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Positive reflections: history teaching in 2016-2017

Now more than ever, the teaching of history in schools needs an approach that empowers all students

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Now more than ever, the teaching of history in schools needs an approach that empowers all students

This year, as the UK renegotiates its position within Europe and debates rage about immigration, it is more important than ever for all students to see themselves reflected positively, as well as negatively, in how we teach history.

It is up to teachers to interpret the sources and the programmes of study that they use in a way that enables the teaching of history in a multi-perspective way that empowers all students. We also need to think about the lessons that we can learn from history and ask whether the current curriculum is providing the right opportunities for valuable discussion and debate at all levels.

Here are some pointers on how to approach history teaching in the coming year.

What you need to consider in the next 12 months


The primary history curriculum is bedding in and, as teachers get more confident with the subject matter, it might be time to start asking some important questions, such as:

  • Is my curriculum inclusive?
  • Do I understand what progression in the key concepts and processes looks like?
  • Does the curriculum that I teach allow for progression?
  • How am I assessing progress in history and is it adequate?


Teachers who have just got to grips with new linear A-level courses will be turning their attention to radically new GCSEs to see if they are adequately prepared.

Many are less experienced in teaching the broad sweep and big-picture approach covered in the thematic units of the new GCSE specifications. Getting a handle on the historic environment requirements may also cause headaches over the next few months. Given the raised bar, teachers may be wondering how accessible the GCSEs will be for their lower-achieving students and how they can make knowledge stick; English Baccalaureate targets will not make this easier.

Departments might find themselves looking at their key stage 3 curriculum and asking if it is adequately preparing students, or whether they now need to revisit their five- and seven-year planning for a coherent and inclusive history education. They may also be wondering what impact going linear is going to have on uptake and whether to continue to offer the AS level.

Tips and strategies for the year ahead

Learn from one another

Our research reveals a low level of liaison between secondary history teachers and primary feeder schools, yet teachers at both levels have much to learn from each other. Planning for coherence is vital and, now that reform has taken place in all key stages, it is important to revisit the long-term picture.

Seek out helpful resources

It’s now easier than ever to reflect all of your students in the resources you use. Update your knowledge of what’s available from the Historical Association, British Library, British Museum, Black Cultural Archives, Women’s Library and National Archives. Look locally, too; local museums, heritage digital archives and community group archives can provide resources to support local history study.

Get the right support

Secondary teachers who don’t have experience of teaching a thematic unit of study need to get guidance on how to do this at GCSE. You need to encourage students to identify gaps in chronological understanding and help to bridge them. Highlighting the bigger picture through individuals’ stories is one way to keep it “human”.

Primary teachers, meanwhile, often find themselves the history coordinator without proper training. The Historical Association, Schools History Project and Thinking History websites are good starting points.

Melanie Jones is education manager for the Historical Association

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