Richard Kerridge, History Subject Advisor
I was lucky enough to grab a few minutes with Dan Keates (Assistant Head Teacher at Framingham Earl High School, history teacher and author, and all-round top bloke) to talk about why he teaches GCSE History B (Schools History Project) and why his school switched their thematic study to Migrants to Britain.
We know that our Migrants to Britain unit in History B is brilliant. When Mike and the team designed the course they were at the forefront of history teaching. But would anyone teach it? Thankfully, the answer was yes. Here, Dan explains why.
Richard Kerridge: Over the past few weeks there have been several conversations on social media platforms extolling the virtues of one exam board specification over another. Dan, what made you teach OCR History B?
Dan Keates: We were drawn to OCR History B because of the quality of the people involved in writing the specification and textbooks. The specification is structured in useful, historical and fascinating ways that lend themselves to deep analysis and clear understanding. For example, the way the Norman Conquest unit is book-ended by the Saxon Golden Age and the Norman Yoke; the way the Migrants in Britain unit asks the same three questions of every group in every period; and the way the Making of America unit follows the stories of three groups (White, Black and Native Americans) over the whole course.
This really helps teachers with the narrative of the units. They can bring in people to populate these narratives to personalise the learning for their students.
RK: The History Around Us unit is Marmite for teachers. Why do you enjoy it?
DK: We are fortunate enough to have a wonderful site ‘around us’ that we can visit: Norwich Castle. Studying the castle also supports our Norman Conquest unit and we can look at significant change over time through the lens of this site. This unit is refreshing and engaging for our students. There is nothing else like this unit in this, or any other, specification. Studying a local site has encouraged us to include local examples in the other units.
RK: Exam boards come in for criticism over the way they ask questions in their exam papers. How do you and your students find the question papers for History B?
DK: The assessment is as clear and simple as it can be given the constraints exam boards are under. We particularly like that the question stems are repeated in different papers. That gives us more time to teach content and skills rather than rote learning exam technique.
RK: You mentioned the quality of the textbooks earlier – can you tell me more about them?
DK: The textbooks are written by people with real talent. Michael Riley, Jamie Byrom, Rich Kennett and Alex Ford, for instance, all know what it’s like to be in a classroom, what works and how to translate that into print. This means the history we are asking our students to engage with is being drawn from this rich well of classroom experience in terms of what works and how to structure complex content for students over time.
RK: A lot of teachers are wedded to the People’s Health unit for their thematic choice, but you switched to Migrants in Britain. Can you tell me why?
DK: This unit has been more powerful than we realised it would be when we decided to switch to it. Some teachers derided it as a fad, but now it has been shown to be the right move and the other exam boards have since introduced a similar unit. Our students in Norfolk need to know the diverse history of this country just as much as others in more cosmopolitan parts.
We’ve been able to show them the ways in which Britain was shaped by migrants to become the country we live in today. The patterns of prejudice and discrimination which repeat over the centuries and the ways in which migrants are the first to be blamed when things go wrong, and often the last to get the credit. We have been able to link some of these migration histories to the stories and family histories of our own students.
Alongside this, the unit touches nicely on many of the big global events you would want to be part of a thematic study including world wars, reformation, transatlantic slavery and empire. Our students have been changed for the better by what they have learnt, which is all you can ask.
RK: That is wonderful to hear. I come from a similar background to your students and would have loved this unit when studying. I'll leave the last word to you, thank you Dan.
DK: Thank you. My team think all of the benefits I have mentioned come from the quality of the people involved in writing the specification, the authors and teachers who produced the units being grounded in the Schools History Project (SHP) principles and community, combined with OCR’s experience of assessment.
Share your thoughts in the comments below. If you have any questions, you can email us at OCRHistory@ocr.org.uk, call us on 01223 553998 or tweet us @OCR_History. You can also sign up to receive subject updates to keep up-to-date with the latest news, updates and resources.
Richard joined Cambridge International Assessment in September 2019 and OCR in October 2022. Prior to joining OCR he taught History for seventeen years. He was a Deputy Head of Sixth Form, Head of Humanities, SSAT Lead Practitioner as well as writing and contributing to text books and exam-board resources. He has presented at the Historical Association and Schools History Project Annual Conferences and for Keynote Education. Richard is very proud to be an Honorary Fellow of the Historical Association. He enjoys being surrounded by his family, friends and two dogs.