Throughout the autumn term, SHP has been working in partnership with OCR to draft the SHP GCSE for 2016. You can see the fruits of our labours in the draft outline specification below. We are very excited about our new specification and believe that it will provide a rigorous and engaging GCSE course for the next generation of students. The new draft specification is, of course, underpinned by SHP’s six principles [ here ]. The options for each of the studies range widely across periods, places and cultures; and engage students with a range of approaches to studying history. The equal weighting given to the five studies (each representing 20% of the GCSE) should provide a clear and consistent structure that will be helpful for course planning. The options cover a wide range of fascinating history. A balance across periods is maintained by providing an equal number of options for medieval, early modern and modern history. Overall, the options provide some continuity with worthwhile elements of the current SHP specification, and offer new and exciting areas of study for GCSE students. Our rationale for each of the studies within the specification is as follows:

The thematic study requires students to understand change and continuity across a long sweep of history. Each of the option begins in the Roman period and encourages students to think about the relationship between past and present by following the theme through to the present day. The study focuses on a social/cultural theme in British history. This provides a contrast with the greater political focus of the British depth study and ensures balance across the specification as a whole. The choice of studies provides some continuity with current development studies in the SHP specification, and offers a fascinating new option on Migrants to Britain.

The British depth study focuses on a coherent short time span and a period of history during which the country faced severe pressure due to the possibility, or actuality, of invasion. The depth study includes strong political and military elements, and will focus on the interplay between these and other aspects.  This emphasis provides a clear contrast with the thematic study. Each of the options has been the subject of scholarly debate and is rich in interpretation.

The period study has been given a wider world focus in order to maintain the overall balance and coherence of the specification. Each of the options focuses on a considerable time span that goes beyond the requirement of a ‘medium time span of at least 50 years’. We believe that the longer narrative sweep will help learners to grasp the central ideas, events and developments within the period study. The relatively long time span will provide an appropriate contrast with the wider world depth studies and, by requiring students to engage with a ‘complete’ narrative, will add to the overall coherence and rigour of the GCSE.

The wider world depth study focuses on a historical situation involving the interplay of different societies and cultures. The options reinforce the coherence of the course by allowing students to explore the concept of invasion and conquest in a different context from the British depth study. Each of the options is rich in contemporary historical sources and has been the subject of a wide range of interpretations.

In the spirit of SHP, the specification recognises the importance of studying ‘History Around Us’ by allocating the study of the historic environment 20% of the GCSE and by assessing this element through a separate exam paper. Centres will have completely free choice of the site to be studied and students will have the opportunity to study the fascinating history around them.

Michael Riley     

Director, Schools History Project 


OCR SHP GCSE 2016 Specification (subject to accreditation)

Paper 1 British History 40%


Thematic Studies


British Depth Studies

The People’s Health c.200 to present


Crime and Punishment c.200 to present


Migrants to Britain c.200 to present


The Norman Conquest 1065-1087


The Elizabethans 1580-1603


Britain in Peace and War 1900-1918



Paper 2 Historic Environment 20%


A study of a site in its historical context



Paper 3 Wider World History 40%


Period Studies


Wider World Depth Studies

The Viking Age c.750-c.1050


The Mughal Empire, 1526-1707


The Making of America, 1789-1900


The First Crusade c.1070-1100


The Aztecs and the Spanish Conquest of Mexico, 1502-1527


Living under Nazi Rule, 1933-1945



Looking Forward, Thinking Ahead – dealing with multiple changes

So here we are: 2015 Spring term, and one third of my way through NQT2! No more darkening evenings and dreary, rainy nights when we know ‘it’s only going to get worse’ as winter draws in. It is the “Spring” term: winter is officially on its way out… Summer and the end of NQT will be here sooner than I know (yaaaaayyy!).

Ok so I might be just a teeny bit ahead of myself. But I remember turning this corner in my NQT (ie coming into the Spring term) and feeling a little bit lighter and a bit more bonny. I hope you are too? The only slight issue I have that’s hanging over me is all this curriculum change going on. Key Stage 3 – no more levels, so what does progress look like?; new A level specs; and, gee whizz, new GCSEs too.

But in a Spring-like fashion (full of vim, vap and flowers bursting from the ground!) I’m determined to keep my NQT2 head above water and manage this sea of change. Here’s the advice I’ve given myself and I hope it’s of value to you.

