Recently, the programme undertook a polling survey to find out about the public perception surrounding young people's understanding of the First World War, and the value of school trips. The following release explains more...
The British public’s understanding of the First World War is on a steep generational decline, according to a new national poll published today.
A century on from the Great War, two-thirds (66%) of British adults do not think that young people today understand its historical importance, the poll by ComRes reveals.
What is striking is that a majority of ALL age groups reach this conclusion, including 58% of those aged 18-24, rising to 75% of over 65s.
Perhaps more surprising is that fewer than half (44%) of those surveyed considered that adults themselves understand the significance of the First World War. According to the poll, it seems that generation by generation, Britain is losing a vital connection with the battles fought and lives sacrificed between 1914-1918. However, our experience of working with young people throughout the centenary period suggests otherwise!
The survey also finds that 90% of all adults believe that educational school trips can help bring classroom learning to life, and 87% said that schoolchildren should be given access to educational school trips. Additionally 64% say that educational school trips are more important in students’ development than online learning.
School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said:
“The First World War shaped the history of Britain and the rest of the world, and it’s important that students gain a good understanding of the conflict.
“The First World War Centenary Battlefields Tour programme is invaluable in helping achieve this aim – it increases students’ interest in and knowledge of the First World War, and I would encourage all schools to take part.”
Professor Stuart Foster, Executive Director of the UCL Institute of Education programme, which runs the First World War Centenary Battlefields Tour programme, said:
“We know from our experience running the Battlefields Tours Programme that in fact young people have a real understanding of the First World War – and an appetite to learn even more. But it is interesting that many people think that is not the case.
“The battlefields tours give students tangible insight into the lives and experiences of those who fought the War and a genuine understanding of its historic importance – and why it is still enormously relevant today, 100 years on. No matter how good virtual reality tools are, we find that nothing has quite the same impact on students as actually visiting the places these battles happened.”
The UCL Institute of Education is currently offering all secondary and middle schools in England the free opportunity to send a teacher and two students on a four-day coach tour of the First World War battlefields. They then follow up with a project related to their local regiments and communities back at home. So far 1,500 schools have already taken up the opportunity but there are many more tour dates available. Teachers can apply directly via the programme website if they want to take up the offer.
Professor Foster said:
“Students who have been on the tours have been really fired up to continue their project work in the local communities when they get home, and share their experiences with their school friends. It’s an amazing, free opportunity for every secondary school in England to add to the way they teach history and it is helping to keep the legacy of the Great War a living issue with young people today.”
In response to the survey, Simon Bendry, Programme Director of the UCL Institute of Education’s First World War Centenary Battlefields Tour programme, said:
“I can understand why it is difficult for young people to understand the First World War. As more time passes, it is increasingly difficult to make connections with the war. The last First World War veterans have all passed on, so it is so much harder for the younger generation to feel connected to the events or to imagine the battlefields and the experiences people went through, until they see it for themselves."
“Adults are right to fear that, generation by generation, our country is becoming increasingly out of touch with what was undoubtedly one of the most pivotal historical events to shape our country, and the world at large. However, from my experience, young people are interested in the First World War but many only truly connect and understand the significance of the Great War by visiting and experiencing the battlefields for themselves. When given this opportunity, they relish it and immerse in the history."
“We find that not only do the battlefield tours provide pupils with a tangible insight into the lives and experiences of those who fought a century ago, but that often students return inspired to learn more. We connect each tour with local history, so that students can really see the legacy that the war has left on their own communities and we also encourage every students to share what they have learned, thereby creating a lasting legacy."
“What we would like to see is more encouragement for our young people to engage with the First World War and for all schools to take up the opportunity to visit the battlefields during the centenary, so that the leaders and entrepreneurs of tomorrow learn the important lessons of the past.”
Notes to editors
- ComRes surveyed 2,026 British adults aged 18 and over, between 15th and 16th March 2017. Data were weighted by age, gender, region and socio-economic grade to be representative of all British adults aged 18 and over.
 When asked, 66% of British adults say that they disagree with the statement ‘Young people today understand the historical importance of the First World War.’
 Similarly, when asked 64% of British adults say that they disagree with the statement ‘learning online (e.g. via computers and other forms of technology) is more important for pupils’ development than attending educational school trips.’