SHP25: Michael Maddison

A regular at SHP is the HMI national adviser for History – what would we do without him? He’s very generous with his time and always shares useful and insightful things. I fear I never spell his name correctly, though.

It turns out Michael is a fan of the 18th century, having taught it at ks3, o level and a level.

We look at some political cartoons to begin with and consider the way historical figures have been characterised in them.

Michael’s slides will be available on the SHP website and it’s all about history in schools. It’s a very mixed bag. In primary, history is better taught when taught discretely. Knowledge is episodic and chronological understanding is shaky. H shares an example from a primary school who are attempting an enquiry based system, showing real willingness to engage with the pedagogy, and pleads with is to develop closer links with feeder schools, which is timely because we are off to a feeder school on Tuesday afternoon to teach a master class to year 6.

At secondary level, history is a success story: well taught and well led. Attainment is high and entries are rising.

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I do love this graph and it is always worth looking at again. The 2013 data will show an even greater increase. The picture is the same for A level. Something is definitely going well, no matter what the headlines say.

But, issues. Non-specialist teaching – 28% with no relevant degree. Change to two year key stage three, or competencies. Reduction in teaching time. Insufficient emphasis on analytical and discursive writing development: too much descriptive and creative writing. Poor planning for progression – tying in nicely with Ian and Richard’s session from earlier. Misuse of levels of attainment. The failure of some subject leaders to provide a rationale (ditto). History has become marginalised; standards are too variable and progress is not fast enough.

We critique a two year key stage three program of study. Someone comments that the chronology is all over the place – do people really think that teaching units in chronological order helps them to understand chronology better? I don’t.

Michael talks about all/most/some and says it is a huge cop out in terms of differentiation, and his colleagues in other subjects agree. This is partly because it creates homogenised groups; the associated descriptors are often trite.

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Re: one year GCSE – apparently heads get students to take both history and geography in one year and take the best grade for ebacc. Horrifying! We whizz through our GCSE course to be ready for revision by January of year 11 but I don’t think we could go any quicker.

Onto highly effective teaching. Good subject expertise, rigorous enquiry, good historical thinking and understanding, solid assessment. Michael bypasses the skills vs knowledge debate with barely a raised eyebrow in its direction. Developing historical thinking: Michael uses an example from a primary school where they study Samuel Pepys and are able to develop an understanding of that uncertainty in history (case studies available on Ofsted website when they have finished being reviewed, along with all other documentation, to check they don’t promulgate a particular teaching style, in line with Wilshaw’s wishes).

I’m a bit distracted by this news for a moment and by the time I get back to concentrating we are considering data which shows GCSE outcomes for SEN, ethnic groups and FSM, as well as breaking down entries by area – there are more in the east of England than anywhere else, for example. Links are expressed between history and English, and the importance of better literacy.

What can the inspectorate do for you?
There’s a dedicated subject page on the Ofsted website. There are lots of case studies there, and a training resource to use in subject meetings with some helpful questions to ask.

The new key stage three offers lots of opportunities. Can you sign up to the spirit of it? – even if you don’t agree with the way the content or aims are expressed.

Some ideas about challenges. A movement away from what we teach but instead how we teach it – we need to plug into modern scholarship much more.

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We are invited to email Michael with answers to this question by Easter, so he can use the information anonymously in his session at the HA in May.

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Michael shows us the seven myths of Ofsted’s view on history teaching to finish, and a clip from Horrible Histories – Born to Rule by the Four Georges.

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