Re-drafting to support learners

This is something that, in my practice as a history teacher, I’ve been resistant to over the years. I went to a great SHP talk on using longer, original contemporary texts this summer (the blog post will arrive, honestly!), and saw some great ideas for making text more accessible without ‘translating’ it into modern modes of talking or writing.

Today with my undergrad class which is studying the different roles and responsibilities within schools, were were looking at diversity and issues of equality, and I handed them a questionnaire that I borrowed from Sue Dymoke’s (ed) excellent book ‘Reflective Teaching and Learning in the Secondary School’. It was meant to be a quick starter whilst I fired up the projector. When I turned my attention back to the group it became clear that the exercise had fuddled and alarmed many of them, who lacked several of the key pieces of vocabulary necessary to access the task. They understood the concepts behind these words, to a large extent, but they did not have the words themselves.

Anyway, we talked through the words and concepts and the quick 5 minute starter became a 30 minute seminar about words and ideas such as:

‘socially well adjusted’
‘fundamental British values’

Afterwards I began to wonder whether I should have re-written the questionnaire, and to consider whether I would have do so had I been working with school students. I think I probably would have for school, but not very much. Perhaps I would have picked my battles, and chosen one or two key words like emancipation, so we could have explored the different levels of meaning beyond ‘freedom’. 

At university exploring these particular phrases perhaps should be easier, but the students were affected by the number and weight of concepts that they found impossible to comprehend immediately.  It took some effort on my part to reassure and guide them back to the task. Though I had stumbled upon a teaching moment I’m going to have to think carefully about how to anticipate and prepare for difficult opportunities like these. 

Books you should read?

I was alerted to this list by this tweet.

I’m ashamed to say that I’ve not read many in total (ok, it’s one, and I bet you can guess which one).  I’ve bumped into bits of the others, and ideas from them. That’s not to say that I have not read other books on education – obviously I have, and currently I’m finishing two that I started last year. I tend to read them more slowly – just as I do everything, as I find I really need to understand their arguments.  It’s the same way with books on the philosophy of history.  I once spent an entire evening going over one sentence in Developments in Modern Historiography. I did get it, eventually. I’m a slow reader, just as I am a slow blogger!

So, I wondered what else people might add to the list.

I’ll start with

Social Theory and Education Research: Understanding Foucault, Habermas,Bourdieu and Derrida Edited by Mark Murphy


Reframing Educational Research: Resisting the ‘what works’ agenda edited by Valerie Farnsworth and Yvette Solomon.

Oh, and I bought the Hirsch.

Day One #SHP15 #SHP2015 Conference

One of the downsides of running a workshop at SHP, apart from the wrenching fear of exposure as a fraud by your peers,  is that you get to see less.  For two sessions you’re talking to others, instead of listening to some of the best “CPD known to man”.

Even though I didn’t get to see other great sessions like this one:

I did get to brilliant fringe session by the great people at and had the enormous pleasure of watching Ronan MacManus enhance the already brilliant ideas of Neil Bates:

The session was fascinating.  I met a fellow textbook author, Kate Moorse, and discussed writing with her.  In conversation with her and other people I was amazed to find how little curricular freedom many teachers (especially new teachers it seems) have in their classroom.  My own workshop is about planning direction rather than being forced to write complex detailed lesson plans for every lesson. It seems that in many schools professional freedom of movement is very limited, in terms of what is taught, and in terms of how it is taught.  This, and the way that schemes of work and textbooks are constructed means that women are still sidelined in history.  That isn’t news, but the subtle ways in which this sidelining takes effect were well brought out into the light by this session.  As a writer this session certainly made me think, and made me determined to write differently.

Then, a real treat.  I saw Neil Bate’s session last year, and really enjoyed the way that he used song to help grab students’ attention, and to make them think like historians.   This session took that thinking one stage on.  Neil and Ronan MacManus  showed us some really practical ways in which the process of song writing can be used to help students think about how the past gets recorded, and relayed.  Coming on the back of the recent reports about P4C having wider cognitive benefits, the similarities with Neil’s approach were made very clear.  A song can be a way in to a topic, but it can also be a way of generating questions, ideas, doubts and directions for enquiry.  The brilliant way in which this can lead to discussions about what gets included in songs, and what gets left out, could easily lead to discussions and activities about how the historical record (geddit?) is made. Oh, and Ronan has an amazing voice.  The song China Boats brought a lump to my throat.

