One of the most frequently asked questions I hear at conferences, events and when visiting schools is how do I plan for the post-1066 study at Key Stage 2? The programmes of study provide us with four examples of how this could be approached and some of these are clearly much more easily delivered and appealing than others. Yet, many teachers I meet ignore these and regard this unit as an opportunity for them to continue to include their favourite topics such as the Tudors, Victorians, Home Front or The Swinging '60s. There is no reason why this can’t be done, but the way they are planned and delivered should be revised to reflect the purpose of the unit.
This unit provides the perfect opportunity to strengthen pupils’ chronological understanding and their ability to grasp the connections between periods and places. Rather than choosing to focus on just one period, why not select a theme and choose examples from different time periods to illustrate both change and more importantly continuity over the long stretch of time. The changing power of the monarchy and crime and punishment are provided as examples but the themes are endless and what better approach here than to be guided by the pupils’ own interests. Find something of relevance to them and an area that will fascinate and motivate. Some teachers get stressed from thinking they need to be experts in the topic and this definitely doesn’t have to be the case. Don’t let this create barriers to what you choose to study, instead choose something new and view it as a learning opportunity for you too!
When planning for the KS2 curriculum, the positioning of this unit is crucial to facilitate the best opportunities for looking at continuity and change. This is an ideal unit to deliver in Year 6, possibly post-SATs. This facilitates opportunities to review what has been learned over Key Stage 2 and to feed forward to study at secondary school, providing a ‘big picture’ of history. For example, the Rising Stars Voyagers unit on communication uses some existing knowledge from prehistory, the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings, introduces aspects of the Victorian period and then projects forward into the 20th and 21st centuries. Once a model for studying a theme is established with your class it can then be applied to any subject area, for example, food, homes or childhood. By Year 6, pupils will be ready to embark on opportunities for independent study, so individual interests can be explored and presented in a range of ways that stimulate their creativity and maintain their enthusiasm.
As with all areas of study in history, it is important to utilise an enquiry approach and be driven by a key question to explore. For example, in the Childhood unit in Rising Stars Voyagers it is: ‘Is it better to be a child now than in the past?’; and in the unit written by The Historical Association focusing on education it contains the question: ‘How much would you have enjoyed going to schools in the past?’ Establishing timelines of the theme is an excellent first step in gaining an overview, and pupils can then begin to place on them what they know about the theme from topics they have previously studied.
Next, they can look for gaps in the timeline reflecting their lack of personal knowledge and consider how this may be addressed through research. Areas of commonality and change between the various periods can start to be identified and marked on the communal display. Through their research, pupils can then progress to consider why some areas saw significant and possibly rapid change, while in others there appears to have been little difference.
Rather than spend a great deal of time studying one theme, you may decide to do a series of smaller topics, perhaps one in each year of Key Stage 2. Think carefully about what is important in terms of the pupils making progress. Is it that they become experts on crime and punishment or is the topic supporting them in gaining a better understanding of key concepts and developing their skills in history? It may be that your study will also link into your locality study, for example, where you look at an aspect of history or a site which is significant to the area. If you decide to select this approach the Rising Stars Voyagers local history units with a focus on Victorians and World War Two provide an excellent source of inspiration. As well as themes, the national curriculum also suggests looking at turning points in history, but again the purpose is to support chronological understanding and to consider what did change as a result of this event or series of events and also what remained virtually the same.
If you are still loathe to lose your favourite topics, then don’t despair as it is still possible to include them here but you will need to revise the way they are taught. Paul Bracey recently developed a unit for The Historical Association on the Tudors that is an excellent model for anyone wishing to go in this direction. Rather than studying the Tudors in isolation, the unit is constantly supporting the pupils in making links and connections across time and place. It could easily be used in conjunction with the Rising Stars Voyagers units already taught. For example, he invites pupils to revisit an aspect of the previous period studied, for example, homes or food, and then select areas of commonality and difference. When safety in Tudor times is considered, pupils are then required to look back at the Roman invasion and then forward to the Second World War.
There is no reason why the unit beyond 1066 shouldn’t be one of the most popular to study. It lends itself to a wonderful final flourish when pupils can communicate what they know. There is enormous potential here, particularly for end-of-year celebrations of learning, possibly via drama, filmmaking or exhibitions. If undertaken in Year 6, the pupils themselves could decide the way in which the knowledge is communicated and they could also select the potential audience. If you are still finding it hard to develop your own unit of study, then take a look at The Historical Association website and also the materials produced in Voyagers. Coming soon in the journal Primary History and on the website www.thinkinghistory.co.uk is an engaging unit on having fun through time. Museum websites can also be a source of inspiration, particularly those museums based on a theme such as the Royal Armouries Museum, the Thackray Medical Museum or the National Coal Mining Museum. So choose a theme and don’t forget to support pupils in making connections. Oh and above all let the pupils guide the study and have some fun!
Bev Forrest is an Associate Principal Lecturer at Leeds Trinity University. She is a member of The Historical Association Primary Committee, an assessor for the HA Quality Mark and a member of the editorial board for Primary History.
Stuart Tiffany is a Year 6 class teacher and history subject leader at Farsley Farfield School in Leeds.
Voyagers History and Geography provides everything you need to take children on a voyage of discovery with imaginative, hands-on history and geography lessons for the new curriculum. Find out more here.