HA Conference 2023

I was delighted to be able to co-present at the HA Conference this May, with the perennially amazing Alex Fairlamb, on the subject of progression in sourcework. Sourcework is a field crowded with big names so it felt a bit daunting, but having spent much of last year really focusing on curriculum and getting it into a progression model that satisfied both myself and Ofsted, I’d spent a lot of time reflecting on how I could keep the consultant happy when she was asking how we were showing progression in ‘history skills’. I realise there has to be a certain amount of genericism when you’re consulting, but the conversation became circular pretty quickly as I flatly refused to entertain the idea that skills exist in history outside of the content you’re using to exemplify it and that any attempt to map progression of skills through our curriculum was a pointless waste of time. In the end, in an attempt to meet the poor consultant in the middle, I thought hard about how we progress students in source skills – from simple inferences onwards – and, though I came to much the same conclusion (that the way to get better at working with sources is to look at more sources, rather than attempting to come up with a one-size-fits-all-sources approach that invariably fails to fit when it’s most needed), I was able to develop a few phrases and exercises that, oft repeated, should lead to the progression we so desire to see. It’s been working quite well so far.

Happily, Alex had been working through much the same process at her through school and I think we managed to put together something helpful. Here are the slides for those who fancy a nosy through.

This should have been the highlight of the conference but then Rich and I did a Friday night pub quiz for the dinner and Mary Beard was on one of the teams, so that was hard to beat. I went to some superb workshops and lectures that fired my enthusiasm all over again. And what a lovely place Harrogate is! I stayed an extra night so I could fully appreciate it. The History subject community really is the best.

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The Greasy Pole

Nearly six years ago, I wrote this post about being a mainscale teacher, holding a middle leadership responsibility for a long time and being happy with that. This week has given me cause to revisit it, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I interviewed someone very experienced for a HoD role this week who felt she needed to explain, in the interview, why she wanted to move sideways, and I felt compelled to tell her that she was preaching to the choir; secondly, because I have, this term, accepted a promotion to Associate Assistant Head, filling in for my AHT line manager, who is now on maternity leave. Feeling slightly traitorous, I have been reflecting on how I got to the point of applying for this role.

I’m now coming to the end of my 20th year in the profession. In 2020, I was promoted to Head of Humanities, a new role created by the previous principal that offered me the privilege of being able to build a faculty of subjects of my choosing and work more closely with an absolutely inspiring bunch of women and man. The job arrived at a good time for me: I had just applied for my first non-teaching education job, had been stunned to reach the interview stage and, while not disappointed not to be offered the role, a little disappointed that there would be no new challenge. The new challenge was instead provided at school. When the principal exppressed her understanding of the HoF roles as extended leadership team posts, I was clear with her that I was not interested in an SLT role.

But she was wily, that principal, and she knew what she was about. The act of managing subjects and specialists outside of my own specialism taught me a lot of new things. I enjoyed the new challenges, mostly, and I started to see how my impact could be scaled and how I could grow as a practitioner by looking outside of my own beloved subject. It taught me more humility and highlighted how I could better use my skillset. Gradually, I started to come round to the idea that being SLT was something I could do, which in my professional life I prefer to come before ‘I want to do’. I duly signed up to complete my NPQSL, mainly because I had a faculty issue I felt I needed more training to solve, but of course this only added to that growing can-do feeling.

What probably accelerated this process was the crushing by Ofsted that my school received last year. A 12-year gap between inspections led to a catastrophic fall from top to almost-bottom (no measures but still down there) and there’s nothing like seeing your school in dire need of assistance to crystallise your thinking. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I think I’m Batman, but I’ve had seven years of this school supporting my career and lifting me up, so if I think my skills could be helpful, I’m going to offer them. This year at school has been one of extreme hard work, deep frustration and, if I’m honest, a little boredom. It feels ridiculous to have worked so hard and say I’ve been bored, but that about sums it up. It’s been 20 years, yknow…everything really is just cyclical.

