality professional development programmes and resources that better equip them to teach the Holocaust.
  2. Meanwhile, there is growing evidence that schools also require greater support in addressing issues of hate speech, extremism, antisemitism, and Islamophobia. Serious consideration should also be given to developing new programmes for teachers which directly address school needs in Holocaust teaching and learning and, crucially, explicitly link to existing policies and initiatives including, Spiritual, Moral, Social, and Cultural (SMSC) development, Prevent, British Values and Safeguarding.
  3. Wherever possible, public policy in Holocaust education should be driven by evidence-based, research-informed intelligence.
  4. The UK has developed a world-leading infrastructure and reputation for research and development in the field of Holocaust education, which is also well-placed to contribute to education about wider examples of racism and intolerance. This should be celebrated as a key component in supporting schools and invested in on a sustainable basis.
     
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