13th Report - Lessons from the First World War Centenary Contents

2Connecting to younger people

16.Launching the UK’s centenary plans, the then Prime Minister Rt Hon David Cameron MP described one of the aims as “to put young people front and centre in our commemoration and to ensure that the sacrifice and service of a hundred years ago is still remembered in a hundred years’ time”.29 Our inquiry examined the extent to which young people were engaged with the commemorations.

17.The evidence that we received shows that many children and young people were engaged both by national programmes and locally, through their schools and alongside their families. The 14–18 NOW programme engaged with over 500 schools in their Letters to an Unknown Solider project, and school-age children contributed nearly three quarters of the 21,000 letters received.30 Ms Lees told us the Imperial War Museum catered for 40,000 schoolchildren in their education touring programme”.31 Over 2,850 schools have taken part in the Battlefields Tours programme32 which offers state secondary students the opportunity to visit Western Front battlefields, and funding has been extended to March 2020.33

18.Another initiative was ‘Never Such Innocence’, a charity established by Lady Lucy French, to help young people engage with the First World centenary.34 Inspired by this conflict, ‘Never Such Innocence’ helped more than 11,000 young people from 47 different countries, territories and dependencies created poetry, artwork, and songs. This was done by providing free educational resources for schools, many of which could be downloaded from its website and by organising annual poetry, art, and song competitions for young people worldwide for each year of the First World War centenary.

19.At the local level, there were many examples of engagement with school children. For example, Gairloch Heritage Museum undertook a series of visits to local schools, who they often find it difficult to engage with due to distance and transport funding cuts. They noted “many of the teachers continued the topic for many weeks after our visits”.35 The Forget Never project in Essex involved local schools in researching the lives lost both in the local area and in twin towns in both France and Germany. The project had a powerful impact on the young people who participated and led to their school changing their curriculum to reflect their pupils’ interest in what happened to soldiers who returned home from the war.36

20.However, the Lynsted with Kingsdown Society told us they found it difficult to engage with schools and that “pressure on teachers’ time and limitations in the syllabus were usually given as reasons for non-participation in the WW1 Project”.37 While some local students took part in visits to battlefields and cemeteries “others may have benefitted” and “this was an opportunity missed”.38 In their research British Future found that young people are less aware of the First World War, which is not as prominent as the Second World War in the school curriculum, and that they had little recall of the centenary arts programme.39

21.We found differing views on the extent to which the commemorations were able to inspire new interpretations from today’s young people. While Sir Anthony Seldon told us he felt the 14–18 NOW programme “took it away from the bombs and the gas and the dead bodies and gave a much more holistic understanding to young people”,40 the First World War Engagement Centres commented that the narratives in schools “tended to be quite narrow” and that “new perspectives were under-utilised”.41 Historian Sir Hew Strachan commented “the opportunity to take the centenary in fresh educational directions was not exploited[…]It is a great pity that the proposal to use the war as a way of encouraging pupils to discuss the rights and wrongs of war more generally, and its place in the international system, was not taken up”.42 Diane Lees commented that, for the Imperial War Museum:

What the response to the First World War has done is kind of made us tear up all of our traditional First World War material and think differently about the way in which it can be taught in schools across the curriculum, rather than in just a strict history way. I think that is a liberation for all of us.43

22.A number of the submissions that we received also outlined intergenerational work, which was a theme at local and national commemorations.44 Hebden Bridge Arts Festival told us that they have been “overwhelmed” by levels of intergenerational engagement and that “a shared sense of local history and heritage to engage our local community has proved to be one of the most cohesive elements of our festival activity”.45 Investing in Children organised an intergenerational event at a care home, noting: “ It was clear […]that a huge amount value is gained when collaborating younger and older members of society to share their experience of the war. It appeared to provide a positive inter-generational learning zone, expressing the topic of WW1 which generated a sense of involvement for all ages”.46

23.Research undertaken by British Future prior to the centenary found low levels of public awareness of the events of the First World War. While young people were engaged in the commemorations through a range of projects, this did not necessarily translate back into the curriculum. The DCMS should work with the Department for Education to ensure that the resources generated by the commemorations, including the value of taking an arts-based approach to remembrance and historical interpretation are made available to primary and secondary school teachers.

24.The evidence that we received demonstrates that building intergenerational connections was a valuable by-product of the centenary’s focus on young people. As part of their evaluations of the First World War commemorations, the DCMS and National Heritage Lottery Fund should examine how intergenerational work can play a larger role in future commemorations.


30 Morris Hargreaves Mcintyre 14–18 NOW: Summary of evaluation April 2019

31 Q15

32 The programme is funded by the Department for Education and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is delivered by University College London

33 Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport [WWO096] para 11

35 Gairloch Heritage Museum [WWO013] para 1

36 The Forget Never Project [WWO063]

37 Lynsted with Kingsdown Society [WWO054] para 4

38 Ibid

39 British Future [WWO113] para 11

40 Q9

41 First World War Engagement Centres [WWO121] para 2.2.

42 Sir Hew Strachan [WWO119] para 6

43 Q27

44 Morris Hargreaves Mcintyre 14–18 NOW: Summary of evaluation April 2019

45 Hebden Bridge Arts Festival [WWO002] para 3

46 Investing in Children [WWO103] para 34




Published: 16 July 2019