I’m pleased to say that this is the most junior of senior roles. It’s an Assistant Head role, split among four of us, for a year. I’ll be responsible for ECTs, ITT and Professional Learning: what a joyful thing to take on! We’ve got a new head starting after half term and she will doubtless want to make her own decisions and appointments, so I feel quite secure in the insecurity. We will see how it works. I’ll keep hold of Team Hums for the time being and always feel immensely proud of the work that I have done alongside Marianne, Sophie, Hazel, Katie, Gemma, Claire, Maggie, Nat, Sheila, Luke, Elaine, Emma, Tamsin, Nabiha, Bethan and a few other supporting cast members over the past few years. We really are the best team.

So, here we are. I didn’t expect to get here. It’s exciting and nerve-wracking. It’s amusing other people have already started to refer to me as being in this role when I just feel like I’m just pootling along, doing my usual thing. I expect that amusement will quickly fade once I’m added to the SLT email group.

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Retrieval Practice for Year 13

Following on from my last post, I wanted to share what I have been doing with Year 13 to help them with the knowledge recall for the A-Level. I currently teach the uber-popular AQA 1C Tudors unit and I’m attaching my revision quizzes at the end of this post, if you’d like to pinch them.

I started using these quizzes last year with the aim of setting them once a month in Year 13, though I never quite got that far because, covid. I read Mary James’s chapter Assessment and Learning in ‘Unlocking Assessment’, which sets out three different forms learning can take and therefore be assessed, and I was particularly interested in the section describing cognitive constructivism (p25 in my copy) – that is, that learning is an active process of meaning-making, rather than a simple absorption of knowledge.  I therefore wanted to do something a bit meatier than any of the retrieval exercises I use lower down the school and to test something more than just regurgitation of key dates and facts – though somehow to include that as well, because that detailed knowledge does seem to make the difference at the top end. I was reading Jonathan Grande’s post on checking different types of understanding recently and it reminded me that I was going to share what I’ve been asking students to do with these quizzes and what I learn from what they do.

The quiz begins with some short answer, surface knowledge questions – what is x, when did y happen etc.

It then moves on to ask students to identify five different key figures from the course, with a follow up question to ask them which figure they would use for each of five different question types and the reasons why they would use them.


When I initially set the quiz pictured, I had forgotten how I formulated this question and ended up with something much less useful. In the event column, I had written a description of the person – so, for Cranmer, I wrote ‘Archbishop of Canterbury under three monarchs’ and, thus, a few students wrote this fact in against Cranmer in the question above (and one against Wolsey, smh). This was minorly useful to me as a diagnostic because it indicated to me that I needed to spend a bit more time reviewing Cranmer, but it did not do what I wanted, which was to encourage students to match key individuals to the themes from the course that, presumbly, drive the questions on the exam paper, thus assessing their application of the knowledge they have learned, as well as just their regurgitation of it.

I also hope that, by process of elimination, they will match up individuals they might not necessarily think of when considering the themes. Using Foreign Policy as my example here, my students always seem to struggle with this as a theme: in their essays they love to write about the minutiae of treaties and battles, making judgements about each one individually, rather than drawing out themes over a period. So, I put Margaret Tudor in here to represent the idea of marriage as a foreign policy tool, something I feel like I am endlessly banging on about but never seems to settle in student consciousness as well as I’d like.

Following on from that, I have a few questions that invite students to name a number of different things in different categories – three – followed by a few ‘Describe’ questions, which I score out of five, and a couple of ‘Explain’ questions, which I score out of ten. This is not particularly scientific and I don’t have a markscheme, I just tick where there is good evidence of learning. It doesn’t necessarily reflect the sort of questions that they get in the exam but it does allow me to ask some quite interesting things that give me insights into how the material is organised in student minds. An example of this is on Quiz 4, where I ask which Tudor monarch is most similar to Henry VII and why. I know what I think the answer to this is (I would say Elizabeth I – thrifty, preferred to avoid war) but the range of answers that came back was exciting and kicked off some excellent discussion when we did the feedback. There were also some helpful errors in there that I was able to pick up – that Henry VIII was as good with money as his dad, for example – that I’m not sure I would have come across otherwise.

I also invite my students to provide graphic representations to answer these questions if they would prefer it over writing paragraphs, which produces some really good insight for me into their understanding of another core theme of the course – change and continuity over time. It is unlikely that they will get away with covering just one monarch in all three questions they attempt in the exam and the ability to draw contrasts between the different reigns is therefore likely to be of great importance.


