SHP Fourth Plenary

Ben Walsh on the future of History teaching. Looking forward to reading his PhD on impact of tech in the classroom. He begins with a Dead Ringers send up of Schama. They’ve got the head bob right!

Review. Rhetoric. Relevance. Ben’s three Rs of dealing with the curriculum review. Why are certain views of school history so deeply entrenched? Why does the teaching of it cause so many arguments? There are no debates about Science: nobody cares!

It’s stupid to do things just to get a good data outcome at the end. Data should not drive what we do nor be our reason to do it. It’s not often that data tells us something we don’t already know.


Good cartoon from the Mirror, 1907. Not too unfamiliar. Reminds me of the comparison in chance between surgeons and teachers in the last century: teaching looks almost the same whereas surgery is virtually unrecognizable.

Markschemes should not be hoops and hurdles, but a hierarchy to reflect the responses students are giving and differentiate between them.

Ben recommends Prof Cannadine’s “The Right Kind of History” as a good reflection on History teaching over the last century. Gives a way on to the debate going on about school history and why we teach it.


Ben uses, as an example, the idea that the teaching of British history is declining in schools. Narrative dominants concentrate on the importance of the story, while concept dominants argue that critical thinking is the key and the knowledge is less important. There are issues with both. Whose narrative? How will they learn chronology?

Ben talks about signature pedagogies. People are used to teaching in a specific way and what’s taught isn’t what happens outside of schools. Why ask them to research what you’ve told them? Why use sources to show what they already know? We should be using them to help students to guess what is happening – to cover the bits the text book doesn’t cover.

How relevant is History? Two thirds of our students drop it at 14 – not necessarily because they didn’t enjoy it, but because they didn’t think it was relevant.

The importance of web literacy: example used again of Martin Luther King website created by Stormfront, and also Victorian Robots. Then Ben talked about comparative markers and history repeating itself, thereby making the study of it helpful for understanding current affairs. More relevance demonstrated by an interview with the producer of Assassins’ Creed on the importance of historians in the creation of their $60 million development. Nobody ever wrote a video game about titrations…

History also demonstrates how knowledge changes – we find out more and opinions change.

Ben recommends Corbis as a photo search engine: give students an alternative to Google.


Flaubert: “Writing History is like drinking an ocean and peeing a cupful.” Historical knowledge is like a wardrobe – you don’t wear everything at once, so don’t put all your knowledge into one answer.

We finish with the excellent clip of Kevin on Hardball, trying to explain appeasement. Ben says he never tires of watching the clip and I agree!

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