I really love SHP.  The vibrant good nature, the supportiveness of the great friends that I’ve made over the few times that I’ve attended has re-inforced how valuable this community is.  If only all subjects had SHP.

Historic Environment Studies – AQA in more depth

Water in English Gardens (22 of 33) | Hatfield House Gardens, Hertfordshire, UK.Last week I took an overview of all the environment studies. Though they’re (mostly) worth around 10% of the GCSE I wonder if they’ll be giving many HODs and teachers something to worry about as they start to think about their choice of board and specification. This is mainly because they concept of an historical environment study will be new to many teachers, especially those who have been doing modern world teaching (as I have).

This week I want to look more closely at AQA’s offering. They’re interesting because they are so closely embedded in with the depth study that they’re associated with. The questions allow students, (actually require) students to use their knowledge of events and society in the period studied, it’s fashions and pre-occupations in writing answers.  This means that the period study content should be read side by side with that of the H.E. study. Also, the kinds of locality that are implied for each H.E. should be taken into account when planning which unit to teach.

The Medieval Units

The two early periods have a strong military focus.  The Norman period could imply studies of early castles, such as Pevensey, whilst the Medieval unit, with it’s focus on the conquest of Wales suggest the development of castles such as Builth Castle in Powys.  The earlier Norman period has a focus on military tactics and innovations that is not present to the same level in the Medieval study, though both units mention battles that could be the focus of future H.E. assessments.

However, both also have strong social history aspects. So, whilst the Norman period has a focus on the village which would enable the board to set a medieval village location, and a focus on the changes that the Normans made to Cathedrals and churches, the Medieval study focuses on the development of towns.

The Early Modern Units

The Elizabethan unit is the one I find hardest to pin down to particular locations, or types of location. The focus on the rise of the Gentry and of living standards might mean a focus on the homes of the nobility – indeed this is the focus chosen for the specimen assessment material.  We could also read into the content on the church a study of Protestant or Catholic places of worship.  The spec also mentions theatres, so putting a tenner on the Globe being one of the locations might be an option.

The unit on the Restoration has more to go on in terms of possible focuses for H.E. locations. Theatre is an obvious choice, as is Medway in Kent, the scene of a famous naval disaster.  The big star of this unit seems to be London, with a focus on the plague of 1665, and the fire of the following year, coffee houses and Samuel Pepys, the focus on fashions and the changing face of the city being obvious.

The Specimen Assessment Materials

Whilst looking at the specimen assessment materials confirms how much these H.E. studies are embedded in the context of each depth study, common threads in the approach to assessment across the studies do emerge. For instance, the questions emphasise the context of each locality, asking about the use of castles to control areas in the Norman and Medieval studies, or Restoration fashions reflected in Bolsover Castle.  The mark schemes show however that there are strong preferences for answers that focus on the design, materials, as well as the symbolism of the various features of the locality concerned.  This is really exciting stuff – students will be given an opportunity to get to grips with the physical aspects of the past that we have not had the opportunity to introduce them to. Additionally they will be asked to think in terms of the mentalities of the past, to understand how buildings and places had such an impact on the minds of those living in the periods we’ll be studying.

H.A. Northern History Forum: Global Learning

Wednesday’s HA event at Leeds Trinity had a stall manned by Pearson which set out their ‘Global Learning Programme‘.  At the start of the keynote we were told of a CPD event being run by the university (and paid for by it too) deisgned to celebrate work being done by teachers on ‘Global Learning’. Global Learning is clearly ‘a thing’ right now.

The HA website has more details of its take on Global Learning, and I understand that they have been helping Pearson to develop the programme, offered on a website here. It’s hard to argue with the HA’s point that

“much of the history curriculum provides a clear context for the current debate about poverty, globalisation and inter-relationships between the countries of the world, and helps students understand the current debate.”

My mind is also drawn back to Donald Cumming’s talk to the SHP conference in July 2014 in which he rightly pointed out that we cannot really understand the history of any country (and perhaps especially not the one in which I live and teach) unless we understand the history of the countries around it and the wider world. Globalisation and global interdependency are not recent developments, and we’re not really teaching history if we deny this to our students.

Whilst I was reading the key aims of global learning cited by the GLP and the HA, I wondered about the kinds of substantive topics that we could use to help achieve these various aims to

help young people understand their role in a globally interdependent world and explore strategies by which they can make it more just and sustainable,

familiarise pupils with the concepts of interdependence, development, globalisation and sustainability

enable teachers to move pupils from a charity mentality to a social justice mentality

stimulate critical thinking about global issues, both at a whole school and pupil level

help schools promote greater awareness of poverty and sustainability

enable schools to explore alternative models of development and sustainability in the classroom.