This image is a student’s description of the process of the Reformation. At a glance, I can tell that they know the general story of the Reformation – what caused it, some of the events, one of the impacts. The chronology is OK. The Act of First Fruits and Tenths is something I repeat often as an example of Reformation legislation so I am not surprised to see it. I am a little surprised not to see a mentioned of the Act of Supremacy. I am less convinced about their grasp on what happened after the Dissolution and, indeed, maybe need to revise my idea of what I think of as ‘the Reformation’ – did I confuse the issue by stipulating 1540? Perhaps it would have been better to ask students to describe the actions of the Reformation Parliament, although I still think that, in a breadth unit, that level of knowledge is probably superfluous for most students. So, lots coming out of that quiz for me and this was a quicker way of assessing than a long essay.


This was the last question on the last quiz. It is bigger in scope than an exam question would be because it spans the whole Tudor period, but ever since attending a workshop with Steve Mastin at SHP, I have tried to write questions that are more expansive than what they might bump into on the exam, since if they’re done something harder than that to practice, the exam should be a walk in the park. Interestingly I didn’t stipulate in the question that a chart would be a good way to organise but this is one of a few students who chose to lay out a plan in a more graphic way, following up with a conclusion. Once again, this question is doing a lot of heavy lifting for me in terms of understanding their mental models. When you’re judging the threat of rebellion over a longer time period, that judgement is stronger when made comparatively or as a generalisation, rather than looking at each rebellion in isolation, and this charting has helped my student to draw out the different criteria for judging threat – for example, motive, just seen in the paragraph, for example. It opened the conversation about how we make these judgements and provided an insight into where my teaching had been most effective (probably need to go back over the Amicable Grant and Lady Jane Grey…)

As promised, the quizzes – with the caveat that I am not particularly formal in the way I write for my students, so you may want to adjust some of the wording. This is my last whirl through with 1C so I expect I will be doing the same with the OCR Britain 1930-97 course for next year: drop me a message if you fancy collaborating.

Tudors Subject Knowledge Quiz 1

Tudors Subject Knowledge Quiz 2

Tudors Subject Knowledge Quiz 3

Tudors Subject Knowledge Quiz 4

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Retrieval Practice in History

Storm days are the new snow days. It’s been three years since most of us prepared a full cohort of students for a full suite of public exams, so I’ve been revisiting my old lessons and revision planners. Here are my best retrieval practice activities, presented without exemplars because most of them are not currently fit to be seen and if I have to wait until they are, this post won’t be published until March winds – early or otherwise – have well and truly flown.

Please do add your favourites in the comments. I’m always looking for new things and we have more revision lessons than usual this year.

1. Find and Fix grids

This provides a series of nine statements that students correct. I include a mixture of SPAG mistakes, date mistakes and factual mistakes. Students are told how many mistakes there are across the grid. My top tip here is to keep a list of common errors from marking assessments and mocks, so that you can test these twice as often as other facts.

2. Find and Fix paragraphs

As above, but students have a paragraph to correct instead of a grid. This allows for targeted essay practice – spot the mistake in the structure, improve the analysis, have the right facts been selected etc. If you’re printing it for all students, you can differentiate by creating a few different paragraphs. The sample answers in examiner reports are a goldmine for this because there are plenty of pre-written paragraphs to choose from, usually of varying quality, and then you just have to add a few mistakes as you type them. Or dictate them – I’ve taken to using the voice-to-text function for things like this now.

3. Piggybacks, but make it History

I picked this one up from a Science teacher, who explained that students are given a retrieval quiz that requires knowledge recall from 3 days ago, 3 weeks ago and 3 months ago – and these are called piggybacks because pigs gestate for 3 days, 3 weeks and 3 months.

I can’t usually be as precise as 3 days, 3 weeks and 3 months (hats off to you if you can) so I tend put together a grid of nine recall questions that cover content from the current topic, the previous topic and the one before that. It’s scored on a sliding scale, so students get 1 point for the most recent knowledge and 3 for the most distant.

