As the dust starts to settle

1st December 2000 at 00:00
Look beyond the changes to see history's full potential, says Ben Walsh of the HA

We are just emerging from some pretty weighty change in the prescribed curriculum: post-16, GCSE, Curriculum 2000. It is too early to say that the dust has settled, but it might be settling a little. In the midst of addressing the new structures, the Historical Association has been encouraging history teachers to see beyond all this, and to realise the potential for history to be at the heart of the curriculum.

History has a critical role as a subject in its own right. Countless history teachers are now demonstrating history's substantial contribution to citizenship. More schools are seeing the relevance of history to effective teaching of ICT. Anecdotal evidence suggests that AS programmes are resulting in increased numbers taking history after GCSE. This pushes history into the brave new world of key skills, especially communication and ICT. Finally, history has been chosen as the first subject to be properly linked to the National Literacy Strategy in the key stage 3 pilot local authorities.

But history is much more than a service sector for government education initiatives. The HA's professional journal, Teaching History, recently won praise for its special edition (May 2000, Issue 99) on planning and teaching the KS3 curriculum. The edition is a summary of all of the ways in which teachers can build sound historical knowledge and address concepts, skills and many types of thinking in the process. This journal is hitting the spot: it had to be reprinted within four months and almost 3,000 secondary history teachers now subscribe. New subscriber-members are joining the HA at a rate of about 40 a month - quite a revival. Most articles offer practical ideas, but they also get under the skin of real students and real problems: why does so-and-so write narrative when I wat him to write analytical essays? How do I know if I am teaching "interpretations" really well? Above all, the journal has taken the literacy issue by the scruff, exploring how history teaches about words, sentences and texts, while remaining distinctively history.

Building on this, the HA has adopted a similar approach to ICT. The HA's New Opportunities Fund training for teachers has adopted a classroom and history-centred approach. Teachers start from day one with a narrative of the events of 1939 in Poland. The focus is on how ICT can help students to investigate historical issues, develop historical knowledge and have fun in the process. The November edition of Teaching History will be devoted to ICT. Diana Laffin writes on ICT, AS and key skills, Reuben Moore makes his Year 9 critical of websites and Jack Pitt puts his Year 7 pupils on the school intranet, in role as Romans.

The recent HA education conference at Keele University demonstrated the talent in the history community. Determined to spread this expertise more widely, the HA is now changing its in-service training pattern. The "14 to 19" and other conferences remain, but the main HA education conference will multiply into a series of regional conferences. This will cut conference costs and reduce travel problems.

There is no complacency in the HA. Yes, we are cautiously excited by its growing profile as a voice for history teachers and as a forum for critical debate. But it still needs you. The HA is almost entirely dependent on volunteers - you and me. You might not want to write for a journal or website, but there will be a local HA branch near you that needs your imagination, knowledge and energy.

Ben Walsh chairs the secondary education committee of the Historical Association, 59a Kennington Park Road, London SE11 4JH. Tel: 020 7735 3901. E-mail:

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