It seems to me that there are many substantive topics that we could use in trying to reach these aims.   I can also see that thinking about these aims could encourage us to think differently about how we can ask students to think about the past from a global perspective.   Most obviously a comparative ‘long view’ approach of the kind developed by  Shemilt and Rick Rogers offers us a way of brining a historical eye to these aims. By comparing and contrasting different modes of trade, causes of poverty and wealth, and the development of campaigns against injustice over time we can help students understand how people in the past have wrestled with these issues.

If I can, I’d like to go to the conference, if only to see what it means to ‘enable teachers to move pupils from a charity mentality to a social justice mentality’.  It is this aspect of ‘global learning’ that causes me most trouble, and has since I started teaching.  When teaching histoy we are, in my opinion, teaching a way of thinking, rather than what to think about a particular event.  History doesn’t guarantee that our students will have a particular opinion about a topic, but should aim that they are well informed enough to form an opinion that is well-supported.  There are no single right answers to many historical questions, though there are lots of wrong ones!

So, I need to clear up what it means to be “moving students from a charity mentality to a social justice mentality”, so that I can make sure that I’m not trying to replicate my own mindset or political views in those of my students.,7837_127.html

Historic Environment Studies at GCSE

cropped gargoyle-1.jpgThere are big changes coming at KS4.  Others have written excellent posts summarising the new specifications and the differences between them.  On reflection there’s something for everyone in most specs – we will each find some aspects that we seem to be familiar with.  However, there is one new part of the GCSE – the Historic Environment Studies which are really new to most GCSE teachers.  I thought I would take a look at the differences between the different specifications in overview.

Board % of Grade Embedded in another unit? Specified site or centre choice? Topics
AQA 10% Yes – in British Depth Study Specified three years in advance (1) Norman, Medieval, Elizabethan and Restoration historic environment
Edexcel 10% Yes – in Thematic Study Specified in spec. (2) Crime and Policing in Whitechapel from 1870 to 1900
Surgery and Treatment on the British Western Front 1914-18
London and the Second World War 1939-45
OCR – SHP 20%(4) No – though centres can do this Centre choice (3) Centre choice within ‘parameters’
OCR 10% Yes – in British Depth Study Specified in spec. Urban Environments: Patterns of Migration
Castles: Form and Function 1000-1700
  • (1) – AQA will announce the sites when approved by Ofqual
  • (2) – ‘Site’ is widely construed to mean ‘London’, ‘Whitechapel’ or even ‘the Western Front’.
  • (3) – There are guidelines to help centres make the choice in the spec.
  • (4) – OCR – SHP spec examines the historic environment study in a separate paper.


AQA’s historic environment studies are embedded in their British depth studies, and focus on specific aspects of the wider content related to those studies. Departments that follow the ‘Norman England’ option will therefore study ‘the historic environment of Norman England’, while those taking ‘Medieval England’ will study ‘the historic environment of Medieval England’. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the departments teaching Elizabethan or Restoration England will also be teaching about the historic environment of each period.

The focuses in each ‘historic environment’ study depend on with those of the rest of each depth study, but there is a fair amount of generic description. So, whilst Elizabethan England refers to manor houses, gardens and theatres, and the Restoration period refers to ‘stately homes’, the Norman period mentions ‘Cathedrals’ as well as ‘Castles’ which also figure in the Medieval description. Each depth study refers to ‘key historical events’, though the only illustration given in each case is ‘such as battles’.

AQA plan to publish the specific sites for each exam series three years in advance on their website. I can’t find reference to these yet, though I’m sure that they have planned the first three.

Update: following a very fast email response from AQA, who tell me that: “We will be publishing the sites three years in advance (it’s in the draft b specification), so for example, once we had an indication from Ofqual that this will be acceptable we will publish the sites for 2018, 2019 and 2020 to help teachers plan their courses. We’ll also be providing individual resources packs for each site and overall guidance for schools.”

The Historic Environment makes up 10% of the total marks in AQA’s GCSE


Like AQA, Edexcel’s Historic Environment component is embedded in another study, though in this case it is the thematic rather than the depth study.  At first sight this might imply an approach which considers how and why a site changes through time.  However, AQA have set out much shorter time periods in which the Historic environment studies take place. For instance. though the Crime and Punishment In Britain study, runs from 1,000 to the present day, the embedded historic environment study is a much more focused thirty years, from 1870 to 1900 and is focused on the issue of crime and policing.