1. Get talking to my Head of Department

I’m going to talk to my Head of Department about which A level spec they like the look of. I’m hoping they’ve been to the exam board websites and downloaded specs and done a bit of comparative analysis about content, skills / question styles etc. I’m hoping that we will be able to agree together which content and skills best suit the team and the students – not just this cohort but forthcoming cohorts too. I need to find out what plans there are for me to teach A level – and request relevant training (the exam boards are offering quite a few online tutorials, there are Historical Association and SHP Conferences coming up) and I can explore local schools and networks and virtual communities like to see if I can find others doing the same unit who I can share ideas with.

2. Reflect on the new demands of GCSE

Obviously GCSE is a bit tricky as only one board has released its draft, outline spec (see the OCR website) although another (Edexcel) has placed online an outline of its approach. But I think it would be really helpful for me to go through this spec with my mentor and Head of Dept as it gives us a flavour of what the new GCSEs might be like – as it’s had to follow the DfE guidelines which were set out last year. In particular the DfE specified a broader coverage of years and as I have only ever taught Modern World it’s going to need some thought and planning about how to teach history from before 1900, and covering a theme of more than 50 years! By reflecting on what the new GCSEs might look like and thinking about what development I might need (knowledge and pedagogy) I can ask my school now about CPD. I can also speak to my Head of Dept about likely options and so begin doing some reading to brush up on knowledge I don’t have! If my department is not going with OCR then I’ll ask my Head of Dept what date the other specs will be out and whether we can ask the leadership team for department days / time to select options and plan for them. If we don’t ask we don’t get!

3. Watch the publishers (Hodder, Pearson etc)

I rely on the work of experts to help show me amazing ideas and approaches – especially in times of change as I find myself in now. So I’m going to regularly check publishers’ websites to see what new publications are coming out for GCSE and A level as I can be certain that these will have been developed in collaboration with the exam boards.

That said don’t assume you must only use books written for a single spec or approved by the awarding bodies. There are some fab books out there which are not written by examiners and are not tied to single specifications – for example they may be older books, or new ones such as SHP’s Enquiring History series for A level which concentrates on good history and improving students’ ability to study history more independently and effectively. (If you’d like some tips tweet me or SHP or drop us an email.)

4. Finally I am going to try really hard to remember that good history teaching is good history teaching. No matter what changes are afoot, if I reflect on where the children are now and where they need to get to, and plan carefully and thoughtfully for that journey, I know I am still doing my job. The ‘where they need to get to’ bit is clearly changing but the weapons in my arsenal to get them there are for the most part going to remain the same (polished and sharpened over time of course!).

So I don’t usually make New Year resolutions, but if I had to it would be to approach these changes methodically and with the forethought to plan accordingly (points 1-3) and to approach them philosophically and confidently (point 4). It can seem overwhelming. The timing can seem badly thought out by the powers that be. But if I put aside my frustrations there is a way forward. I won’t get everything right first time round. But heck if I give my kids a million chances, don’t I deserve a few to get things right too? I’m certain you do!

Happy New Year all.

PS If you’ve any burning questions on GCSE and A level changes do drop me a line. Or if you’re worried you have no local networks or people to ask for advice get in touch too as I can direct you to some regional advisors.

Jan 222015

Greetings from SHP – we hope that 2015 is a good year for you.

The year promises to be a special one in the history of the Project as we develop the new SHP GCSE in partnership with OCR. This is a great opportunity to produce a specification firmly based on SHP principles. You can read more about the new SHP specification in my blog here .

We appreciate that access to high quality resources will be essential for successful teaching of our new specification and are particularly keen to support schools in teaching new areas of content. SHP is working with our publishing partner Hodder Education on a new GCSE series to support the specification: Enquiring History at GCSE .Our publishing will ensure that the SHP specification is fully resourced before teaching. First to be published, in spring 2016, will be resources for the thematic studies and British depth studies. We’ll follow this, in spring 2017 with resources for the period studies and the wider-world depth studies.

And, of course, SHP remains committed to supporting History GCSEs from other Awarding Bodies. As always, the SHP summer weekend conference will provide inspiration for teaching the range of new GCSEs. We’ll also be supporting other specifications through our publishing programme.

I’ll let you have the precise content for the SHP specification, and details of assessment, when these are finalised. OCR’s e-bulletin will also keep you up to date. You can sign up at:

Enjoy this term – it’s a short one, and spring is just around the corner.

Michael Riley

Director, Schools History Project

SHP Primary London Day Conference, Saturday 21 March 2015

Following the success of last year’s primary history conference, SHP has worked in partnership with the Historical Association and the British Museum to make this an annual event.  Don’t miss this year’s SHP Primary London Day Conference at the British Museum on 21 March 2015. The day will include:

  • Keynote  presentations from Richard Woff on Teaching primary history with objects and Penelope Harnett on Inspiring children to be curious and enthusiastic historians.
  • Five inspiring workshops led by some of the country’s most creative history educators. Each workshop is designed to you to plan engaging and challenging history lessons. 
  • Ideas for using the British Museum Collections to enrich the teaching of history in your school

For a full programme and booking click here.