4. Expand the answer

Something pinched off my old HoD, Ian, who would put the briefest of answers to an exam question on the board and invite students to add 20 words to improve it. The word limit helps keep them focused on recalling relevant knowledge, rather than faffing around with stylistic devices, and has the added bonus of fitting onto a mini whiteboard for easy whole-class checking.

5. Threes

A starter for when I am tired and in a hurry. Students are invited to name three of something in several different categories, which I usually select from the spec. So, for Medicine on the Western Front, I might have the categories places on the Western Front; common ailments; common wounds; effects of gas attacks; treatment areas; new medical techniques; context of medicine in 1914; and sources available about the Western Front. Depending on the class, I might use this same set of categories a few times but shorten the amount of time students have to complete the exercise as their recall improves. The first time, I might ask them to write their answers and then add to them when we feed back; later, they might just have to write down any they couldn’t remember.

6. This time or that time (or, this factor or that factor)

I provide a list of key facts and students have to organise into the correct time period. This is particularly helpful for revising the thematic study, where students often seem to stumble on the chronology. Similarly, providing a list of changes and/or continuities and inviting students to categorise into the different factors affecting change (for Edexcel Medicine these are Individual and Institutions, Science and Technology, and Attitudes in Society) is another way of giving them the basics and asking them to do a slightly more sophisticated recall task.

7. ‘Two features’ tag teaming

This one is based on the ‘Describe two features’ question from the Edexcel qual. Students begin by identifying two features for a list of topics, again usually taken from the spec (as in example 5) and usually from across a range of topics – even those where the ‘Describe two features’ question doesn’t appear on the exam. Once they’ve identified two features, they swap with a partner, who has to add supporting information for each one. I quite like this one, because students get competitive with each other and scrape the dustiest recesses of their mind palaces for the most obscure features they can think of.

8. Choose your source

I’ve a habit of trying to put sources into as many GCSE lessons as possible, even for topics where sources aren’t on the paper, just to ensure that practice is regular and confidence grows – ‘miles under the skis,’ as a ski instructor once told me, is the best way to get better and I apply this advice liberally in teaching. Just lots and lots of the same thing. Sourcework is a retrieval practice activity as well, because students need knowledge to contextualise the sources they’re seeing. I frame this as, ‘Which source would you use for an enquiry into xxxx and why?’

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It’s been another one of those funny old years.

There’s much to reflect on, in terms of pedagogy; this time last year, it had just been announced that we were going online for teaching, a situation that lasted until March. Now we’re trying to get y 11 students read for exams when they haven’t had a normal school year since they were in year 8, and y13 students who’ve never sat a GCSE, which is presenting its own set of head-scratching challenges. As in my last entry, now 18 months ago, the frustrating feeling from all of this is the fleeting nature of it. When am I ever going to need to use these techniques, that I am working so hard to develop, again?

So enough of that. I’ve been prompted to write today, instead, by the existential crisis lots of people seem to be facing in terms of their careers. I had a drink with my friend Tracy before Christmas and she bluntly described this as wondering what the point of work is. It’s clear that this is happening in all types of careers and maybe this is just a forced speeding up of something that was already in motion: flexible hours, the gig economy and so on. I remember my beautician telling me some years ago that it was very normal now for people to not work full time. I’m quite interested to see how this plays out in terms of teaching.

Schools seem generally quite resistant to part time staff. I work in a place that is not resistant to it. Flexible working is granted whenever it can be, which is really comforting to witness. The school has a low staff turnover (in my limited experience) and retains excellent teachers who know their students well. That said, as a full-timer and HoF, it is also interesting to see the impact this has on the school: lots of children looking for staff members who aren’t in school; difficulty getting everyone together for a meeting; missed CPD time; delays in making decisions; uncomfortable splits in classes and scheduling of teaching time. I can’t square this away. There’s no denying that flexible working doesn’t suit schools, which is a paradox, when you consider that most school teachers are women and women are more likely to want to work flexibly.

