Teachers are ‘shielding’ children from full horrors of the Holocaust


Teachers are “shielding” children from the full horrors of the Holocaust by increasingly “sanitising” lessons, researchers have warned.

This is due to a “worrying trend” where children are being taught about it at a younger age, according to Prof Stuart Foster, executive director of University College London’s Centre for Holocaust Education which is undertaking a major study on the issue.

Youngsters are now six times more likely to learn about the Holocaust when they are in Year Seven or Year Eight than they were a decade ago.

“What we found from our study ten years ago is that children were primarily taught about it in the summer term of Year Nine,” Prof Foster said.

“It is a danger if it goes younger and you therefore avoid some of the awful things: what happened at the death camps and the scale of it. There is a danger that it becomes a more sanitised version of history.”

It comes amid concern about rising anti-Jewish sentiment in Britain in the wake of the recent Israel-Gaza conflict last month, which has seen pro-Palestine marchers holding placards displaying Nazi symbols and other anti-Semitic material.

Teachers having to ‘soften’ their approach

As part of the research, which will be published later this year, teachers reported that they are having to “soften” their approach to teaching the Holocaust for Year Seven and Year Eight children who are less emotionally mature and need “shielding” from some of the complexities.

Since 1991, the Holocaust has been listed as statutory content which must be taught in all secondary schools as part of the national curriculum for children during Key Stage 3, which runs from Year Seven to Year Nine.

When the centre carried out research in 2009 into how the Holocaust was being taught in school, it found that the vast majority of children learned about it in the summer term of Year 9, with only 4.4 per cent in Years Seven and Eight.

But by 2019, this had risen sharply to 29.2 per cent, which teachers say is due to schools increasingly starting the GCSE syllabus in Year Nine, meaning the Key Stage 3 curriculum must be condensed into two years.

“At that age it makes quite a bit of difference in terms of emotional and cognitive maturity,” Prof Foster told The Telegraph.

“To understand the Holocaust in all its brutality and horror children need to have a fuller understanding of the genocide, about the atrocoties and the realities of human behaviour.

“One of the big things we found is that there is a tendency to teach the Holocaust as very Hitler and Germany-centric. But genocide is a societal act and it is quite a difficult concept for children to grasp that this was a social act across Europe.

“Those are the kinds of complexities that might get swept under the carpet or not discussed because teachers may judge that students aren’t mature enough to deal with it.”

‘Holocaust education must not be watered down’

Gary Mond, senior vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said it is vital that children in the UK are educated about the horrors of the Holocaust and the historical events that culminated in genocide.

“Age-appropriateness is a key consideration in education, and effective teaching about such events should utilise teacher’s pedagogical expertise to ensure pupils learn about the extreme seriousness of the Holocaust at an appropriate stage of their development, both emotionally and academically,” he said.

“We believe that Holocaust education must not be ‘watered down’ to make it suitable for younger age groups.”

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said there are many pressures on the timetable and new, tougher GCSEs mean schools are forced to make “difficult decisions” about how to get through the curriculum.

She added: “Schools fully support the huge importance of effective teaching about the Holocaust and of delivering this teaching at an age when children have sufficient cognitive and emotional maturity for this subject.

“We would be very happy to disseminate the findings of this study to our members who we are sure would greatly value the insight provided by this research.”



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