SHP: second plenary

Panel discussion on Looking forward to the new NC and GCSE, with Katherine Burn, Steve Mastin, Michael Riley and Esther Arnott.

Lesley Ann kicks off – should we be worried about school history?
K: no! It’s taught by historians! There are signs that there needs to be a bit more listening to teachers, and the loss of levels means we can have a proper conversation about what good learning looks like. My only concern is defending the right of students to do history, with the squeezed key stage three and the prevention of non-C+ students from doing GCSE.
M: I agree. I am less worried about the future of history now than I was 5 years ago, with a New Labour government. The potential now is for the framework to be much stronger. There has been a massive dip in progression at GCSE but now, with the revised criteria, hopefully it will be stronger. My concerns are maintains the appeal of history to all students, regardless of ability, and ITT, where there have been some very damaging developments.
S: I’m not worried in the slightest. History has always been a political football – do we want a Secretary of State who cares passionately about our subject, or not? I’d be more worried if I taught Art, or Music. The new NC – I will ignore it. Nobody checks anyway. Was it just a way of making more schools into academies, maybe?
E: we’re all here, and we are still having an ongoing dialogue which is very supportive. We’ve been here before and we’ve conquered before, thanks to our strong sense of community.

Martin asks, when Gove announced his proposal, why didn’t history teachers take to the streets?
E: too busy planning?! No – I think we did, actually. There was a huge spike in discussion, people contributed to surveys and consultations, and the reaction was significant.
K: here’s the reaction to the HA survey (from Teaching History) so you can see that people engaged. Gove was faced with key historians thanks to teachers lobbying across communities. The Internet has been key in helping to extend the dialogue.
M: there is still a need to take to the streets from time to time. If the new one is no improvement we really should be marching. The fury of the online response was passionate and really well-informed, and I was impressed by the individual blogs that were being written.
E: I have concerns about taking to the streets. You look like hysterics. (No histrionics for history teachers?)

Some discussion on the relative merits of this course of action.

Jane: does the panel think that the changes to GCSE from this September an unreasonable imposition?
E: yes. They re short-sighted, and it’s unfair to say there shouldn’t be a cross over of time periods. We’ve been tweaking controlled assessment and trying to sort out our American unit, and now we also have to rewrite due to the overlap. I wish they could have just given us the benefit of the doubt and waited for the new GCSE in 2015.
S: I agree. In principal I am in favour of GCSE reform, but the consultation should be longer. Accreditation has been really slow too, and I feel for the exam boards.
M: I am outraged. We haven’t a clue what we’re teaching from September and it’s July. The problem started with some misjudgements among awarding bodies about their training and they, along with Ofqual and the government, should share the responsibility. I think it’s a terrible imposition.

A comment from the floor: it really hits the bottom end and makes it more elitist. I’m worried about the accessibility of the paper.

M: I think some of the changes are worthwhile, but to get our head round new knowledge and assessment criteria for 2 years is a significant pressure.

Janine: is the renewed guidance from the DfE good for progress at 14-16?
Would it matter if SHP specs disappeared in 2015?
K: I think the changes are really positive. The current SHP is owned by the exam boards, really. There is a great spread of ideas in the new specs and I feel very positive about it, with the exception of the toughening up stuff
E: I support the principals of the GCSE but I am concerned about the for that the assessment will take. There is an emphasis on reading and writing in a very formal way and I worry that it will be a barrier for an even greater number of students, due to the literacy issue.
M: I think yes (Q1). Prescribed diversity is the way forward. SHP has had concerns for years about students focusing solely on the 20th century and I liked the entitlement to several time periods provided by the new guidance. So many SHP principals are enshrined therein. I don’t know about terminal examination and this will not assist on developing historical enquiry, and we will be feeding back on that. If we don’t get that, we’ll need really creative thinking about that terminal examination. Next year is a crucial opportunity to reform GCSE history and awarding bodies must work with stakeholders to develop something really special.
A: we don’t agree about politics, but we agree about GCSE.

Jason: does school history place enough emphasis on knowledge?
S: depends on your department. There is plenty of emphasis on knowledge but there is still work to be done, and Ofsted backs this up, so I’ll trust them.
K: my concern is for those departments where time has been squeezed. History is so much better when you have good knowledge! We need to provide enough time.
M: I don’t think we do. Let’s grasp this opportunity and develop our thinking about criteria for knowledge selection. It’s been ignored for too long. I’m wary of history departments who do things “because the kids like it”. History needs to be meaningful for students and we need to think more carefully about the topics we select for them. The danger is inertia and we need to make the most of this.

From the floor: teachers are immensely busy and we need to think about how we can sustain teacher knowledge so they can feed that forward. Most people here are converted and do it already for the love of it, but we need to work out how to reach those that don’t do it.

Simon: if you could pick any method of torture or execution for Gove, what?
(Tis is all very light-hearted)
M: rack him. Henchmen turning the rack. But I’d spare his life on the ground that he’s listened, as long as he promised never to above anything to do with education again.
K: a scold’s bridle, to shut him up. I don’t approve of torture but it would jut him up and make him listen. Or many people screaming!
S: this isn’t being recorded, is it? (sorry Steve….) marking 350 paper 2s for OCR.
E: every time I meet him he smells really keenly of Cussons soap, and has really soft hands. I’d send him to be a medieval peasant as he clearly has a high standard of hygiene. Then teach in a comp for a year, so he can really see what it’s like.

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