Holocaust education Contents

2The status and quality of Holocaust education

Training for teachers

11.Two of the organisations represented by our witnesses (the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Centre for Holocaust Education) provide Holocaust education training for teachers.17 The Government provides funds of £500,000 per annum to the CfHE at the University of London, which is matched by the Pears Foundation.18 CfHE teacher training is available as part of both initial teacher education and continuing professional development. However, Karen Pollock drew attention to research conducted by UCL in 2009 which stated that around 80% of teachers of the Holocaust were self-taught.19 The CfHE estimates that, although more than 6,000 teachers have participated in its programmes, there are “perhaps 30,000 history teachers in 4,000 secondary schools, as well as tens of thousands of Religious Education, Citizenship, English and other teachers teaching about the Holocaust”.20 As a consequence, more than seven years after the establishment of the CfHE, “the vast majority of teachers teaching about the Holocaust in UK schools either have not received any professional development in Holocaust education or have participated in the programmes of institutions whose work is not quality assured.”21

12.Andy Lawrence told us that the continuing professional development he had received from the Imperial War Museum and Centre for Holocaust Education was the best he had ever had as a teacher.22 This was representative of the bulk of evidence we received: that the training for teachers available on the Holocaust is of an especially high standard. This may well be a consequence of the closeness of training to research,23 the use of site visits and the richness of the resources available, including survivor testimony.

13.Dame Helen Hyde argued in favour of Holocaust education for all new entrants to the teaching profession, echoing the proposal made by the Imperial War Museums and others in written submissions.24 But this view was not shared by the Association of School and College Leaders, which said in its written submission that:

There is a temptation to fall into the trap of requiring for example particular approaches, specified time allocations, or that all new teachers should be trained in the topic. Such an approach is a mistake, as it stifles creativity and tends to reduce the response to compliance. And of course it inevitably fails to allow for the different resources, world-views, and communities of different institutions.25

14.The status of the Holocaust within the National Curriculum creates demand for high quality teacher training above and beyond the training available for discretionary topics.

15.The Department for Education should take steps to support the organisations it funds to deliver Holocaust education to more history teachers. The Department for Education should also consider how the teacher training it funds could be extended to teachers of subjects other than history.

Survivor testimony

16.Our witnesses were in full agreement on the value of first-hand survivor testimony. Karen Pollock told us of the effect that hearing from a Holocaust survivor can have in the classroom:

I think that we are lucky that we have Holocaust survivors still with us and still prepared to travel the length and breadth of the country, giving their testimony in schools, reliving the memory of what they went through over and over again […] What we find is you can be in the most disruptive classroom with the most difficult young people, but when a Holocaust survivor stands up and gives their story you can hear a pin drop.26

17.Sarah O’Hanlon, an ambassador for the Holocaust Educational Trust, told us that by hearing the personal testimony of a survivor, students could learn “what persecution, what hatred, what racism even can lead to. You can see the little stories and, as you were saying about the individual strands of the Holocaust, each person experienced it in a different way”.27

18.As the people directly affected by the Holocaust become fewer in number, a need arises to preserve their testimony for future generations. Sir Eric Pickles, the UK’s Special Envoy for post-Holocaust issues, gave an example of a film featuring a young lady reading the words of her grandmother, and drew attention to the efforts being made to preserve through recordings the direct words of survivors.28 Andy Lawrence and Sarah O’Hanlon both advocated drawing on the experience of survivors of other genocides, not to replace, but rather to complement the testimony of Holocaust survivors.29

19.The personal testimony of Holocaust survivors is irreplaceable. Work is underway to preserve the stories of survivors, as well as those written records of people who died during or since the Holocaust. We recognise the current and future role to be played by relatives and descendants of victims of the Holocaust. We hope that the Government will respond favourably to proposals from the Holocaust Commission for preserving Holocaust testimony for future generations, when they are made.

Programmes and visits

20.Holocaust education is enhanced by the possibility of study visits to sites in Europe. Auschwitz is the site most often associated with Holocaust education in the UK.30 The Holocaust Educational Trust runs the ‘Lessons from Auschwitz’ project, which sets a visit to the camp in the context of a four-part programme including phases of orientation and review. ‘Lessons from Auschwitz’ receives £1.85m funding from the Department for Education; in 2014–15, almost 2,000 students aged between 16 and 18 from England participated.31 We received numerous written submissions attesting to the positive impact of the Lessons from Auschwitz programme. Our witnesses also spoke positively of the value of visiting other sites associated with the Holocaust such as Wannsee, Sachsenhausen or Ravensbrück.32 Some of our witnesses raised concerns that by focusing too heavily on Auschwitz, there was a risk that an overly simplistic account of the Holocaust might be given.33

21.The Government should consider giving more young people the opportunity to visit Auschwitz, preferably through the Lessons from Auschwitz programme. Subsequent visits to other sites might also be encouraged.