I’ve been thinking about flexible working for a while. So long, in fact, that I can’t remember when I started. In the autumn of 2019 I stayed with an old work friend I hadn’t seen in 5 years and told her I was thinking of requesting part-time hours; ‘You were saying that five years ago,’ she scoffed, ‘when are you actually planning to do something about it?’ A good point, well made. I have terrible work FOMO about going part time, though, and no concrete reason to do so – I don’t have children or caring responsibilities. The best idea I can think of is to request a 0.7 or 0.8 contract but agree to be in school all the time, so I don’t miss meetings and can respond to emails; I’d just (in theory) have more time in the day so that I don’t need to bring anything home. That would be winning, in my book.

But then why not go further? I could stop teaching altogether. It would be risky but not impossible. I think this might also be something I think every year, especially in the holidays, hence my plan to note it here so I can come back and remind myself it’s probably just cyclical malaise. Why not just quit? The simple answer to this is, I don’t want to. I like my job too much. I love talking T&L and curriculum. I enjoy being in the classroom and in front of students: something completely reinforced by the pandemic, when I wilted at home behind my monitor and didn’t really come back to life until I was back in front of class. I remember the exact moment of peak joy, in front of my year 11s, rubbing whiteboard marker off the board with my hand. In spite of the long hours and longer to-do lists, I enjoy turning up every day and doing the work, which seems like a good enough reason to stick with it.

Well….that and the pension, obvs.

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Handy History Teaching Tips Podcast

hhttAnother school year is coming to a close. It’s been unique; every year is unique but this one has been significantly different. I’m not reflecting on it much yet because, if I’m honest, I don’t know how helpful it will be to reflect on this unprecedented year because – will it ever happen like this again? I think not. Even if schools close again, we will not be closing for the first time ever. We will be bringing our experiences of the last six months to the table. So, I feel like I need a bit of distance from the events before I can properly reflect on it.

Instead, I wanted to share something else I’ve been doing this year. A few years ago, I had an idea about doing a history teacher podcast, since there seemed to be a gap in the market. After a while I mentioned it to a couple of people, including Helen Snelson, long-time History teacher, History PGCE lead in York, Chair of the Historical Association Secondary Committee and superwoman, who were enthusiastic but, my goodness, we are all so busy! A year passed. Helen was a good friend and kept nudging me back to the project and we finally managed to get it off the ground in November. We started with a long series on using sources in the classroom, and intended to move on to History-specific revision tips, though ended up shelving this as the exams receded into the distance, and have instead spent the past term recording episodes looking at the different second order concepts in History.

This has been a joy of my year. I really enjoy chatting away with Helen about nerdy history topics and always, ALWAYS come away knowing more than I did at the start. It’s great watching the number of listens creep up each week and getting feedback from people that are listening, that it is a helpful thing or that we’ve helped them to tweak something in their classroom which now works better. We’ve got a long list of ideas for the future but have also been able to respond to listener suggestions – that’s where the idea for a series on second order concepts came from.

Some practicals – we try to keep our episodes short – 10-20 minutes is ideal, but we do often gab on a bit longer. We share our ideas on a GoogleDoc and script it to a greater or lesser extent, depending on how confident we feel with the topic. We record it over Skype, usually doing a few at a time; I edit it in Audacity (free to download) and it’s hosted on Soundcloud (it was free until we reached 3 hours of content, by which time I was convinced that enough people were listening to it to warrant forking over the annual fee). I’ve also submitted the RSS feed everywhere I can think of, so it is searchable on Spotify, Podcast Addict, Podbean and iTunes. It has been fun working out all the technical stuff, although I am painfully aware of some of my vocal tics that I wouldn’t necessarily have noticed if I wasn’t listening back to every episode to edit. I keep telling myself that nobody likes the sound of their own voice. Who knows, maybe next year I will add a musical intro and exit.

If this sounds like it would be up your street, give us a listen!

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‘Historian of the Month’ display

A few years ago, I collaborated with some other teachers rounded up via Twitter to produce display materials for a ‘Historian of the Month’ display. Between us, we put together profiles of eleven different historians that could be used as a school display. The format was simple but formulaic –

  • Slide 1 – a short biography
  • Slide 2 – some notable quotes
  • Slide 3 – ‘Find out more’ – recommendations for further reading; run downs of particular interests or controversies
  • Slide 4 – potentially a review of a specific book

If you’d like to access these original presentations, they are together on a Google Drive here.

