When I took on the subject leadership responsibility of History at Alver Valley Schools my first step was to familiarise myself with the History National Curriculum across the Primary Phase. As I currently teach in Nursery this was a key priority for me, as it was necessary to dig into what really good pedagogy in History looks like.
The usual questions that arise when taking on any new aspect of leadership – such as what is the current position in terms of curriculum design, coverage, progression, pedagogy and teacher subject knowledge, and confidence – were of upmost importance as I took stock and evaluated the task at hand. I also undertook important reading, research and CPD, such as a History subject leadership course, to update and improve my own skills in preparation for this new leadership role.
Following on from these activities I moved onto a phase of securing pedagogy by leading some staff CPD on the History Curriculum and the 6-step enquiry approach that guides our History learning journey (for further information on the six step approach see the Hampshire History Moodle https://history.hias.hants.gov.uk/ ). In addition to the specific knowledge children learn in each History Learning Journey this approach also facilitates the development of historical enquiry skills such as collecting information, sorting and making sense of ideas and drawing conclusions
In Hampshire (unlike many local authorities) we have access to a supportive and forward-thinking advisory service which supports schools and teachers in their quest to design the school curriculum and provide quality teaching and learning opportunities.
Following my initial thoughts and evaluation of the school position, the school commissioned a piece of work with Pat Hannam (Hampshire Inspector Advisory Service). Pat worked alongside me as subject lead and we checked through the History units and progression at a whole school level, which enabled me to have a clear and strategic view of the History curriculum as a whole.
Pat and I then worked with each Year Group team in turn, from Year One to Year Six, over the course of a day, so that everyone had clarity about the expectations for their year group including the knowledge, skills development and vocabulary children needed to secure. In addition, Pat provided the historical back story for each period, which gave meaning to the significance of these times in History and reasons why studying this period was key. All of the staff valued highly the discussion of the key ideas and concepts of their topics and on the approach to the enquiry. It was critical that every year group had learning opportunities that ensure access and appropriate challenge, enabling all children to access the curriculum regardless of ability. Where appropriate, cross-curricular links were included, but we were clear that these would not detract from the focus of History. If links to the history topic were tenuous, these may provide interest but may not add to the quality of history explored.
We organised the curriculum topics chronologically where possible, to give the children a clear understanding of the historical timeline. The topics ran mostly in chronological order from Year 3 to 6, whereas in KS1 they were more geared to their accessibility by the children, but could still be plotted on a timeline. The concept of chronology provided opportunities that allowed the children to explore and discover information and question their ideas and sources.
The biggest challenge at this point of the design and planning process was the ‘investigative question’: what were we going to ask that would make the topic irresistible to the children? Popular questions involved fighting, death and beliefs, but the children were also curious about ordinary things like day-to-day living, work, household tasks, schooling, etc. The children wanted to know about things that had happened in the past that are similar to what happens today, as well as what has changed and why. We formulated our enquiry questions around these themes, with a view that they could be adapted or changed to suit the interests of the cohort.
The impact of this work has been a significant improvement in the coherence of the whole school History curriculum. It has also translated into greater confidence for teachers, and for myself as a leader.
From all of this work on the curriculum design I have learnt that the opportunities to check how the topics were going – mostly in the early days through the informal discussions with staff – were absolutely key to reflect and reshape and improve on the design for our learners. I wanted to know what the children had learned and remembered in terms of knowledge and skills, and how their perspective may have changed as a result of their history enquiries. So building in pupil conferencing is fast becoming a key element of my role.
My next steps as a leader is to further embed and evaluate the impact of the curriculum and to continue to look at assessment within History across the school. The ongoing support from my local History cluster helps with the development of these aspects as I champion History across our schools.
History Lead Alver Valley Schools
If you are interested in finding out more about Alver Valley Schools go to www.alvervalleyschools.co.uk