Develop skills for life

17th February 2006 at 00:00
A new DVD from the Historical Association is a useful way of promoting the subject at key stage 3. Chris Higgins has given it a trial run Anxious to ensure that take-up of history at GCSE and A-level remains high, the Historical Association has produced a useful promotional DVD for its members, highlighting the advantages of studying the subject beyond key stage 3.

The DVD certainly provides a useful additional weapon in the armoury of history departments, who wage a constant battle to convince parents, pupils and sometimes senior management of the relevance of their subject in a competitive market increasingly dominated by vocational courses.

This is not the first time the association has produced resources that help history departments market their subjects. In 2003, they published a series of helpful PowerPoint presentations that highlighted the transferable skills history offers, and gave examples of celebrities who have taken the subject at A-level and degree level.

These resources have been carefully packaged to allow teachers to personalise them to their target school audiences, and add a highly professional gloss to the mucky business of selling your subject at options evenings.

The association's DVD fulfils a similar role, but makes the point that history equips students with essential skills, using archive footage and interviews with famous personalities who have studied history at GCSE or beyond. Movers and shakers from business, arts, politics and the media confess the debt they owe to studying history at school and university.

There are many surprises in this DVD to amuse and delight its viewers. Ali G and Matt Baker (of Blue Peter fame) are just two of a string of celebrity closet historians.

The producers also highlight the links that studying history can help you make with current affairs and popular culture, with clips of iconic moments from news bulletins - including the momentous attack on the World Trade Centre.

Highlighting the relevance of what students study in the classroom to what goes on in the wider world is an extremely effective way of plugging the importance of continuing the study of history - a point further underlined by the commentator censoriously noting that the UK is the only European country which allows children to drop history before the age of 16.

Having trialled the DVD with a group of students I fully intend to use this resource when promoting my subject during the options season (at Invicta Grammar School we have an accelerated KS3 so students choose their options at the end of Year 8). I would suggest, and am sure the Historical Association would agree, that you need to use the resource selectively.

It includes numerous interviews, some speaking generally about the value of studying history at GCSE, others targeting particular careers that history can prepare you for. Some of the interviews would benefit from a little more rigorous editing. Although the reminiscences of one senior British ambassador on the vagaries of international diplomacy may make for an amusing after-dinner speech, his droll remarks were a little lost on my Year 8s.

In fact, many of the interviews in the latter part of the DVD might be better suited to GCSE students choosing A-levels or sixth-formers preparing personal statements for their UCAS forms, justifying why they see the need to carry history on to a higher level.

One other criticism I would level at the makers of this resource is their insistence on digging at other vocational subjects, such as business or media studies. This comes across as overly defensive, and, as teachers, we should be promoting the benefits of as broad an education as possible rather than myopically insisting that only our own subject will do. If we treat history like a subject under threat, then that is what it will eventually become.

Overall, however, the DVD is very persuasive. Nearly all the students I surveyed responded positively, and could see the advantages in studying history not just in terms of preparing them for careers in specific areas, but as an integral part of their ongoing education. "Study the past," wrote one student rather portentously in her own review of the film, "and change the future!"

* Choosing History at 14 is available free to Historical Association members; send a cheque for pound;4 to cover postage and packing to Phil Miskella, The Historical Association, 59a Kennington Park Road, London SE11 4JH Tel: 020 7820 5982


Chris Higgins teaches history at Invicta Grammar School, Maidstone, Kent

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