History 'marginalised' in schools
England is the only nation in Europe where schoolchildren can stop studying history at the age of 13, inspectors have warned.
Many secondary schools are squeezing the curriculum so that teaching usually spread over three years is condensed into two, to leave more time for pupils to take GCSEs, according to a new Ofsted report.
It found that in one in five secondary schools visited for the study, curriculum changes that allow pupils to give up history earlier, and a move towards "topics" rather than subject teaching, have been associated with teaching and learning that is "no better than satisfactory".
The report says: "In England, history is currently not compulsory for students beyond the age of 14 and those in schools offering a two-year Key Stage 3 (11-14-year-olds) course can stop studying history at the age of 13.
"England is unique in Europe in this respect. In almost all the countries of the European Union, it is compulsory to study history in some form in school until at least the ages of 15 or 16."
The History For All report is based on evidence of inspections of history in 83 primary and 83 secondary schools between April 2007 and March 2010.
It found that in 14 of 58 secondaries visited between 2008 and 2010, curriculum changes were having a negative impact on history, with the subject becoming "marginalised" and time for the subject reduced. In secondaries that were weak at history, inspectors raised concerns about pupils being "spoon-fed".
The report says: "One of the most serious concerns about poor provision was the tendency for teachers to try to cover too much content and 'spoon-feed' students. As a result, teachers talked too much, lessons were rushed, opportunities for debate and reflection were missed, and students lost interest."
Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: "It is worrying that Ofsted finds that many pupils lack a chronological understanding of history and are unable to make links between events. It is also a concern that secondary schools are squeezing history out of the curriculum or into general humanities courses.
"We are carrying out a root and branch reform of the National Curriculum to set out the essential knowledge that children need, while leaving schools free to decide how to teach it."