Yesterday I had a great discussion with my colleague and friend Kate Smee, mainly around the Black Lives Matter movement and what we are doing as educators to tackle systemic racism. Kate reminded me about this display project when we were discussing Black History Month, as she is hoping to have a display of BAME historians and historians specifically focused on BAME history within the Humanities department next October. Representation is important.

So, this seems like a good time to reinvigorate the project, so that we can share the workload and spread the word as widely as possible. While the original project aimed to have a balance of genders, it is definitely not ethnically balanced and that’s something we can address in this next round. I’m going to do a call on Twitter but leave a comment if you’d like to offer a historian’s profile too and I will be in touch.

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A decade in the life

There’s been a lot of navel-gazing across social media platforms, as we all weigh up the past decade and consider our achievements. The beginning of a new decade has slightly crept on me. I’m sure there must be some people somewhere pointing out that the new decade technically begins in 2021, as there were people who argued that the new millennium began in 2001, though I’m not one of them – I’m just a bit old. ‘Oh, a new decade? What, again? Meh.’

Similarly (perhaps I am in something of a flat mood) my response to the question ‘what’s different?’ was initially, to borrow a phrase from my nanna, ‘Everything’s much about the same, dear.’ I’m still teaching history full time. I still mark GCSE exams for the same board. I live in the same house, with the same husband, and though with a different configuration of pets, some might argue that two rabbits are equal to one cat. I almost drive the same car, since I purchased it in June of 2010. I’ve even got the same mattress – come at me, Dreams.

I realised, though, that this malaise-filled answer does not really do justice to my achievements, which I don’t love talking about but will do so, since it’s a new decade and everything (probably). There are a lot of things I’m really proud of that aren’t included here but I really don’t have masses of navel-gazing time today, so I’ve kept it to the top 5.

1. I was published. I wrote a revision guide, then a textbook, then a book about teaching. I wrote pieces for Teaching History and consulted on teaching materials for Hodder. Sometimes my writing was deemed good enough to be cannibalised for future editions. It is hard to convey how proud I am about this. My 7-year-old self, the wannabe authoress, could never have dreamed that teaching would lead me to this. I am looking forward to there being more writing in the future. My best writing tip is to not think you have to start at the beginning: start where you find the words.

2. I was invited to speak. I gave my first SHP workshop in 2011, following up a project I had developed after Google Teaching Academy (HOW is that 10 years ago…OK, I think I’m getting everyone else’s amazement vibe now). Since then, I have presented at SHP six more times and HA once, plus whole-day insets I’ve planned for Philip Allen Events and Keynote and various speaking engagements for the exam board. This is never not scary. I am always conscious of becoming someone’s bad inset story. But, it’s easier now, to the point where I was able to complete new examiner training for 200 slightly spiky examiners in 2018, most of whom could list 100 ways they’d rather spend a lovely day in May, and though I was too wound up to eat the lunch, my colleague did tell me they’d picked me for the very wide, very shallow room that was difficult to present in ‘because you’re the best’. I am still fairly certain she was trying to make me feel better, but I’ll take it. My best speaking tip is to smile and slow down.

3. I was promoted at the exam board. Twice. I started the decade as a team leader. I became an assistant principal in 2012. I’m a principal examiner now. It just gets more interesting, I promise. I know more about assessment than I could ever have dreamed I’d want to. I also know a lot more (defo not everything) about managing people from a distance and prioritising when juggling a huge workload. I keep thinking about a Masters in Educational Assessment. I keep thinking of cutting down my teaching hours to spend more time on this. I’ll probably still be thinking of this in 2030. My best examiner tip is, communicate well and forget about getting your own way. None of us do.

4. I ran 9 ski trips (and attended a 10th). I had already run three at the start of the decade, but then the LA decided I wasn’t qualified and I had to do an arduous course to continue, which I failed the first time around. This taught me a lot about myself and the process of learning. I love skiing and I always feel proud of myself when I’m watching my students showing off what they’ve learned on the slopes, because I had to work pretty hard to get to this point. I’m also quite proud of the fact that, when I moved schools, the very experienced ski trip lead felt I was a safe pair of hands in which to entrust her treasure when she retired. The coup of the decade, surely: how many school ski trips are run by history teachers? We should form a clique. My best ski trip tip is, be as positive as humanly possible, all the time. Be merry fricking sunshine. Smother complaining with joy. They will definitely need it by day 4.

