On the 7th and 8th July the National Holocaust Centre and Museum, in collaboration with Loughborough University, held a two day conference exploring Holocaust Education in Schools in the 21st century in particular focussing on current practices, potentials and ways forward.

On the first day of the conference Bob Allison, Vice-Chancellor and Professor Chris Szejnmann welcomed delegates to Loughborough University. This was followed by a keynote address from Dame Helen Hyde, National Holocaust Commission, Chair of Education Committee.

During the first day delegates received several papers from international academics exploring pedagogical contexts, approaches and country specific practices. Dr Gary Mills from the University of Nottingham challenged the delegates to consider if we are expecting too much from Holocaust education. He said, ‘Is it placing too much of a burden on teachers to teach the Holocaust, commemorate the victims and sustain a meaningful dialogue between their memory and the present?’ Dr Paula Cowan from the University of the West of Scotland explored the issue of the de-judaisation of the Holocaust in primary schools in Scotland. Detlef Pech and Christine Achenbach from Humboldt University, Berlin considered what children know and the questions they ask in a German context whilst Yael Richler-Friedman from Bar- Ilan University, Israel spoke about teaching trauma without traumatising. Kori Street from the USC Shoah Foundation, USA considered the power of testimony and how it can be used as a transformative tool.

Dr Becky Hale from UCL Centre for Holocaust Education, UK presented findings from the Centre’s largest ever survey of what children in England’s secondary schools know about the Holocaust. Phillip Mittnik from the Institute of Education, Vienna, Austria provided contrasting evidence about Holocaust education in Austrian primary schools.

The first day concluded with a further consideration of pedagogical approaches. Graham Duffy and Paula Cowan from Bridge of Weir Primary School and University of the West of Scotland shared the experiences of one classroom teacher and his interdisciplinary approach to teaching the Holocaust to primary students in Scotland. Christian Mathis from the School of Education, FHNW, Liestal, Switzerland discussed learning about the Shoah in Swiss primary schools with biographical stories from Jewish refugees.

Alasdair Richardson from University of Winchester, UK concluded the day with an engaging and thought provoking paper making a case for RE in supporting Holocaust education across the primary / secondary divide in UK schools. Alasdair argued that the Holocaust is multifaceted and different subjects make it messy. He said ‘…the time might have arrived to accept it is messy, to accept that Holocaust education means different things to different people and to stop being protective and instead support the different approaches.’ This gave the delegates much to consider as they embarked for the Conference Dinner.

At the start of the second day of the Conference, Phil Lyons MBE, welcomed the delegates to the National Holocaust Centre and Museum. Pieter de Bruijn from the Open University of the Netherlands spoke about transcending moral and emotional engagement and the use of Holocaust heritage in primary education. He was followed by Simone Schweber, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA who shared her research about one third grader's Holocaust education 12 years later. The middle panel of the day brought together museum specialists from Australia, Canada and Israel. Lisa Phillips, Jewish Holocaust Centre, Melbourne, Australia spoke of the learning programme called ‘Hide and seek: stories of survival’, Cornelia Strickler, Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre, Canada spoke about Holocaust education for primary schools and finally Madene Shachar, Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum, Israel provided the delegates with an Israeli perspective of Holocaust education in the museum space.

The final panel of the day saw James Griffiths, Director of Learning at the National Holocaust Centre, and Professor Szejnmann of Loughborough University share the centre’s research findings from the ‘In our Hands’ project which had been running between 2012 and 2015. The research had involved 1,500 primary and secondary school pupils and the evaluation concluded that ‘there is good quantitative evidence that children and young people’s attitudes towards people who are different to them (in particular people with a different skin colour and people who have come here to live from other countries) have been positively influenced through involvement in the project.’

The day concluded with Holocaust survivors Martin Stern, Joan Salter and Steve Mendelsson participating in a Q & A session during which time they shared their rationale for sharing testimony with students and how they tailor what they say based on the age of the children.

The conference raised many questions, posed several challenges and above all else brought together academics, museum practitioners and educational professionals for the first time to consider Holocaust education in primary schools.