SHP Secondary London Day Conference, Saturday 16 May 2015

This year, SHP’s Secondary London Day Conference has moved from November to May so that we can link with the British Library’s Magna Carta exhibition. The day will include:

  •  Keynote  presentations from Ian Dawson on The place of Magna Carta in Key Stage 3 and  Dale Banham on From better literacy to better history
  • Six inspiring workshops led some of the country’s most creative history educators and focussing on a range of strategies to enrich your students’ learning in history
  • An opportunity to view the British Library’s exhibition, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty and Legacy

For a full programme and booking click here.

SHP Secondary Summer Weekend Conference, 10-12 July 2015

The 27th annual SHP Conference at Leeds Trinity University promises its usual mix of enjoyment and inspiration. This year, there’s a strong emphasis on helping you to prepare for the new GCSE, as well as lots of ideas for taking forward the 2014 National Curriculum and preparing for the new A Level.

There will be five plenary sessions, over thirty inspiring workshops to chose from, an eclectic fringe and a chance to check out the latest resources at our extensive resources exhibition. As one of last year’s participants wrote, the SHP Conference is ‘not just brilliant CPD, but brilliant fun”.

For a full programme and booking click here.

New Publications from SHP/Hodder Education

This year and next, most of SHP’s publishing energy will be going into producing exciting resources for the new GCSEs with our partners Hodder Education. In the meantime, we are looking forward to the publication of some great new textbooks for Key Stage 3 and A level.

  • Publishing at the end of April is the third book in SHP’s new Key Stage 3 series Making Sense of History: Making Sense of History, 1745-1901, by John D. Clare, Alec Fisher and Richard Kennett.
  • In SHP’s Enquiring History for A Level series, The Vietnam War in Context, by Dale Scarboro will publish in June and Italian Unification by Ed Podesta and Pam Canning is on track for publication in March this year

For details of our publications click here.

Other information: 

SHP Publishing

SHP works with our partner, Hodder Education, to provide you with resources that represent the very best of current history teaching For details of our publications click here.

SHP Recommends…

Art, Conflict and Memory

A WW1 study day for teachers of History, Citizenship and Art, from the National Portrait Gallery and Imperial war Museums, Friday 6 March. For more details go to:

The Historical Association Annual Conference

This year, the conference will be held in Bristol from 8-9 May. Details on the HA website

American Air Museum Residency

Interested in taking part in the 2015 American Air Museum summer residency? For more information go to


The annual Euroclio Conference ‘Roads to Democracy. How can History Education pave the way?’ will take place in Elsinore (Denmark), 21-25 April 2015. For more details go to:

Waterloo 200

This year is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Dan Snow is leading a schools programme with spaces at the service of commemoration at St Pauls for schools that take part. For more details email

UK-German Connection

This bilateral government initiative offers grants to schools and youth groups to fund projects relating to the First World War. Further details and project examples are available at:

Exploring the Holocaust

This is a new Key Stage 3 resource from the Holocaust Education Trust. For free access go to:

Well this week the wonderful elves – aka history teachers – have been busy making gifts to NQTs, those new to teaching or those returning to teaching like me (and you). Each gift is in the form a tweet-tip… Here’s a round up for your delectation!

Above all, the elves advise you to walk, not run, in your history teaching career… And to complete that marathon with help:


The past is vast. You can’t be an expert on it all. Don’t be afraid to seek advice on teaching some topics.


Further to that [@MrsHall_History, above] I’d say the best CPD I’ve ever had is joining Twitter. Get online and build a PLN! …and include teachers outside your subject. Lots of great ideas can be borrowed and adapted. Magpie!


No point reinventing the wheel.


Tip: Find like minded soul(s) to work collaboratively with before/during the NQT year. Professional networks last a lifetime!

But the elves gift you a word of warning…


Constantly steal the best ingredients for cooking up fab lessons but realise if you use ‘em all at once u might ruin your dinner

The elves also suggest you might try to keep your own knowledge current:


Maintain a good knowledge of current affairs (esp. teen pop culture) because some students benefit from analogies.


Look for opportunities to develop their curiosity outside of the classroom… ‘Today in History’, ‘history in the news’.

And lots of elves want you to remember to enjoy the STORY in hiSTORY:


Read history. Variety of periods and medium (fiction, blog, graphic novel, non fiction). The more the merrier…BUT only for pleasure. If it becomes a chore stop.