22.While the value of such visits is generally accepted, the Board of Deputies of British Jews noted that:

Not all students can or will go on an educational visit to a camp or even to a museum. Enabling as many children to be able to do this would clearly be positive and hugely beneficial to the teaching and understanding of the Holocaust. However augmented reality technology, such as 3D virtual tours of camps, is a tool that can be used in order to reach more people.34

23.The Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission report set out several ways in which technology could be used to improve Holocaust education for students unable to travel to visit European sites.35

The teaching of other genocides

24.The Imperial War Museums quoted guidance produced by the Education Working Group of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which states that:

the Holocaust may constitute a starting point and the foundation for studying genocide […] to compare the Holocaust to other genocides may be a means to alert young people to the potential danger for other genocides and crimes against humanity to evolve today. This may strengthen an awareness of their own roles and responsibilities in the global community.36

25.Sarah O’Hanlon told us that there was little awareness of other genocides amongst the students she had met as a Holocaust Educational Trust ambassador.37 Several witnesses strongly advocated the teaching of other genocides, but stated that teachers did not have the time, resources or training to teach about other genocides.38

26.The Aegis Trust told us in written evidence that “Students should know there is a pattern to genocide, that warning signs of genocide have been identified by researchers and that people remain under the threat of genocide in the world today.”39 This point was reinforced during our oral evidence sessions.40 Mr Lawrence told us that his anecdotal evidence was that:

those pupils who have studied the Holocaust and another genocide, they are more angry about other genocides occurring. They feel that they understand the Holocaust better as a result of comparing it to another genocide and they felt that the Holocaust illuminated other genocides and so on. It was a very positive thing to do.41

27.Mr Lawrence told us that he did not feel that the teaching of other genocides would compromise the teaching of the Holocaust:

I don’t think any right-minded teacher would replace teaching the Holocaust with other genocides. I think the point is—and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence out there—that by teaching both you enhance understanding of the Holocaust.42

28.We agree that the teaching of other genocides should not come at the expense of failing to teach the Holocaust. Some of the testimony we have received from witnesses supported the teaching of other genocides following on from the Holocaust.

Statutory status and the National Curriculum

29.The Government requires all secondary schools following the National Curriculum to teach students about the Holocaust in history lessons:

Box 2: The Holocaust in the National Curriculum

Pupils should be taught about:


  • challenges for Britain, Europe and the wider world 1901 to the present day. In addition to studying the Holocaust, this could include:
    • Examples (non-statutory)

    (1) women’s suffrage

    (2) the First World War and the Peace Settlement

    (3) the inter-war years: the Great Depression and the rise of dictators

    (4) the Second World War and the wartime leadership of Winston Churchill

    (5) the creation of the Welfare State

    (6) Indian independence and end of Empire

    (7) social, cultural and technological change in post-war British society

    (8) Britain’s place in the world since 1945

Source: Department for Education, The national curriculum in England: Key stages 3 and 4 framework document (December 2014), p96–7

30.The Holocaust Educational Trust noted in its written evidence that “Despite these examples of high-quality Holocaust education, we are aware that the situation in the classroom varies across the country. Over 50% of Secondary Schools in England are not required to follow the National Curriculum and in some cases there is a lack of prioritisation of History within schools.43 The UCL Centre for Holocaust Education noted that despite a secure place on the National Curriculum, the effectiveness of Holocaust education was constrained by:

31.Dame Helen Hyde expressed concern that in some schools, Holocaust education was cursory and touched upon only in order to move swiftly on to something else.45 Dame Helen Hyde stressed the importance of strong leadership from the top of a school to reinforce an ethos shared by the whole school,46 a point which was reinforced in written evidence received from Royal Wootton Bassett Academy.47 Dame Helen called for greater specification within the curriculum and for some form of assessment of the extent to which students have taken the lessons of the Holocaust on board.48 Gertrude Silman, Honorary Life President of the Holocaust Survivors’ Friendship Association said that pre-existing knowledge of the Holocaust among schoolchildren she met was variable, and that important aspects of the Holocaust such as the Slovak uprisings were not taught as frequently as, for example, Auschwitz was.49 CfHE also noted that two structural changes (the increase in the number of academies, which are not required to follow the National Curriculum, and the collapsing by some schools of Key Stage 3 into two, rather than three, years) meant that the expectation of universal Holocaust education is no longer matched by reality.50

32.A growing number of students are at schools where the Holocaust is not required to be taught by the National Curriculum. While many academies will rightly elect to teach students about the Holocaust, the Government should take steps to ensure that Holocaust education does not become inadvertently patchy.

