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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Ten Reasons to Visit Alabama

Over the Easter holidays I was fortunate enough to be included on a familiarisation trip to Alabama with MSG Tours, who are launching a new tour for schools there. Four History educators and one tour manager toured the sites to get a feel for how a school trip might work and what the benefits might be for students attending, all organised and planned by the tourist board – of course, called Sweet Home Alabama. Full disclosure – I didn’t pay for the trip but wasn’t asked to write this up and it’s not intended as an advert. I am a convert and can see huge benefits to taking students there. If you’re considering a school trip to the USA then you should seriously consider heading south rather than north.

1. The Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Montgomery

We visited this towards the end of our trip, on our last full day, and it caught me by surprise because I hadn’t heard of it before and therefore hadn’t really clocked it on the itinerary. However, it definitely had the biggest impact on me.

We visited the memorial first, which is dedicated to victims of lynching across the USA. It is laid out as a series of engraved metal boxes, each one representing a different US county and carrying the names of lynching victims, where there are records of them. Walking through it was a very powerful experience and brought me to tears.


It pairs with the Legacy Museum, in downtown Montgomery, which traces the history of slavery and its legacies. Having spent the previous weekend on the Historical Association Teaching Fellowship considering Britain and slavery, it was humbling to see how carefully and thoroughly the subject had been dealt with, particularly in light of the fact we don’t have anything similar in the UK yet.

We had around 45 minutes in each space but could easily have spent twice as long at the memorial and three times as long at the museum. The opening of it has been controversial and both sites require patrons to enter through metal detectors – which opens up a whole avenue of discussion to be had with students around history, memory, politics, tourism, ethics…

2. Kelly Ingram Park and its surroundings

Kelly Ingram Park was the site of several civil rights demonstrations in the 1960s. There is a circular walk around the mark to take in several pieces of sculpture related to the civil rights movement, including a statue of Martin Luther King and beds full of Coretta Scott King roses, and some replica water cannon of the type used by Bull Connor on student demonstrators in the park in 1963. There’s even a tree planted in honour of Anne Frank.

Kelly Ingram Park sits opposite the 16th Street Baptist Church, famous site of the 1963 Klan bombing that killed four little girls, and also opposite the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. We visited the former on Sunday morning for part of their service and then moved on to the latter for a tour with another fantastic tour guide, Dr Martha Bouyer, who modestly informed us that she’d worked with schools on their History programmes but when we Googled her we found that she’d basically spent 15 years in charge of the curriculum for her county. She was one of those guides where other visitors start to surreptitiously tag along with your tour because she’s so interesting – to be fair, that happened with almost all of our guides. She really knew her stuff.


The museum was filled with artefacts relating to segregation and even has the actual bars of the cell Martin Luther King was held in when he wrote his ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail.’ And a KKK robe, displayed with a partially burnt cross from the 1990s, donated by the FBI. THE 1990sAlso I got to stand in Rev Shuttlesworth’s pulpit. Guys. How can you not go. Here’s a good article about this place


So, anyway, all of this is within a few minutes’ walk and just round the corner from an excellent eatery called Pizitz food hall which serves all kinds of different foods (including fried catfish and chicken and waffles) and could only be more perfect for a bunch of teenagers if it had a McDonald’s in it, the lack thereof making it even more perfect in the eyes of a majority of teachers, I’d imagine.

3. Vulcan Park

Because it’s been a while since I taught the CRM at A-level, I tried to brush up my subject knowledge before the trip and started with Vulcan Park, but was left feeling puzzled about its relevance. However, it added a whole extra layer of detail to the history of Birmingham and its people. You can see the whole city laid out below you and climb to the top of the Vulcan monument, which is the world’s largest cast iron statue and a reminder of Birmingham’s steelworking legacy. Dr Bouyer accompanied us to the park and talked us through the origins of the city and the way the geology of the area makes it perfect for steel production but also how it contributed to segregation in the area. One of the biggest steel concerns, Sloss, paid its workers in ‘clackers’ that could only be spent at the company store, rather than in cash, leading to workers being indebted to the company; ‘slavery by another name’, as Martha put it.