My tip; keep reading History. Teaching forever stretches historical knowledge, embrace it (it’s more fun than marking!)


Give a History NQT a great second hand historical novel for Christmas; deserve time off

Some elves want you to help children to evaluate sources as evidence. They are never just facsimiles of the past:


Get stuck into the problem of exploring “bias” (maybe with a football analogy) and teach the kids how to spell “biased” properly!


Teach usefulness by focusing on perspectives; every view has a viewPOINT

And one particularly playful elf suggests using games to develop conceptual understanding:


Try and then debate why game doesn’t do historical significance justice

A canny elf advises combining CPD with a money-making scheme:


My new history teacher top tip: consider marking for an exam board this summer: it’s great inset (and a good summer bonus!)

Finally, a kindly and incredibly wise elf gives some advice that every one would do well to remember:


You will plateau, you will go backward, but whatever you do, always reflect by looking forward.

And as for me? Well, I wish you all a wonderful, warm, happy and peaceful Christmas. Remember to take a proper break, and to refuel with dear friends, family and lashings of fun.

Esther (and Sam)

Sam and his Xmas tree

What would you give a new History teacher for Christmas?

My Christmas tree went up today.

Since having a son I’ve wanted to begin traditions and one of them is for my son to decorate the tree with his cousins. So the tree is now standing tall, proudly wearing its decorations. The fact they look like they’ve been thrown at the tree is EXACTLY what I wanted – not an over-designed, Woman&Home-quality look. Rather a childlike, exuberant style that shouts “we loved doing this!”

So I’m feeling festive. And this got me thinking about this series of blogs. I’ve spent the past few months blogging my ideas and thoughts and, rather selfishly, haven’t once asked other people to contribute. And as I’ve seen from my happiness-inducing Christmas tree, when people get together wonderful things happen…

…and thus I’m hoping that you’ll join me this week and contribute your ideas and thoughts for next week’s last blog of the term, beautifully-wrapped, mince pies and tinsel-trimmed Christmas present blog. What tip or piece of advice would you give as a Christmas present to an NQT and others new to teaching history? If we all contribute then next week we’ll be able to unwrap one hell of a letter, full of mini gifts!

Either tweet your tip to @1972SHP, @estarnott or email it to:
do include your name if you’d like us to say a public thank you (which we would like to do). Of course we wouldn’t share your email address.

I can’t wait to hear from you!


Taking the dismay out of display!

This week Esther sought advice from Richard Kennett about classroom display. What follows is their series of exchanged letters (well, emails!).

Richard is Specialist Leader for Education (History) and textbook author, Redland Green School, Bristol. He blogs at

Dear Rich

I’ve been wracking the grey matter to try and overcome the seriously grey matter which is the empty display in my classroom. I want to engage the students in some way and saw you did a word-wall style display. Why did you do this and did it work?

Hi Esther

I assume you mean this one…

The main reason I did this is that I am trying to improve the sophistication of my kids’ writing. I teach a very able bunch of students yet their writing does not often reflect this. This display is one of my tools to tackle this.

I’ve been working closely with the English department in the last couple of years, as I am Literacy Lead for the whole school, and all of them use display actively rather than passively, putting up displays that students can engage with, have some utility and importantly get them to think. This is one of the displays in my room where I am trying to emulate my, far too talented, English colleagues.

One of the English teachers has a ‘Word Graveyard’ on her wall – words that are ‘dead’ to her – all displayed on little gravestones. I loved this idea and decided early in the year to nick it so that’s where the banned words come from. There is nothing wrong per se with ‘small’, ‘bad’, ‘good’ etc. but I want my students to do better. Secondly I’ve been having a real push with Year 11 to use strong analytical words in their conclusions, for example short and long term, and hence I came up with the idea for doing the opposite of the banned words – the words historians love. I wrote a short list myself and then asked my team for their suggestions and asked my followers on Twitter too. This produced a massive list that I whittled down to these.

It’s important to point out that I have no idea if the historians in the picture actually love these words! But it makes it look prettier and secondly has really helped with the idea that history is an active and dynamic subject as I’ve had a lot of chats in the last few weeks about who these historians are.

As for your second point about did it work, well, time will tell as it’s only been up a week. It has definitely generated debate and especially amongst my Year 8s I’ve heard a lot of conversations about “you can’t use THAT word!” which is superb. In a couple of lessons I have used it explicitly in my teacher instruction standing on the table in front of the display and talking through what the ‘words historians love’ mean. In these scenarios the students work did improve. Some used the words in a clunky, obvious way. But I’d rather they use these words, even in a clumsy way, than not at all.