5. I moved schools but didn’t move up. I really did think that, without putting some effort into reinventing myself as an SLT bod, I might stay put where I was forever. I had four interviews in the years prior to leaving – one for every job I applied for – and kept getting sent home at lunch. I obviously don’t interview well and it’s not clear why. I started to think I should stop eating lunch. When the move came, though, I was applying for the right reasons (wanting to leave as opposed to fear of redundancy, the prompter for the previous applications) and it really clicked, even though my interview day began appallingly. I love where I work: the students, the setting, the autonomy, the opportunities to grow, my colleagues. I think the move probably saved my teaching career. So my best school moving tip is, apply for the right job, for the right reasons. And probably don’t eat lunch, just in case.


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KS3 Research Project

Following up on my post about replanning KS3, somebody asked on Twitter about how we do our research project at KS3, so I thought I would put it all here.

I’ve been doing this in some form for years, but only with year 9. Last year, my colleague Luke did something similar with his year 7s during their medieval unit, and thanks to his trail-blazing, we’ve introduced it to all year groups for this year.

Year 7 – term 2 (before Christmas) – aspects of the impact of the Normans. This year, we gave them a choice of the Domesday Book, the Harrying of the North, the Feudal system or Castles.

Year 8 – term 6 – a 20th century British protest movement. I’m slightly embarrassed to say that I don’t know what we’ve offered them because I don’t teach year 8, but I know we initially suggested 4 but decided to broaden it out.

Year 9 – term 3-4 – an aspect of history remembered by a family member. Their Christmas break homework is to interview the oldest member of their family/oldest person they know about events from history that they remember. From this list, we identify one event and that becomes their project. I’ve had some absolutely fantastic stories come out of this and it reveals the tremendous diversity of background – even more so now that I am in a more diverse setting – and helps students to learn about bits of history that we don’t have in the curriculum.

Each year group has the same basic set up –

  • Presentation must be no more than five slides long.
  • Everybody needs to present, though we can be flexible in how we support this – sometimes I’ve stood with students while they’ve read their notes, or I’ve presented their work while they add comments and answer questions.
  • Students must reference at least two books and as many websites as they like.
  • Each week they complete a different stage – finding books/websites, making notes, condensing notes, making presentation, practising presentation.
  • All the presentations have to be submitted on Google Classroom, which is a tool we use widely further up the school and one that is therefore worth them getting familiar with. It is also SUPER helpful having everything in the same place.
  • We agree success criteria for the presentations before they make them, as a class, regarding what they look like. I usually steer them heavily towards having less content on the slides and speaking from their notes, but other than that, they decide what a good one looks like.
  • The success criteria are used to make a grid, against which students self-assess and receive peer and teacher comments too.
  • This assessment is done using a shared Google doc and a couple of chrome books, which means that both teacher and peer assessor can make their comments in real time while the presenter uses my laptop to give their presentation. It would be just as easy to do it on paper if each student had a separate slip for teacher and peer assessment – I just like to have it all in one place. Less to lose.

This is the planning sheet we’ve used with year 7 and year 8 this year.


Changes for next year –

In year 7, we gave over the whole of term 2 to facilitating this project and it was too much. We included a visit to the school library and a session on researching from books, which I want to keep, but they’re keen as mustard at that stage of the school year and it doesn’t feel ambitious enough for them to give over a whole term of lessons and homework to this one thing. Solution: next year, they’ll complete the project alongside their unit on the Middle Ages.

In year 7, it was very dull having the same topics over and over again (SO. MUCH. DOMESDAY BOOK.) and it made it difficult for them to find books in the library. Solution: a broader variety of topics – we’re going to give them a long list of Middle Ages events and get them to pick one. We might even do events-out-of-a-hat so everyone in the class does something different.

It takes a lot of class time. The year 9 projects with one of my classes dragged on into May, as we ended up doing them two per lesson. Solution: just better time management, I think. A stricter time limit, a clear rota for presentations instead of ‘Who wants to go next?’