There’s a lot here to be discussed from a history point of view – the legacy of slavery and conditions for people of colour after emancipation; America’s industrial revolution (Birmingham has no large body of water and was founded as something of an experiment to see whether rail would do instead); but it’s also a lovely bit of geology/geography and there’s a fantastic display in the museum of the different Supreme Court judgements that Alabama has played a part in.

4. Selma

There’s not much to see in Selma, but what there is packs a punch. We met with a guide who walked across the bridge on the freedom march of 1965, and then again on the anniversary of it with the Obamas – we know this second bit because we saw her in a picture for sale at the Lowndes Interpretive Centre, a museum and monument on the road between Selma and Montgomery. She spoke with passion and energy about the march and the civil rights struggle, walking us across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and telling us about her experiences in the movement. It was one of the most powerful bits of the trip. It also felt humbling to be able to walk across the bridge with such ease, knowing the weight of history that surrounds that act.


5. The most historic corner in America

This space in Montgomery also has a heavy weight of history on it. In the centre, where the fountain is, there used to be an auction site for enslaved people. The telegram that authorised military action at the start of the American Civil War was sent from the Winter building, on one corner. The Selma to Montgomery marchers crossed it on their way to the state capitol, and Rosa Parks got on her bus on another corner. There’s a lot of history here.

6. Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church

A little further up from this historic corner is the church where Martin Luther King preached. Once again, we had a spectacular guide who took us around the church, explaining the mural, allowing us to stand at MLK’s pulpit…


(It had to be done, obvs)

…and then taking us up into the Church and speaking with such verve about the civil rights struggle that it all became very emotional. It’s one thing to read about these places and see pictures, but a real benefit of the trip was to be able to visit them in quick succession, being contextualised with nuggets of information from people that witnessed the events and for whom this isn’t so much history as a memoir. That MLK should end up the pastor at a Baptist church between the site of an auction of the enslaved and the government building where the confederacy declared its independence is surely no accident: being there to see it and appreciate the very special geography of the place helped me to make a lot of connections in my mind.

7. The Rosa Parks Museum

Next to the bus stop where Rosa Parks was forced off her bus and arrested stands the Rosa Parks museum. This is fairly newly opened and has everything you might want to see or know about the incident and the civil rights struggle around it. The museum tour begins with a very cleverly put together video re-enactment, which is projected into the side of a replica bus, so it does really feel as though you are standing watching the event through the windows.

The tour continues with further insight into the civil rights movement and the actions taken by individuals to agitate for change, alongside some really fascinating exhibits, including a great piece of propaganda called ‘Labor Day Weekend at a Communist Training School’ (no pictures allowed, sadly) which painted MLK as a communist and suggested mixed-race relationships were also a communist thing. The context of the Red Scare is helpful as a strand in the story of why the CRM came under such suspicion: being anti-communist was presumably much more fashionable/acceptable than being anti-black.

At the end of the tour there’s a lovely bronze status of Rosa, which a seat next to her. I looked at it for a long time, trying to work out if the slightly shiny patches on the seat and the floor meant people were allowed to sit on it. In the end our hosts noticed and waved me up there with gusto. It is meant for just such a photo opportunity. Joy! Make sure you build in a bit of time here so that every student can do this for the ‘gram.


8. Good for Politics students

On our last day in Montgomery we managed to squeeze in a trip to the state capitol. It’s an impressive building at the top of a street, not far from the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, and it holds an extensive museum, tracing Alabama’s history – we had about 15 minutes so didn’t have a chance to scratch the surface, but there’s a lot to see, from Native Americans to cotton gins to WW2 airmen. As well as this, in the capitol building itself, there’s a spectacular cantilevered staircase with an interesting history, being designed and built by an emancipated slave; and we were able to go into the state Senate and House chambers. Jefferson Davis took his oath as President of the Confederate States in 1861, following their secession. The Selma marchers ended their pilgrimage on the steps.

This isn’t Washington DC, which is probably the natural location for A-level Politics students studying the American system, but there are significant benefits to visiting a state capital and its legislature instead: this bit of the political system is very different to the UK. There are lots of opportunities to discuss states’ rights in the context of the CRM and the aforementioned Supreme Court judgements detailed at Vulcan Park provide insight into the judicial branch of government and how it is used as an instrument of law-making. And the recent politics is juicy: Roy Moore, mixing up church and state, defying the Supreme Court and getting suspended, being accused of sexual misconduct with minors and losing an election, getting pranked by Sacha Baron CohenVoter behaviour in the Black Belt. And, since Kavanaugh’s elevation to the Supreme Court, I think Alabama might be where the first Roe vs Wade challenge comes from (follow up: I started this blog at the end of April and the news has moved on a bit since then – I’m pleased to see I was right, is all I can say). There’s a lot going on. 