Dear Rich 

I love this! We’ve got word mats at my school but they suffer from not being out ALL of the time so they miss a trick – which your display cracks through its permanence. So it got me thinking: do you foresee having to create different displays based on what concept, skill or topic you are studying (eg specific language for talking about the nature of change)? This is a big question (for me) as I was also wondering about displaying student work and wouldn’t have enough room for both their work and different language. So what I guess I’m asking is which would you prioritise and why?

Hi Esther

Glad you liked it! I’ll deal with your two questions separately.

1. Which would I prioritise – displays about the process (like the one shown in the previous email) or displays of kids work?

The former – 100%. Displaying kids’ work is lovely but if I am being honest – a pain. You never have enough room to display everything which means you have to decide what to put up and what to leave off. In my NQT year this meant I always put the prettiest pieces up, but these were rarely the best pieces of history. The kids whose work is displayed always get a confidence boost, which is fab, but the majority of work doesn’t get put up due to space issues leading to annoying rants of “why didnt you display mine sir?” Additionally, displays about work get tired very quickly and need constant updating. If you’ve stopped teaching WWI months ago and yet your display is on that it’s obvious to you and your students.

However, displaying work with comments can be useful to model what a great piece of history looks like. I did this in my old classroom by taking a photo of a really good Year 11 essay and enlarging it on a computer. I then added my comments, as I would in an exercise book. This worked really well and I really should do this more, especially in Post 16.


On the whole though, I feel that displays about the historical process are far more beneficial. Wall space in your classroom should be used to progress learning. I liked that in your Letter about marking you quoted Michael Maddison “a piece of work in history deserves a history comment”. Well I strongly believe a history classroom deserves a history display. In your lessons you plan to progress your students in history and I think that display space can be a tool to help you with this as you can hopefully see in the photos in this email.

And it doesn’t just have to be display boards. Again nicking an idea from the English team, window-space is another surface to be utilized. Window pens cost a fiver for a pack and in Post-16 as a class we made a list of synonyms for ‘similar’ and ‘different’ to aid them with their source analysis question where they have to compare. This was a great tool for the entire summer.

2. Do you foresee having to create different displays based on what concept, skill or topic you are studying (eg specific language for talking about the nature of change)?

Put simply, no. I haven’t got the time to keep changing displays. In an ideal world what you are suggesting would be ace, but with my literacy job, SLE role, authoring and a million and one other things I can’t do it. As a result, rather than focus in on individual concepts I’ve kept things quite generic. This year I got a new classroom for the first time in years and starting with a blank slate I made this (sadly inspired by the Great British Bake Off at the time):


I designed it to be generic so that I wouldn’t need to change it again this year but useful enough that I can keep referring to it and the kids can to.

I think as a busy teacher (especially for you in NQT 2!) the key is designing something that can be used for a long period and have utility during this time.

In my own classroom, as a result of this, the other way I’ve used display is as a tool to inspire the students about history. I want my kids to love history and be as passionate and nerdy about it as I am. I’ve created a few displays that help do this. They were designed to be left for long periods of time and they have generated enthusiasm and questions. Here’s two examples:

Example 1: History Heroes


In Post-16 in the summer I got all my students to pick their historical hero and take a selfie holding an image of them (that’s me in the middle with my cat and famous cat lover Mark Twain). They loved this and in my Post-16 classroom these stretch round the room on a narrow board above all the windows.

Example 2: What makes a great historian?


In the summer when I was bored I came up with an idea to tweet famous historians and ask them what makes a great historian. This wall is a list of those who responded including Tom Holland, Greg Jenner, Ian Mortimer and my personal favourite Mary Beard.(NOTE: This photo is awful – sorry!)


I hope all of this was useful and I look forward to seeing some of your photos of your displays in future!


P.S. Apologies for the dreadful photos my mobile camera isn’t great.

Dear Rich

Wow. This is such a rich reply (no pun intended). I’m dissecting, ruminating and cogitating; to say my grey matter is whirring is to put it mildly. On a simple NQT2 level of worrying about time I’m so relieved to hear you say you won’t be changing the displays all of the time. Another instant reaction to your letters is HOW COOL is the window idea!? My classroom has 4 square windows and that will be such a brilliant way to use these spaces (not least because I don’t deny that some of my students will often gaze out of them – yep my teaching can leave a lot to be desired!). And I love all of your ideas, especially the historical hero selfies. I’m going to reply at length soon so this is just a quick reply to say …

THANK YOU, WOW and YAY – I’m inspired.


