Mike Goddard, History Subject Advisor
Ed Durbin’s excellent recent guest blog for us for Local History Month continues to rack up views and positive comments.
But History Around Us, the unique feature of our History B GCSE (Schools History Project) that allows in-depth study of local history, is still the one bit of the course that causes those departments considering switching the most head-scratching. (In his recent blog, my colleague Rich described it as Marmite.)
In reality, it tends only to be the idea of teaching History Around Us that is divisive. When established, the majority of teachers and students find it to be one of the richest and most rewarding aspects of the course, just as Ed does.
Nonetheless it’s not hard to see why the prospect of choosing a site and constructing a term’s worth of teaching – 20% of the GCSE – around it, can be off-putting as well as exciting. Will my site be suitable, where will I get the content, how will I organise a trip?
Well, if all other aspects of History B appeal to you (and why wouldn’t they?), then we were recently reminded of a straightforward solution to the quandary of site study that we feel more schools could consider.
This reminder came at this year’s Historical Association conference: specifically, the Presidential lecture on the Friday of the conference, and an email that (possibly coincidentally, I’ll have to find out!) landed in the OCR History inbox the day after the conference finished.
The email started along the lines: “we are considering moving to OCR and have a query about the site study”. So far, so standard, but then it continued to ask whether their own school might be a suitable site. It was built as a stately home, served as a naval training base during World War Two, before finally being used as a school. There is a book about its history, and a wealth of primary sources. Needless to say, the answer was a resounding yes.
But in fact it’s very likely that it would still have been yes, even without that varied history. Peter Mandler’s lecture at the HA conference helps explain why. Entitled “Voices across the generations: what the history of our schools can tell us about the history of our nation”, his talk explains how much the history of secondary education, including the changing architecture of schools, the changing use of the buildings, and the diversity of the people in them, reveals about our history, particularly in the post-war period.
Schools, in other words, are often perfect sites to study for History Around Us. Prof Mandler’s talk, at a scholarly level, practically ticked off each of the criteria in our specification.
Of course, choosing your own school as a site for History Around Us isn’t a new idea. In fact, a couple of years ago, we produced a video in which three teachers explain their approaches. One of them, Sarah Jackson, uses her school for the site.
As Sarah explains in the video, there are practical benefits as well as subject-based ones. Not least is the fact that the cost and logistical difficulties of organising a site visit are removed. But also, students are instantly engaged in the course. And that last point about students becoming engaged in history through local history takes us back to points Ed Durbin made in his blog:
“by telling these stories [of social, technological and other change] in the History Around Us unit, students can perceive them on a human scale, making them easier to understand and more memorable.”
That is one of the powers of local history. And what history could be more local, more genuinely “History Around Us”, than the history of your own school.
To discuss whether your school would be a suitable site for History Around Us, or indeed any other aspect of our history qualifications, contact Mike and Rich on firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are free KS3 resources on secondary education and social change on the Historical Association website. And there’s a teacher guide to the History Around Us unit on Teach Cambridge, alongside a wealth of other materials for anyone considering switching to History B.
Share your thoughts in the comments below. If you have any questions, you can email us at email@example.com, call us on 01223 553998 or tweet us @OCR_History. You can also sign up to subject updates and receive information about resources and support.
Mike is a history subject advisor and has worked at OCR on the history portfolio since 2007. Previously he has held roles at Cambridge International Examinations and for an educational publisher. Mike has a degree in Economic and Social History from the University of York and a Masters in Modern History from UCL. In his spare time he enjoys crosswords and snooker.