9. Links with other subjects

As well as a good link for Politics students, there are lots of other places that make it relevant for other subjects. Our guide Sheryl talked enthusiastically about Barber Motorsports Museum, just outside Birmingham, which traces the history of motorcycles and includes engineering workshops that provide students with the opportunity to build a small motorcycle alongside the museum’s restoration crew. Alabama is known for its fossils and dinosaur remains and there’s a Museum of Natural History in Tuscaloosa. I did hear a whisper about dinosaur digs that can be visited – the tourist board would undoubtedly be able to give more information about this. F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald lived in Montgomery for a while and there’s a museum dedicated to him.

Also, there are lots of universities in the surrounding areas: we visited Tuskegee, which is a historic black university founded by Booker T Washington, while the University of Alabama Birmingham specialises in medicine and hosts a lot of overseas students. This is aside from all the galleries, science centres and other visit opportunities available. It would be easy to fill a week with educational experiences for all.

10. Good southern hospitality

I’ve spent a lot of time in the USA, as a result of having a father who’s lived there since 1991. In my experience, Americans are almost universally friendly, helpful, polite and hospitable. Alabamans are like this to the extreme. Everywhere we went, we were greeted with hugs and smiles. Our guides went out of their way to ensure that we got the very best out of the time we had, seeking out extras we might be interested in and squeezing in additional visits where possible. Our host, John, was tireless and endlessly patient with our requests. They were all great advocates for their state and, while of course you would expect this from a group of people employed to ensure we come back, they interacted with each other in the same way, and our interactions with people not working for the tourist board were similarly positive. The hotel staff were friendly, the cities were clean and felt safe, there wasn’t any traffic to speak of. Having been to NYC and Washington DC, I would feel more confident leading a school group in AL than either of those places – and the history is much more powerful. In my opinion. Many of our guides had participated in the Civil Rights Movement – this was a lived experience for them. The opportunities to learn from these people will naturally dwindle as time passes, so it’s worth getting in on it now.

And the weather was lovely, of course. Naturally I got sun burn, though only in the places I put suncream. Bizarre. I’m not sure if a trip in the height of summer would work for me, but April was lovely. And the food! I’m not sure I can ever eat fried chicken again. In the words of Viggo Mortensen in Green Book, it just tastes better there – must be because it’s fresher.

So, if this has piqued your interest, I do recommend getting in touch with Grace at MSG Tours, who wrote her own blog about the visit here. I’m working on plans for a sixth form trip in 2020.

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TMHistoryIcons: Illuminating the Whole Picture

I was really pleased to be invited to speak at #TMHistoryIcons in Sheffield last weekend. I found the whole day hugely inspiring and it was great to be able to meet so many people that I’ve interacted with on Twitter and catch up with some old faces. 

With a blank canvas for my talk, I decided that I would speak about a topic that has been close to my heart this year, which is diversity in the curriculum – very specifically, ethnic diversity. I’ve been on the proverbial journey with this over the past couple of years, since I joined my current school, and I was keen to share what I’d been doing and why I thought it was important. This blog post is much of what I said (or intended to say).

I found that I was more nervous giving this presentation than I have been speaking at events at the past and meditated a little on why that might have been. Firstly, this is quite personal to me: I feel strongly about it and I don’t think that’s something I could really say about 50 good AfL tips or similar. Secondly, I find this topic to be a minefield. There are a lot of opinions out there. I wasn’t sure if I was best placed to speak on this topic. I very definitely have not done enough reading. I’m white and relatively privileged. I’m nervous about saying the wrong thing. However, in the end I referred myself to point one and just got on with it. 

When I moved schools in 2016, for a host of reasons I didn’t find a KS3 curriculum that I could pick up and teach. In a panic, facing new courses in Y10-13 alongside another brand new member of staff, I bunged in my old KS3 curriculum that we had just finished reworking for the new GCSE. It held for a year but then the cracks started to show. It didn’t reflect the diversity of the student body, and that started to become apparent through student voice and through GCSE uptake.