Rediscovering the plot with Year 8

One day I would like to write a novel. My Granny who was a prolific writer told me all the time “everyone has a book in them ducky” and I believe her. I even have an idea for a novel, and most days part of my time is spent thinking about it. More recently I’ve been trying to plan its structure and characters. It won’t surprise those who know me that it’s an historical novel I’d like to write. But even though I have made progress on the structure and characters, I keep coming back to the history – the meaty, living, breathing stuff that will make the novel exciting and its characters truly real. So I’ve been researching the ‘real’ history that forms the heart of the novel – out of which I will mould the people, places and events…

…at the same time I’ve been struggling with Year 8. Badly.

We’ve reached an impasse. They really aren’t enjoying their lessons and to be honest neither am I. The reason this matters here in this blog is that my thinking for the novel and my stresses about Year 8 very happily collided today. I realised that I’ve been focussing too much on the things we will DO in the lesson. This is a result of the fact that the class are one of the most diverse in need and ability that I’ve ever taught in my career. Even more so than the brilliantly mad class I taught in my NQT1 who had a student who insisted on taking her shoes and socks off and sitting cross legged, whilst another who had only one front tooth liked to whistle softly through the gap her missing tooth created; when the class got to the end of year exam they were totally lost: “Miss I got into the exam and there was no glue and scissors for a card sort”. It told me all I needed to know about the gap between my hopes and the reality of teaching. Anyway I digress. The current Year 8s are challenging, and as a result I’ve focused massively on differentiation.

So the happy collision that happened today is that I realised I’ve lost the plot – literally – for Year 8. There’s no story, no people, no living, breathing plot line that twists and turns because I’ve distilled the history to death by differentiating. I need to get back to the story and help my Year 8s to immerse themselves in the fabric and texture of the people of the past by allowing the history, the knowledge, to… Well… Be told or to unfold like a brilliant novel.

I recognise that this realisation for me has come at a time when all of us newbies are watching the history teaching landscape undergo major shifts. All over the land people are talking about the centrality of knowledge – the expert, deep knowledge that can come from immersion in the past. There’s also a lot of talk of not allowing level descriptors or assessment criteria that teams are busy thinking of to be too focused on process. Knowledge must be at the heart of getting better at history. I won’t immerse in those particular discussions here (yet), but I will say that in my NQT2 it’s going to take a degree of courage to allow my Year 8s to dive into the wonderful story. I am driven by a culture – like we all are – of having to report to parents and line managers about progress. Progress in history has typically been measured by getting better at doing history, with students showing us they can use what they know, rather than just knowing more. So yes it’s going to take courage as for the rest of the term I’m going to focus on knowledge / story / narrative / stuff (!) as I’ve realised that I’ve gone too far the other way and tried to help them make progress almost too much, differentiating history to death.

To do this I’m going to set up the classroom slightly differently. I’m going to lay the room out in groups of tables, and upon each table I’m going to provide knowledge in different forms. So one group might have a set of laptops and different films of the topic playing for the children to watch. Another table will have chapters or extracts from historical novels. Another will have contemporary sources, and another historians’ works or text books. I’m not even going to ask them to answer questions, instead I’m going to ask them to work in the way I have been for my novel. That means I just want them to explore the story, and in so doing begin to formulate their own questions about the topic. I hope that in so doing they are keener to go on and discover the answers to these questions. They won’t be getting better in the way the scheme of work planned, but they will becoming masters of the history and this will be leading to questions – and that is the start of all good enquiry.

Wish me luck!


Hitting the Mark

There’s a saying that the eyes are the windows on the soul. If that’s true then in the world of the teacher, the children’s exercise books are the windows on the brain.

In one of my first Letters I wrote of the importance of a regular marking routine. But also admitted I had never cracked this in my first NQT. Yet as this term has progressed I have found a way to conquer the marking – and in so doing am giving myself essential access to what the children are thinking.

The Method?

1. I take in their books every week. This shows the children I care about their work – about their ideas. (I won’t go into the mass of evidence that demonstrates how regular dialogue has a positive impact on the quality of the student’s work.)

2. I have set up a marking timetable. So on Thursdays after school for example I mark Year 8, Year 9 and one Year 11 class. This was part of a bigger medium term plan where I worked out which classes would have formative feedback when, and then made sure I didn’t have too much detailed marking occurring at the same time in the half term. It sometimes meant I had to jiggle lessons around but it’s far better to do that and make sure all children get feedback than find you’ve hit a crisis, unable to get all of your marking done.

