Inventive history

29th October 2004 at 01:00
The QCA has launched a major planning and teaching resource for curriculum studies. Becky Hewlitt takes a look

Innovating with History

Qualifications and Curriculum Authority

Although the days of rewriting schemes of work almost weekly seem to be drawing to an end, heads of department facing Ofsted may still have panicky moments wondering: "Is my paperwork in place?" With guidelines and handbooks on topics ranging from inclusion to curriculum planning through to the key stage 3 foundation strategy, it is easy to become lost in a maze of yellow and white folders. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's Innovating with History website is the answer.

The whole point of the site is not to tick the paperwork boxes, but to encourage "innovative historyIJwhich will engage and motivate pupils aged five to 14" through improved curriculum planning. The paperwork is seen as a tool to improve teaching and learning, not as a stick to beat weary teachers.

The website has six major areas. The first gives guidance on improving curriculum planning, bearing in mind the "increased flexibility and reduced prescription" of the national curriculum programmes of study. It is well designed and offers the key principles of effective curriculum planning alongside models, case studies and planning templates. It covers long, medium and short-term planning, with lots of inspirational examples, such as the Thomas Tallis School's great use of Peter Fisher's excellent Thinking through History, with the unit, "Why did Billy Brown join the army in June 1916?"

The next two sections focus on developing assessment and on improving learning. Examples of assessed work have been helpfully annotated and would be an invaluable guide to department moderation at the end of KS3. The characteristics of progression are discussed to give an overview to what we're looking for in the whole assessment process. The learning section is a work in progress. So far the QCA has tackled how to develop chronological understanding and how to teach interpretation.

The fourth section concentrates on how history contributes to the wider curriculum, with ideas about citizenship, ICT, inclusion, literacy, the KS3 strategy and creativity. These are so detailed and well written that, with a few minor changes to personalise the information, it could form a major part of your departmental handbook.

The fifth section is on improving subject leadership. It would be useful if in future this section could contain information about management techniques and how to make the transition from subject teacher to middle manager.

These five sections are all useful and would prove a superb reference point for any head of department, but it is the section under the History Matters logo that provides the innovation and motivation that makes this site more than just a way to placate Ofsted's documentation requirements. It is an arena to celebrate good practice and share ideas with open-minded colleagues nationally. There are "It worked for me" case studies, a section on new developments in the subject, including information from exam boards, advice on promoting the subject, careers in history and ideas to smooth the KS23 transfer.

It is cheering to read such subject-specific information laid out in a readable way and with input from real teachers who have tested the lessons first. Hopefully more colleagues will feel inspired to contribute their ideas and lesson plans. Unfortunately, the template the QCA wishes you to adhere to is rather daunting. Perhaps a more flexible approach would encourage more contributors.

All heads of history should make a note to check out the History Matters section at least once a month and spend time in department meetings discussing the new ideas contained there. That way you can be sure you're completely up to date with all that is new, exciting and inspirational in history teaching.

Becky Hewlitt teaches history at Perryfields High School, Oldbury, West Midlands

* Thinking Through History

By Peter Fisher

Chris Kington Publishing, pound;30

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