The West London Free School is an English free school for girls and boys aged 11 to 18. It was co-founded by Toby Young and opened in 2011. It is located in Hammersmith in west London and was the first free school of its type in England to sign a Funding Agreement with the Secretary of State for Education.
Louis Everett, Head of History explains which History A levels his department teaches and why he chose OCR.
"I am Head of Department at West London Free School. I have previously taught in another state comprehensive in rural Suffolk. I completed my Masters in Education at the Faculty of Education Cambridge in 2015 with my thesis exploring the written arguments of pupils. I currently manage a department of seven so we are extremely fortunate to be able to teach a very varied curriculum."
"We therefore are able to run two A Level options; a medieval - Viking World 790-1066, the Crusades 1095-1192 and England 1445-1509 and a modern - From Pitt to Peel 1783 to 1853, Cold War in Europe 1941 to 1995, Abolition of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade for the topic based essay and Russia and its Rulers 1885 to 1964."
"In my experience subject knowledge always seems to be the biggest concern for teachers when faced with qualification change; especially at A Level. Fortunately this also is the most enjoyable to address… read! As a head of department I was keen to clear as much time as possible to clear time and workload for my team to concentrate on reading to improve their own subject knowledge.
The ethos of West London Free School means that, even at lower school, ‘what’ we are teaching is prioritised over ‘how’ we teach it, so as a department we were determined to read around the topic. Fortunately, the fascinating topics on offer from OCR meant this was a pleasure. As we only established our new sixth form in September 2016 we only started teaching the new A Level this year. This means we are developing a summer reading list for ‘Russia and its Rulers’ which is fascinating!"
"The second issue tends to be the intricacies of new mark schemes and uncertainty surrounding slight changes to specified content."
OCR have ensured as much continuity as possible from the old specification which has been extremely helpful.
"Also new past papers and updates on the website have been equally welcomed! For Pitt to Peel especially we worked our way through the old past paper questions to help us, as teachers, fully understand the common questions that were reflected in the historical scholarship we have been reading. This has enabled us to select historians and present the historiographical debate to our pupils before giving them large extended passages of historians to read. Mike Well’s Pitt to Peel textbook from Hodder has been fantastic for this; it presents the historical debate so clearly, providing snippets from historians to show their various arguments. For example we have just marked essays answering ‘how “great” was the Great Reform Act of 1832?’ where pupils were able to use the arguments of historians Linda Colley, Norman McCord and Asa Briggs effectively to drive their arguments. This has been made possible by Well’s textbook that has acted as a guide for our own reading enabling us to frame historical debate for pupils."
"Our three Year 12 classes (across both our medieval and modern options) have hugely enjoyed the new OCR A Level. The fascinating questions inherent within both the Cold War in Europe and in Pitt to Peel topics have meant discussion has been easy in a class context. As mentioned earlier, Well’s textbook has acted as a window into further reading for many of our pupils. This has enabled us to set regular readings from the History Today archive as well as historical scholarship we have purchased for the sixth form library. Whilst presenting at the WLFS History Teaching Conference I shared many of our pupils’ folders who have been averaging around five extracts from historical scholarship a fortnight. I feel this is largely down to the accessible nature of debate inherent within the course and the quality of Well’s (as well as others) textbook to act as a window into historical debate for many pupils."
"In short this has meant we have been able to spend more time on the curriculum. We have been able to construct comprehensive reading lists, plan enrichment and spend longer on thinking about the content of our lessons. The quality of the curriculum has had a positive impact on pupils’ enjoyment as they have greater levels of knowledge so to come to lesson brimming with questions. It has been a pleasure to watch and the simplicity of the exam has been a major contributing factor to this."
"This is the first year I have been with OCR since joining the West London Free School in September. I have been amazed by the level of support provided. It is their ability to provide information quickly that is so impressive and invaluable to a busy department, adjusting to new exam schemes. Also the simplicity of the exam papers means we can spend longer on ensuring a high quality curriculum is in place rather than teaching pupils to navigate their way around a complicated exam paper. This does not mean that the exam is not challenging; the specimen material shows exam questions to be complex, rigorous and challenging."
"Our pupils have loved the rigour of these questions (and questions from the 2015 A Level) as we have used them as the basis of our lessons. Also the range of topics are superb, we have been able to design an A Level scheme maximising the areas of subject expertise in the department. Finally I have been incredibly impressed with the textbook material available to support the topics; they are knowledge-rich, accessible and embrace the complexity of the history."
"As teachers it is so difficult to find the time in the school day to contact exam boards, however OCR make this process as easy as possible. I often send a hastily typed email in between lessons and receive a reply within 24 hours or for more urgent contact I am able to phone. I always receive the same level of support no matter how I choose to contact or how incoherent I am in a rushed email! OCR are brilliant at fitting around teachers’ busy schedules and this is a quality I have found invaluable."
The simplicity of the OCR exam has enabled pupils to focus on the quality of their writing, developing knowledge of the topics and source analysis as oppose to agonising over the intricacies of the paper.