3. Whatever feedback they receive I write it as questions that they must reply to. This is where it’s neat because that becomes their homework for that week – so it’s essentially a cycle of class work + home work > marked by me > home work to respond, which takes the burden off me when I mark the home work the following week as it’s relatively quick to check they’ve responded to comments.

4. I only ever mark for one thing. This is essential – I would never get my marking completed if I was marking everything that needed development. Even more essential is that I share my marking focus with the students when I set the work. For example “Year 9 I want to see that you can select and explain any evidence on this Victorian empire plate that shows they were proud of the empire”.

5. I don’t write comments out over and over – I use codes or colour coding where possible. This relates to point four as if you know your marking focus you should have a good sense of the positives (what went well) and the issues (would be even better if …) that will arise, so you can create a set of codes to annotate the work with. Of course I still write individual praise and cause for celebration in full as it’s very motivational (“you’re really showing great gains overall Tom, well done: I’m proud of you”).

6. I plan to give all students detailed formative feedback before they complete their final assessment. At my school we complete assessments once a half term. So usually around half way through the half term I plan to mark a piece of work that mimics or builds to their final piece. The formative feedback on this is an important step to achieving more highly than they would without such feedback. But just because it’s formative it doesn’t have to mean tons of writing. Again I use colour coded dots (bingo dabbers are amazing for this!). The magic here is I then spend the next lesson asking them to use colouring pencils to find examples in their work of the ‘what went wells’. So if I gave them a yellow dot representing they had explained changes in the church in 1549 well, they must use a yellow pencil to highlight where in their work they did this. This shows me that they know what they did well. To action their ‘would be even better if’ coloured dots they can then find someone in the class who has that colour as a ‘what went well’ – they can read their work as an example and then add the improvement for themselves or at least better understand what they need to ask for to complete that addition (eg “Miss I don’t have enough information on the changes Mary made to the church – where can I find it?”).

7. Finally I borrowed an idea from the fab Ed Podesta – a “verbal feedback given” stamper. We each have 100s of learning conversations every week and that don’t always get captured. So now when I give verbal feedback I stamp in the student’s book and they write underneath the action I ask suggested. Once put into practice the student draws a line from the stamp to the place in their work.

Above all the mantra from HMI Michael Maddison stays with me when I am marking: a piece of work in history deserves a history comment. Comments like ‘good, well done, good effort, nice work’ are meaningless if we want the children to get better at the discipline of history. So make your time spent marking meaningful for you and your students and give them history feedback. Thus my codes and colour codes all relate to the knowledge, skills and concepts we need students to understand if they are to work toward mastery of history.


Lunch is for wimps? Nonsense!

Margaret Thatcher ran the country on only 4 hours sleep. Lunch is for wimps. You can chill out in the holidays… There are countless phrases that made my NQT 1-self think I SHOULD be able to cope. That I shouldn’t have been feeling so completely tired, even tearful at times (lots of times if I’m honest). But as I go through NQT second time round (or what feels like it returning after having a year away to be a mum), I will not let myself fall into the same habits again – and I beg you to try the same.

It’s true: your work never seems finished. A trainee or new teacher always needs help. There is always more that can be done. And teaching history can be the very worst for this as not only do new interpretations of the past come to be, but we personally each interpret the past (small i) as part of our process of deciding how we should teach it to Anna, Dylan and Prabhjot. But it is also true that too many of us leave this profession within 5 years, burnt out, stressed, hopes dashed. That burn out can come of many causes, so that’s why it’s SO important that your own work habits regarding the teaching of the subject you adore don’t become one of them. History teaching needs brilliant graduates like you to stay for the long term. So let me share what I’m doing this time round in my NQT 2 to avoid brain frazzling.

1. Allow myself to use the textbook(s). I’ve now been privy to the monumental task it is to write a textbook. The hours, thought and care that go into each one are staggering. Sure I might not like every idea but I know there’s a lot that I do like and will make a great set of lessons. Don’t believe the mad idea that using the textbook is somehow cheating or winging it. I will allow myself to slightly tweak it for the children I teach but I will use it.

2. Tell myself I don’t need to jazz up a resource just because it doesn’t look right. It is possible to worry that history is a bit dry and so we can spend time jazzing up the look of things in the hope it makes history more enticing. But if I find myself doing this I am on a sure-fire path to hours of wasted time. Yes it’s good and right to want to dazzle the students and make them feel valued, but really, seriously, a pretty resource isn’t what we’ve all trained for so long to use our efforts for (how about I come up with a set of cracking mind-bending questions for the children instead?). AND there are better ways to spend such a precious hour. Sleep maybe?! With friends perhaps? Or how about a beer or a cuddle with a loved one?