At the same time, I wanted to be better at teaching Transatlantic slavery. This is very specific to the Bristol context of the school, as well as the school itself. This isn’t an area where I can afford to get it wrong for the students: they have to be empowered to debate this topic and it’s important that they have an opinion.

The personal game changer for me was this book, which I picked up on a whim and read over the Easter holiday last year. Eddo-Lodge eloquently sets out the case for improving our curriculum offering and reeled me in with an opening chapter that provided a brief history of black British History in the 20th century. It left me humbled, to the extent that I went back to work and immediately started teaching y9 a sequence of lessons on the Windrush generation, begged from Dan Lyndon-Cohen and adapted for our Bristol context. That proved timely, because a week later, news of the Windrush deportations hit the press.

I cut some lessons on the Cold War to provide the curriculum time for this. Meditating on the two topics, I wondered – is the history of the Windrush generation more relevant to our understanding of the world today than the Cold War? My conclusion was – yes, probably; though of course in a perfect world we’d teach both.

My main move towards providing a more diverse curriculum has been to ensure that all my students can see a reflection of their own lives in what I teach them. However, in the first year of pizza group, one member (name lost to the mists of time) said that he was aiming to create good ‘citizen historians’ by the end of compulsory history education: those that understand the world we live in and can interact with it discerningly. As I’ve meditated on having a diverse curriculum and considered how it applies in my previous context, I have begun to realise that it’s almost more important to provide this narrative to students who don’t come from ethnically diverse backgrounds. Arguably, my Asian, African, Caribbean students will have some discussion about their history at home. They are already aware that there is a bias in the history they’re experiencing at school.

For white students, particularly in all-white contexts, this may not be apparent and there’s no guarantee that they will access the full narrative at any point in their lives if we’re not providing it for them in school. If we teach British history without illuminating the whole picture, we are setting our students up to continue to view non-white people as outsiders. And this is just ahistorical, right? More and more evidence is coming to light about the ethnic diversity that has existed in Britain for time – most recently with the work done on the Skeletons of the Mary Rose. 

So, by the time I got to term 6 last year, when I replanned KS3 with my colleague Nick, I had some quite strong feelings about what it should look like, and since there was a lot of chat about red lines at the time, I made some. Here they are –

Firstly, we need to teach Transatlantic Slavery better, particularly if we’re going to count this as part of our diverse curriculum. I don’t really agree that it ticks that box, but it’s a way in. 

Secondly, I wanted to tackle tokenism by including the stories of minorities in our existing units, rather than dropping in a unit and declaring it solved. The British Isles has always been an extremely diverse place, so, to continue with my analogy, it’s really just a case of shining a light on the full picture, rather than relying on the traditional narratives.

Finally, the diversity of our school population should be represented in the History curriculum in every year group. This has required some creativity but I’m getting there.

To begin, then, with how we tackle Transatlantic Slavery. The first thing was to shift my own thinking. The British Slave Trade isn’t ‘black history’ – it’s largely a history of what white people did to black people. Thinking about it this way was really helpful to me in thinking about how we could elevate our studies. No ‘slave trader’ games. No mock auctions. No diary of a slave on the Middle Passage. Instead, the focus I try to keep running through my units is on, firstly, why so many people thought it was OK and, secondly, the stories of black people caught up in it.

Here is how we tackle to topic at Key Stage 3.

Y7 – How should we teach about the slave trade?

Y8 – Why was slavery abolished? (As part of a Sim/Diff study on 18th/19th century protest)

Y9 – How was the slave trade still affecting Britain in the 20th century?

I start in year 7 with the basics of the trade and some stories of individuals. We look at Fanny Coker, a local servant to a plantation-owning family called the Pinneys. Her mother was transported from an area that is modern Nigeria to Nevis when she was 12. Their story, and that of Fanny’s grandmother, was the subject of a project known as Daughters of Igbo Woman. I think telling the stories of individuals is important to make it clear that this story involves people – the same way it is important to look at the stories of individual victims of the Holocaust: the scale is so vast that it becomes meaningless. It can be difficult to track down stories of individual slaves in the Caribbean, so I was lucky that I was contacted by Ros Martin, one of the project’s arists, who wanted to come to do a workshop with students surrounding the project. 

