What the inspector saw - good practice spotted by Ofsted - Historians in the spotlight - Cottenham Village College

21st September 2012 at 01:00

In brief

CottenhamVillage College's history department has been recognised by Ofsted for the way it gets its pupils to consider and challenge the views of historians, and explore questions about the past.

The project

History lessons at Cottenham Village College in Cambridge place a special emphasis on histor-ians, rather than simply on events, to encourage critical thinking.

"Examining the views of historians and entering a historical debate with the pupils helps to motivate them and to develop their thinking," says Geraint Brown, an advanced skills teacher in history. "How can you teach history -effectively without mentioning what historians had to say."

So, in their work in Year 7 on the Norman -Conquest, pupils investigate the views of Simon Schama (pictured, right) to see if they agree with his interpretation of the conquest's impact.

In Year 9, an enquiry into the abolition of the slave trade focuses on an investigation into why historians disagree about its causes. Pupils examine four historians - Reginald Coupland, Seymour Drescher, Richard Hart and Eric Williams - and produce their own editorial for a book, reviewing how they differ.

Similarly, pupils explore and challenge historians' perspectives when looking at other eras and events, from the Battle of Hastings to the swinging Sixties.

"Finding out what historians say is really helpful," says one Year 11 pupil. "It gives us different points of view, but it also makes what we do serious and important."

The focus on historians is part of the history department's wider work promoting enquiry-based learning, with each section of the curriculum built around a question or hypoth-esis that pupils can then probe.

"It is about asking questions that are worth answering," says Michael Fordham, head of the history department.

Teachers also keep their own interest in history up to date, as all history teachers are involved in local and national events and programmes. This includes mentoring trainees on the University of Cambridge PGCE history course and presenting workshops at the Schools History Project's -annual conference.

"We need to know the latest research so that what we have to say is right up to date," says -history teacher Matt Stanford.

Signs of success

Achievement is high at GCSE and the number of pupils choosing to take history in key stage 4 is well above the national average and rising. "The results are very impressive, as is feedback from pupils, parents and carers," says executive headteacher Steve Ellison.

What the inspectors said

"As a result of their work in history, students gain historical understanding in breadth and depth, an understanding which is grounded in extensive historical knowledge and in an acute ability to reason, debate and think."

Read the full Ofsted good practice case study at bit.lyKuVbbA

The school

Name: Cottenham Village College

Location: Cambridge

Type: Academy, 11-16

Number of pupils: About 850

Intake: The proportion of pupils with specific learning difficulties or a statement of special educational needs is well above average. The school has a unit for pupils who have a hearing or language impairment

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