I’m not sure what the audience are really getting out of it. They ask questions and some students include a quiz, and they’re attentive and supportive – but is this enough? Solution tbc.

An easy one – they need to include a bibliography on the final slide next year, as it was difficult to keep track of what sort of books they’d used. Year 7 brought theirs in, which was nice. I might do this again next year and teach them how to make notes out of books, which I think it a worthwhile thing for them to learn early. We’ll see how the time goes. My curriculum time is one hour a week at KS3 and therefore jealously guarded. Including space on the feedback sheet for them to note their book titles or even requiring a completed written bibliography would also work.

Finally – we need to think more carefully about progression. My aim is that, by the time they reach the end of y12, they understand the process of carrying out historical research well enough to be more independent with their NEA. So, I’d like to introduce an element of formulating their own questions – there’s a workshop on this topic that I’m hoping to attend at this year’s SHP. I also wonder whether we should make the Y9 version include a written element as well as/instead of a presentation. Y9 is surely the most awkward of all the years so it might be more appealing if the presentation aspect was made optional.

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Some notes on KS3 planning

We’re overhauling KS3 as a school for next year – getting rid of using GCSE grades prior to GCSE level, deep joy! This has provided an opportunity to think again about what we teach at KS3 and how we assess progress.

My colleague Nick and I had already done quite a lot of work on the KS3 content last year. We were quite brutal and threw out absolutely everything. What came back had to fit the criteria of ‘vital knowledge’ – something important for underpinning GCSE or A-level, and/or something important for understanding their context and our world, and/or something we wouldn’t want them to leave school without knowing.

In practice, a lot of what we had previously taught came back, but some favourite topics couldn’t be squeezed in (RIP British diet through time) and we added studies of Islamic civilisations and the French Revolution, among other things.

Once we had our list of topics, we went to the mechanics of history teaching and fitted the topics to second order concepts, highlighting topics that provided fertile ground for sourcework and interpretations and making sure that we had a good mixture of everything.

I also thought it was really important to prioritise historical enquiry, so we added a personal history project into each year group to develop research and presentation skills. When this is fully fledged, it should ensure that students arrive at their A-level NEA with a good understanding of how to read around a topic and formulate an enquiry, as well as helping with smaller things like how to write a bibliography and speak confidently from notes. Students complete this project over a period of several weeks and we then give over two lessons to allow everybody to present their findings. I’ve written a follow up post about it here.

What we came up with has worked quite well this year, with a few tweaks necessary for next year. We realised there was a glaring hole where the British Empire should be and that we probably spend too long teaching the Middle Ages (with apologies to another colleague, Luke, who is a die-hard medievalist). Year 9 felt a bit sparse. A lot of the enquiries are still underformed or ‘working questions’ instead of the rigorous beasts I am hoping for in the long term. However, I’m satisfied that the content of the curriculum is broadly where I want it to be, which means that next year I can get on with improving it.

My next steps are, therefore –

  1. Add in units on the British Empire and, we think we’ve decided on, the Russian Revolution.
  2. Sort out a strong enquiry title for every unit and break it down into smaller questions that can be used to drive lessons. I’m relishing getting lost in a big pile of history books.
  3. Really nail down the assessment, which is still a little amorphous for my liking.
  4. Update the Y7/Y8 curriculum booklets and write one for Y9. These have all the key words for the units in them, alongside wider reading lists, homework tasks and brief sources or interpretations, as well as a log to help structure the research project. I need to rethink how we use these and I’m considering whether it’s possible to go digital and do it all through Google Classroom. I abhor the enormous amount of paper it requires to photocopy but I like them to have the booklets in class. Some careful thinking about the point of the booklets is necessary.

I’ve tweaked KS3 every year for as long as I can remember, so it’s nice to look at this list and find it isn’t very long – it must mean I am almost happy.

Very sadly I’m losing Nick’s assistance in this endeavour, as he’s wandering off to pasteurs (haha) new after spending three years as half SENCo, half history teacher.

The very silver lining to this, though, is that we’re currently recruiting for a whole new history teacher to join me from September. Get in touch if you’re interested and I will point you in the direction of the advert.

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