The year 7 scheme of work ends with the students creating a resource to teach about Transatlantic slavery to younger students, with a lofty aim of sharing this with primary school students within our trust, though I haven’t managed this yet.

The next visit to the topic comes partway through year 8. We teach a similarity and difference unit called Power to the People, which looks at abolition, the French Revolution and British political protests in the early 19th century, comparing the motives and methods of protestors. This is brand new in year 8 for this year and, sadly, I don’t teach any year 8, though my colleagues report back favourably. Previously it sat within a unit on change and continuity in Industrial Britain. I wrote all about it here

The third part of this topic comes in year 9, when we look at the Windrush migration to Britain and consider the long-term impacts of Britain’s slave trade, in creating black citizens of the Empire that felt Britain was their mother country. To be honest, this is the section of the topic that I am least happy with at the moment. There’s a lot more that could be done with it. To that end, this week I replanned my opener lesson to the post-war world for Y9. Instead of focusing solely on the slide into Cold War, I added in overviews of decolonisation and the formation of the United Nations. As well as giving students a stronger foundation on which to build for Cold War studies – the Vietnam War is going to make a lot more sense – they now have a little insight into the UN Declaration on Human Rights and the partition of India, as well as the formation of Israel. I like this route and will follow it further. I’m a little inspired here by my reading of East West Street, which really made me think about just how different the world was after WW2. Anyway. Lots to think about there. 

My other next steps with teaching Transatlantic Slavery is to include a study of African kingdoms prior to the development of TS, within the Y7 unit, and do a bit more work on the agency of slaves in fighting for their emancipation. The latter is largely inspired by my year 13s, some of whom write their coursework on this topic: the emphasis they place on figures like Toussaint L’Ouverture and the Baptist War has made me rethink how I teach it lower down the school. Don’t tell them though. I’ll never hear the end of it.

This might all change for next year, because I’m delighted to be taking part in the Historical Association’s Teacher Fellowship on Britain and Transatlantic Slavery, which begins next week. So, hopefully I will do even better with this in future.

On to the next.

I’m really worried about my curriculum looking tokenistic when it comes to diversity. I don’t want students to feel like I am trying to tick a box: this is about illuminating the full picture, remember, not briefly shining a flashlight into the corner and then going back to the same old mural that everybody is familiar with.

Here’s what I’ve done with our curriculum. 

Y7 – Medieval Realms – Similarity/Difference comparison with Medieval Islamic Empires

Y8 – The History of an Idea – Islamic Centres of Learning

Y8 – The Development of Democracy – the Race Relations Act

Y9 – WW1 – Why did Empire soldiers choose to fight for Britain?

In year 7 I shortened Ye Olde Medieval Realms unit by three lessons and added in three lessons on Islamic Empires, and adjusted the assessment to be one of similarity and difference. My PGCE student, Sonia, has planned these lessons and the assessment for me this year.

In year 8, we introduced a new development study this year which I’m referring to as the History of an Idea. This is essentially a prequel to the Medicine Through Time study at GCSE – the idea in question is the Theory of the Four Humours and this unit allows us to get our teeth into Hippocrates and Galen, but it also enables us to look at how that classical knowledge was preserved, protected and critiqued in Islamic centres of learning. All the diverse bits from the old Medicine course – Constantine the African, Ibn Sinna, Ibn al-Nafis and the circulation of the blood – sit within this unit.

Late on in year 8 we teach a unit on the development of democracy, running from Magna Carta to present day, that will now include a look at the Race Relations act. This is as yet unplanned! I’m getting to it…There’s also something interesting that can be done here with the 1964 Smethwick election and Malcolm X’s visit to the UK, particularly if you’re already teaching American civil rights. 

Finally, in year 9, we begin with a study of WW1 that focuses on the reasons why people joined up. This was probably the easiest win – I added a lesson on why men from other parts of the Empire chose to fight for Britain. This provides a good preview of the notion of ‘mother country’ that we can build on when looking at the Windrush generation.

