History - Something to remember

10th October 2008 at 01:00
There's plenty of flexibility with the history curriculum, so take advantage. Jerome Freeman looks at some novel approaches

History departments in many schools are making the most of the flexibility provided by the new curriculum to revitalise their schemes of work for key stage 3 and, where possible, to make links to other subjects.

At Cheam High School in Surrey, the history and languages staff teamed up to create a unit of work based on the film Au revoir, les enfants. Pupils studied the Second World War in history and teachers hoped that the story of a group of Jewish children in hiding during the German occupation of France would spark a lively debate on historical issues - in French.

As a starting point, pupils were asked to describe the situation in France during the Second World War. They then watched extracts from the film before writing a description of the events and discussed issues raised by the story, including racism, standing up for what you believe and religious tolerance. "We got really passionate about it," said one girl. Many said they liked the fact that the film was based on real events. As one pupil said: "It was better than talking about things that aren't real. This happened and that made it more exciting, but also sad."

Achieving greater coherence across KS3 has been the aim of the history department at Thomas Mills High School in Framlington, Suffolk. It has developed thematic inquiries that pupils will be taught across all three years, including: "How is the country run?" where the objective is to help pupils understand the changing nature of political power over time, including the relationship between rulers and the ruled.

In Year 7, for example, pupils study the impact of Norman rule and the introduction of the feudal system. Throughout their study of medieval England they see a gradual change in power through key events such as the Magna Carta.

The theme is revisited in Year 8 through studying Charles I, the Civil Wars and Cromwell and, in Year 9, the pupils focus on the extension of the franchise (the right to vote) and the emergence of the UK's parliamentary democracy.

As one teacher said: "Pupils will make links and connections across periods, making comparisons over time, deepening their understanding of the past and enabling them to appreciate that some events and developments have long-term consequences."

The history department at Kesgrave High School in Ipswich, Suffolk, was keen to improve pupils' understanding of historical significance by exploring speeches from the past, including those of Winston Churchill.

Through work in their English lessons pupils developed a greater awareness of the techniques necessary to write and deliver powerful speeches. This helped them in their history lessons to understand how Churchill used speeches to raise morale and galvanise British people during the Second World War. It also helped them to understand why Churchill's speeches still resonate with so many people today.

In these schools and others, history is not just an exciting subject but having an impact across the whole curriculum and equipping pupils with essential knowledge and skills for later life and helping them to become confident and questioning individuals.

Jerome Freeman is curriculum adviser for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

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