UK Education System Struggles to Prepare for Exams as Israel-Palestine Conflict Scares PublishersBreaking News
tags: Israel, Palestine, teaching history
The government has warned schools to ensure a balanced presentation of opposing views on the conflict between Israel and Palestine, which claimed more than 250 lives last month and sparked a wave of classroom protests in the UK. But teachers may struggle to comply because the only exam board to offer curriculum material and a GCSE history option on the region has withdrawn its two textbooks after being accused of favouring the case for Israel.
It is the second time that the history books, published by Pearson, the education company that owns the Edexcel exam board, have been taken off the shelves. The first time – in October 2019 – was because Jewish organisations claimed the books favoured Palestine. Pearson undertook to make revisions suggested by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and UK Lawyers for Israel, but the revised editions caused a storm of protests and complaints, this time from the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (Bricup).
The retention of the study option is seen as vital by historians who worry that only a tiny number of schools now teach about the conflict. Just 1,100 students in 27 schools, of which 26 are in England, have chosen it for this year, out of 148,678 taking history GCSE with the board and an age cohort of 600,000.
The loss of the textbooks increases the risk that the Middle East will disappear from the curriculum, says Michael Davies, a former history teacher and founder of Parallel Histories, an organisation that provides material for students to understand conflicts from different sides. “Teachers don’t want to teach it and not because it’s not interesting, but because they are scared about being accused of bias. The other exam boards had already departed the scene and so Pearson, although getting pilloried over changes to the books, are the good guys here,” he says.
The row is over the textbooks Conflict in the Middle East c1945-1995 for GCSE, published in 2016, and its IGCSE partner, The Middle East: Conflict, Crisis and Change 1917-2012, published in 2017. In 2019, the Zionist Federation launched an online petition for their removal and Pearson commissioned Parallel Histories to examine their accuracy. Davies says its report suggested some changes in terminology but found “no overall bias”.
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