3. Take a lunch break. By all means I’ll read a history book if that’s what I fancy, but get out of my room and into a different zone – physically and mentally. Too often in NQT 1 I would eat my lunch at the computer desperately trying to tweak a lesson. All it did was leave me stressed as I never finished the resource fully, and I’d not switched off, nor eaten properly. If I won’t do it for myself I need to ask how being a stressed teacher is serving the students or history?

4. Sleep. And have a lie in at weekends (or a nap if you can’t lie in). By god I wish I had done this in NQT 1. A good tutor reminded me that “even water takes time to digest” by way of pointing out that the learning that we experience as history NQTs is monumental. We are talking bigger than a Henry VIII feast in terms of what we are mentally digesting! So sleep is essential to allow me to mentally digest and process. But too often in NQT 1 I stayed up very late prepping or marking. These things are important – but I found that my marking and prep was far more efficient when I was fresh.

5. Take a full day off at the weekend. And enjoy the holidays. I look back and think how hard my NQT was. I think of the hours and hours I worked including weekends and holidays. But this time round I will be asking for more help – borrowing resources, using textbooks (carefully, not blindly), planning ahead so I don’t have to do last minute mad rush work at a weekend. If I don’t do this I won’t have time to just be me. And it’s ‘me’ that wanted to do this job in the first place. So I can’t lose her.

6. Say ‘not right now’. I couldn’t believe how many children came through my door asking for help. I was honoured actually. But I made the mistake in NQT 1 of trying to help them all, there and then. Putting my own needs to one side. In NQT 2 I will set a time and place for children to ask for help. I might even get all techie and do it on email so I can choose when I respond. (For those who arrive crying of course it will be different.) And I will also be having the courage to say not right now to a colleague’s request – not rudely but just “I have X and Y to do right now. I’d love to help so would it be possible to do it for you by XX date – or might someone else be able to help if it’s urgent?” I’m not saying no – I’m just saying not right at this minute which helps to prevent feeling overwhelmed.

Finally a serious word to myself (and you) about mental health. Teaching is a wonderful profession but it is also demanding. If you and I truly want to change the world (albeit in little baby steps) we need to take care of our mental health. All of the points above are about that – because burn out, being tearful, feeling overwhelmed (call it what you will) are all signs of stress. Yes, some stress is normal. But we should each do what is within our power to avoid too much stress. Working for hours and hours doesn’t make you a brilliant history teacher. Running around utterly busy doesn’t either. It just shows you work hours and are busy! But protecting your long term mental health is a key ingredient in being a great history teacher as it means you’ll be here for the long term, developing year on year into a brilliant history professional.

And finally if none of the steps above are helping you to feel less tearful then talk to someone and ask for help. This is not a sign of weakness but one of strength – knowing your own limits and when it’s time to reach out. I want to be in this game for the long term and I bet you do too. So lean on others and give yourself a break. The only burn out we should face as history teachers is that of the martyrs in the past whom we teach about.


and smoothing the transition to new history GCSEs in 2016

With significant changes to GCSE history on the horizon, SHP and OCR are delighted to announce a major new partnership. We’ll be working together to produce the best possible, and only official, SHP specification, which will be provided exclusively by OCR.

The development is being led by SHP Fellows and their Director, Michael Riley, so you can be confident that SHP’s core values will be fully realised in the new specification. Existing good SHP practice from current GCSE qualifications will be preserved, and improvements made so that the specification genuinely aligns with SHP principles.

Both SHP and OCR recognise that, although some aspects of GCSE history are in need of an overhaul, these changes will mean considerable upheaval and much hard work for teachers. So our specification will be fully supported with new books and resources, produced by SHP authors and published by Hodder Education. OCR’s own experienced team of specialists will be on hand to support the specification as well.  SHP and OCR will keep you updated with developments during the autumn and spring via our websites and e-bulletins.

Both SHP and OCR look forward to producing and supporting a new and genuine Schools History Project specification, and to ensuring that SHP’s 40 year tradition of supporting teachers and working to improve history teaching will continue flourish under the new GCSE criteria. We’re confident that we’ll end up with a rigorous and exciting qualification that will appeal to all SHP teachers.

SHP’s commitment to the new OCR specification does not mean, of course, that the Project will no longer provide support for other GCSE courses.  SHP will continue to work in partnership with all Awarding Bodies. We shall continue to provide support for all the new GCSE history specifications through our website and conferences.  Finally, working our publishing partner Hodder Education, SHP will be providing resources to support the elements of all new GCSE courses that embody SHP’s principles.


Dr. Michael Riley

SHP Director

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