Similarly the Medicine through time study, which runs from 1250 to the present, contains the embedded historic environment study of “The British sector of the Western Front’ and is focused on the years 1914-1918 and the issues of ‘surgery and treatment’. This pattern is repeated in the Warfare through time thematic study. The London and the Second World War option runs from 1939-45, though it lacks a focussing subtitle in the way that the others have.

The Historic Environment makes up 10% of the total marks in AQA’s GCSE.


OCR is offering two different specifications at GCSE, and each has a very different approach to the historical environment.


The Schools History Project approach to the historic environment immediately sticks out from the crowd of the other three offerings.  The SHP-OCR specification it is 20%, double the tariff of the other specifications. It is also the only specification to assess understanding of the historical environment in a separate exam.

The second and perhaps most significant difference is that the specification ‘offers centres a free choice of site within a clearly stated set of parameters’, with the hope that this will lead centres to study a local site ‘that will enhance learners’ developing sense of identity’. The choice of site is not totally free, as there is a list of ‘parameters’ (though these are really guidelines to help centres choose workable sites).  Like the other boards there is no ‘requirement’ for a site visit, but the specification does say that one is ‘desirable’.  There is no requirement for the study to relate to any other part of the specification, though I would imagine that many schools will choose to find a site related to the periods and substantive history that they will be teaching elsewhere in the course.


The alternative specification, in common with those offered by the other boards, embeds the historic environment within another study. Also like  most of the specifications set out by the other boards, the historic environment study makes up 10% of the final marks of the GCSE.  Like AQA, OCR have embed their historic environment study within the British depth study.  There are two environment studies. “Urban Environments: Patters of Migration” is the study for the BASA ‘Migration to Britain’ depth study, whereas for both “The English Reformation” and ‘Personal Rule to Restoration’ depth studies centres will take ‘Castles Form and Function 1000-1700’. This approach seems to imply an aspect of change and continuity that the others do not.

This approach also differs from the other specifications in that it involves both a Board and a centre specified site which ‘complements the specified sites’.  Again a site visit is ‘desirable’ if not required. The sites for both studies until 2022 are set out in the draft specification.

I will be making a more detailed survey of each of these specifications in the coming weeks, starting with the AQA spec.  I’d love to know what departments are thinking about doing with regard to the historical environment study – or whether it has figured much in your thinking so far?

Northern History Forum

IMG_0061Last night I attended the Northern History forum at Leeds Trinity University, ran a workshop entitled ‘Playing Games in History’ and met some great teachers, new and experienced.

Ben Walsh gave the opening address, and reminded us of the benefit of asking ‘why am I teaching this?’ every now and then, as well as giving us some fantastic website tips. These included:

Time Maps

I was there to run a workshop, which I did, entitled ‘Playing with History’.  My aim was not to offer any over-arching theory, but just to present (with new teachers particularly in mind) some techniques that I have been honing over the years to keep lessons moving with purposeful pace.   You can find the materials for the talk on this page.

Great History spotted on the Web

I  have read such great history around the web this week, that I thought I’d compile some of it into a post.  Most of what I’ve spotted here should be directly relevant to teachers at KS3-5.  A good example of that is the fascinating life and views of John Lilburne, described by Michael Braddick over at Sheffiled University’s History Matters blog.  Lilburne provides the kind of life and example that we can use to great effect in the classroom, in order to ask questions like ‘why did he spend most of his life in prison’, or perhaps considering his historical significance (or lack of it!).  We might instead compare his treatement to that of Henry Vane or John Lambert in asking whether the Restored Monarchy was really as reconcilatory as the Declaration of Breda might suggest.

I have also been listening to the amazing podcasts at Alex Ford’s Meet the Historians.  This is a really exciting and ambitious project to enable students to access the thinking of historians through an interview with their history teacher.  Alex asks some really interesting questions, and the historians are given the time and space to answer. What I like most about the series is the example that Alex sets to us and his students.  What I take from this is that history is not only something that we have learned, it is something that we do, and something that we can keep on doing.   Secondly,  I think about the times we might vaguely exort our students to ‘interact’ or ‘engage’ with the sources. From this podcast students can hear, and perhaps understand what interaction with a historian might really mean.