Teaching the Holocaust

33.Another key question is what should be taught as part of Holocaust education. Sir Eric Pickles told us that “Everybody can imagine themselves being a victim of the Holocaust, but few people can imagine themselves being a perpetrator.”51 He suggested that “the lesson from the Holocaust is how a civilised society, like ours, can be turned, turned in a very short time, so the utterly unreasonable thought that a liberal society can be turned into an oppressive society in a relatively short time”.52

34.Another area of concern that emerged in some of the written evidence we received was over the use of images which might have a shocking or distressing effect on some young people.53 Several of our witnesses spoke of ensuring that Holocaust education was appropriately tailored to the age of students concerned,54 and emphasised the need for Holocaust education to avoid being inadvertently dehumanising.55

35.Some evidence we received suggested that Holocaust education would be strengthened by the adoption of a cross-curricular approach,56 starting with history and religious education, but possibly extending to other subjects such as philosophy, English, drama or PSHE.57 In his written submission, Professor Rosen drew our attention to the substantial body of fiction, poetry, cinema and television based on the Holocaust,58 but the Board of Deputies of British Jews cautioned against over-reliance on easy to source media solutions rather than quality teachers and first-hand accounts, whilst recognising the lasting impact that varied sources can have on students.59 The Holocaust Educational Trust maintained that cross-curricular schemes of work should complement the teaching of the Holocaust in history lessons.60

36.We recognise the importance of ensuring that the Holocaust is taught in sensitive and age-appropriate ways, and conclude that the teaching of the Holocaust would be strengthened by the adoption of a deliberately cross-curricular approach.

17 We received several pieces of written evidence from teachers at Centre for Holocaust Education ‘Beacon schools’, e.g. Caroline West (HOL 015); Laura Walton (HOL 018); Peter Calder (HOL 020); Abigail Minton (HOL 025); Rory Gallagher (HOL 028), and from young people who have participated in Holocaust Educational Trust projects, e.g. Alexander Moore (HOL 004); Nicole McNab (HOL 005); Sarah O’Hanlon (HOL 007); Ella Pooley (HOL 008); Emma-Louise Howell (HOL 010).

18 Department for Education (HOL 053) paras 6 & 12-16

20 Centre for Holocaust Education (HOL 089) para 28

21 Centre for Holocaust Education (HOL 089) para 29; Q27

22 Q54

23 Ashley Bartlett, on behalf of Leicestershire Secondary SCITT (HOL 041) para 3

24 Q32; Imperial War Museums (HOL 019) para 24; Jessica Kempner (HOL 022) para 3; National Union of Teachers (HOL 024) para 17

25 Association of School and College Leaders (HOL 090) para 10

26 Q24; see also Q41 [Lawrence]

27 Q39

28 Q25

29 Qq44-6; see also Andy Lawrence (HOL 003) para 6.3

30 Q38

31 Department for Education (HOL 053) para 5

32 Qq20-2

33 Q38; Chris Jezewski (HOL 055) para 4

34 Board of Deputies of British Jews (HOL 091) para 2

35 Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission, Britain’s Promise to Remember: the Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission Report, January 2015, pp45-6

36 Imperial War Museums (HOL 019), para 15

37 Sarah O’Hanlon (HOL 007) para 3

38 Andy Lawrence (HOL 003); Claire Harrington (HOL 073) para 5

39 Aegis Trust (HOL 100)

40 Q26; Qq44-5

41 Q46

42 Q45

43 Holocaust Educational Trust (HOL 0083) para 2g

44 UCL Centre for Holocaust Education (HOL 089)

45 Q7

46 Q3

47 Royal Wootton Bassett Academy (HOL 098) paras 37-9; see also Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission, Britain’s Promise to Remember: the Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission Report (January 2015), p36

48 Q9

49 Q38

50 UCL Centre for Holocaust Education (HOL 089) para 20

51 Q31

52 Q32; see also Q36 [Rosen]

53 Dr Barbara Hibbert (HOL 040), para 1; Alice Bean (HOL 088), para 3

54 Q40; Board of Deputies of British Jews (HOL 091) para 4

55 Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol (HOL 059) para 5

56 Qq15-16; Q19; National Union of Teachers (HOL 024) para 5

57 Q44; Andy Hay (HOL 009) para 2

58 Professor Michael Rosen (HOL 001) paras 4 and 9

59 Board of Deputies of British Jews (HOL 091) para 3

60 Holocaust Educational Trust (HOL 083) Summary

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

Prepared 21 January 2016