What the inspectors saw - Good practice by Ofsted

18th January 2013 at 00:00
Building historical understanding: Harris City Academy

In brief

Harris City Academy's outstanding key stage 3 history curriculum gives pupils strong foundations in historical knowledge, understanding and thinking.

The project

History has always been a popular subject at the academy based in Crystal Palace, South London. Four distinct elements are used to give pupils a strong start in KS3: planning; creative curriculum design; developing a sense of place, time and period; and high-quality teaching and learning.

The two-year study programme is taught by five historians, who have marked papers for examination boards at GCSE andor A level. The emphasis is on independent learning, and speaking and listening, combined with a range of visits and talks by guest speakers.

The curriculum is continually refined at weekly meetings. As Amy Lovell, head of department, points out: "This consistency in approach energises and invigorates teachers and keeps lessons fresh and exciting." Targets are set and pupil progress is monitored closely.

Each stage of the curriculum is built around a main theme that links the units of study. In Year 7, for example, "Rulers and the ruled" gives pupils insight into power in different periods of British and European history and explores the changing lifestyles of various sections of society. Year 8 focuses on "Britain and the wider world", examining key moments in Britain's development and its relationship with other countries.

Pupils say they enjoy the academic challenge and rigour of understanding history, which they describe as "messy, not straightforward and sometimes frustrating".

The pupils' views are used to inform curriculum development. For example, discussions with children in Year 7 led to the introduction of Personal eXtended Studies to give them a sense of place, period and time.

The first such project is to create a time capsule for an ordinary person from a specific time period of the pupils' choosing. The pupils make, select and bring in items that this person would have left behind and give a detailed explanation of their choices.

For the second Year 7 project, pupils choose a "historically significant individual" from any time period up to the end of the 19th century. They then write and present a speech to the class explaining how that individual would feel about London and Crystal Palace in 2012.

For a year 8 project called "From slavery to presidency", pupils learn how to reference sources, hone their research skills and justify the angle andor focus they choose to take.

Pupils are taught how to write analytically and discursively, ensuring that they begin GCSE knowing how to plan, structure and write high-quality history responses.

Signs of success

From above-average starting points when they join the academy, pupils achieve outstanding results. Almost half of GCSE pupils receive A* or A grades and examination results in KS4 and the sixth form are significantly above those found nationally. In the four years since the new curriculum was introduced, the numbers of pupils choosing to study history has more than doubled. It is the most popular optional subject at GCSE and one of the most popular at A level.

What the inspectors said

"Teachers' excellent subject knowledge and pedagogical skills ensure that students learn in a well-ordered environment, which inspires them. As a result, students are eager to contribute to lessons, make thoughtful comparisons across time and reflect perceptively on the relevance of the subject."

Read the full Ofsted case study report at bit.lyUbgbdF

The school

Name: Harris City Academy

Location: Crystal Palace, London

Age range: 11-18

Number of pupils: About 1,250

Intake: Co-educational, ethnically diverse and from a wide, inner-city area.

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