On top of all of this, we have a project option for students in all year groups, to encourage research and wider reading. The Y8 independent project looks at 20th century protest movements so the Bristol Bus Boycott and the Black People’s Day of Action sit nicely within this as options for our students. In Y9, the project is formed around the memories of an older family member. What comes back is a real mixed bag and there’s usually quite a lot about moon landings and evacuees, but I’ve learned more about the Somali Civil War, Indira Gandhi, the Suez Crisis and the Polish home army, to name a few from this year. At my last school, I had a presentation from someone whose great-grandad was an Auschwitz survivor. It was after I’d taught the Holocaust unit that I found this out. A fairly humbling experience.

Where do we want to go next?

I’ve been working on using Miranda Kaufmann’s book Black Tudors with year 7 and this has been made considerably easier with the latest news from the Mary Rose, showing that the crew were more diverse than previously realised. The focus for our Tudors unit is ‘myth-busters’ and largely considers popular interpretations of the Tudor period – was bloody Mary really bloody, did Henry really break with Rome so he could get a divorce, etc. So, ‘Was Tudor England really all white?’ will sit in there quite nicely, particularly alongside interpretations such as the Cowdray Engraving, which turns out to be an 18th century reproduction of the original – is the reproduction faithful? 

In year 8, we’ve realised this year that we need a more robust unit on the British Empire. My usual focus for this topic is on the impact of the Empire on Britain. It feels a little paternalistic to teach about the empire by only considering its impact overseas, as though the relationship were one way – again, this does not illuminate the full picture.

In year 9, as well as the aforementioned changes to our post-WW2 study, I’d like to pick up the theme of Empire again by looking at the contribution of empire soldiers in WW2. Last week I heard Hazel Carby, Professor of African-American studies and American studies at Yale, speak about her new book, Imperial Intimacies, which traces her father’s experiences growing up in Jamaica, joining the RAF and subsequently settling in Britain with a Welsh wife. (As an aside here, having looked up her Wikipedia page, I LOVE that she was studying at Portsmouth at the same time as my dad…perhaps they met). Professor Carby talked about the hardships faced in Jamaica when merchant shipping was interrupted by WW2, leading to a huge spike in the crime rate and abject poverty. Her father joined the RAF as a way out of this; when Carby was asked by her teacher at school what her father did and replied that he was an RAF airman who’d fought for Britain in WW2, her teacher replied that she must be lying because only white people fought in WW2. The ‘Britain stood alone’ narrative is tenacious – though it does not shine a light on the whole story. 

At GCSE, it’s a little more difficult. The best route is to choose a board with a migration thematic study and diverse offerings in the depth and period blocks, but it’s not always possible and GCSE has to be driven by a whole range of things. We teach Edexcel and I sneak bits in where I can. As time passes and I get better at teaching the GCSE, there will be more time for thinking about bits of history that are invisible within the spec. For now, we’ve tried to contextualise our GCSE with some smart planning at KS3, so that students should naturally bring this in during class discussion. Some examples of this – Y7 look at the origins of the slave trade in Elizabethan England and diversity in the Tudor era. The year 8 unit helps to provide wider world context for medicine.

A-level is what I have changed least, but we do offer an NEA on Transatlantic slavery, alongside one on 17th century witchcraft. For current y12, we’re planning to offer them completely free choice, hopefully enabling students in future to build on their independent projects from Y9 and think about researching further into topics that they feel interested in. Where will it take them? We’ll see.

Here end my thoughts on the topic, to date. I am aware that there is so much still to be done. I am aware that there is so much that could come under the umbrella of diversity that I haven’t even sniffed at. I apologise if I’ve used the wrong terms or said anything fist-bitingly ignorant. I’m going to keep reading and hopefully it will get better. Hopefully I’m going to inspire a broader cross-section of my students to continue their studies of history beyond school so that they can come back as history teachers and do a better job of this than me.

I’d love to hear about what other people are doing with the curriculum in their schools to illuminate the whole picture. Please to get in touch. If you want to read more, Nick Dennis has put together a very comprehensive reading list and also wrote a good article for Teaching History in which he covers some more ideas for adding diversity at KS4. The books I’ve been reading are as follows:

Reni Eddo-Lodge – Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race

David Olusoga – Black and British: A Forgotten History

Adam Hochschild – Bury the Chains

Miranda Kaufmann – Black Tudors

Haki Adi – Black British History: New Perspectives




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