I was drawn to this post by Scott Allsop‘s tweet.  The article itself is bit rambling, but it gets interesting right about where it discusses using diagrams to show relationships between countries, and in its central idea that devices such as these can ‘force us to expand our conception[s]’.  I often use diagrams and simplified maps to try to explain complex things. As always the devil is in the detail, but figuring out the detail can help students to understand where the limits of their knowledge are, and to put the detail back into the big picture.  As an example I asked my own students to update their diagrams of the feudal system last week.   They came up with some interesting ideas, including a feudal donut, with the king in the middle.  One really interested me.  It showed a house with a small dank cellar in which slaves worked, and two lower floors for Villeins and Freemen.  These floors were connected with stairs, which also led to the upper knightly and aristocratic floors, and finally to the attic where the King resided.  Crucially some of the stairs had baby gates installed, to make it harder for people to move upwards. This made it nearly impossible to become ennobled, but relatively easy to slip between free and unfree status depending on whether you could afford to rent land.  I can’t claim that this is a finished or full understanding of the feudal system, and I think that what’s going on here is the replacement of weaker for stronger misconceptions. It’s certainly better than the boring old Feudal pyramid that in the past I have taught in one lesson, and which then they forget.

Thinking about how history is done, over on Gaby Mahlberg‘s blog there is a really interesting post in which she reviews Writings of Exile in the English Revolution and Restoration by Philip Major.  The book itself deals with the culture of Royalists at home and those exiled beyond England and seems to offer a glimpse into the way Royalists dealt with the dislocation and loss that comes of exile.  However, what grabbed me was the way that Mahlberg describes these topics as a “newish and still only patchily explored field”, and her judgement that the book “posed many important questions, successfully answered some, but also left enough for the rest of us to puzzle over”.  Mahlberg’s review is not a question of whether Major’s ‘interpretation’ of exile was ‘correct’ or ‘accurate’, rather she seems to suggest that history is a joint-venture between countless eyes and hands, all of which build on each others’ work.  Not only that but, as there will always be new fields to be explored, the work of history cannot be finished.  I’d add that old fields can often contain new surprises.


The best of all worlds – #28daysofwriting

Last week I was accused of being a communist. I was quite surprised, firstly because this hasn’t happened to me for about 5 years (the last time was by a PGCE student of mine who now works for David Cameron, which probably explains it).    The other reason was that I am that most annoying of political animals – the moderate. My lawyer’s training means that I try to look for the merits in both sides of an argument, and the wannabe philosopher in me tries to help me see that life is an exercise in moving from holding weaker to stronger misconceptions.

So, as I age I try not to hold positions if they’re not working.  I shift.  I try to take on board evidence and argument. I am frequently wrong.  In fact I’m always wrong, I just try to be less wrong today than I was last week.  Life has taught me many lessons, Tony Blair, Nick Clegg, Catholicism, Socialism, Comprehensive Education, Mixed ability teaching, Constructivism, setting, vigorous exercise, formative feedback, Hattie, low-fat diets, high-fat diets, Behaviourism, Growth Mind-set, PGCE, CPD, ICT ,Post-Structuralism, Polly Toynbee, Historicism, Elton, Butterfield, Hobsbawm, Cannadine, Michael Gove, Owen Jones, Brian Simon, all of them curates’ eggs.

This leads me to seek out the good parts, and it makes it hard for me to explain what my position is when people ask me ‘what kind of teacher are you?’, or when I’m told I’m progressive or traditional.   I’m Pragmatic.  I try to find out what will work in the situation that I am in.  That doesn’t mean I’m a ‘what works’ teacher – I don’t think that you can say ‘what works’.   I tend to seek new ideas, but I like to know what they’re based on, and I think to myself ‘will that work, where were are now?’.

I went to a research Ed conference last year, and the one talk that really stuck out for me was Dylan Wiliam’s presentation on why Teaching will never be an evidence based profession.  I’m aware that in saying this, and yet being interested in Education Research (I got an MSc in Edu Research Methods) last year, I could be accused of wanting to have my cake and eat it.  Research findings and evidence have their role to play in Teaching, but to paraphrase Wiliam, education researchers need to abandon “physics envy”, and instead find ways of “Working with teachers to make their findings applicable in contexts other than the context of data collection”, whilst at the same time recognising that the job of collecting and interpreting evidence about education is never-ending and will never produce definitive guides to ‘what works’.