History on the Doorstep: Making History Local

voyagers victorians

Within the revised National Curriculum Local History can now be found not just at Key Stage 2 but also at Key Stage 1.

Maybe this increased emphasis was the reason why so many primary teachers braved terrible weather after a long day at school to attend the recent Northern History Forum dedicated to this theme.  There we debated why we should bother to include Local History in our teaching at all apart from the obvious need to meet the curriculum requirements.

For us its inclusion is obvious as this is the opportunity to make things happen on what appears to be a very remote national stage relevant to primary aged children.

Too often the pupils in our classes see history as something that happened at the court of Henry VIII or up on Hadrian’s Wall and not in the area in which they live. This was brought home when a Year 3 pupil held a fragment of Elizabethan pottery in her hands that had been discovered while excavating in our school grounds. We explained that possibly the last person who had held that pot might have been alive at the time of Elizabeth I. She turned with a puzzled expression and said, ‘Does that mean the Tudors lived in Bradford?’ - imagine our horror, as this had been the topic she had been studying for half a term. Clearly this example reminds us that when we are looking at national history we need to make links to the locality and also in reverse.

Of course opportunities for this are largely determined by the locality in which you live. For inspiration take a look at Dixon and Hales' recent article in Primary History where she used an interwar suburban area to look at the history of farming, the industrial revolution and migration patterns and that’s just for starters! Even the most unpromising localities can bring forth some exciting discoveries. For example in Farsley a suburb of Leeds, where I currently teach, there is a small memorial to Samuel Marsden.  Marsden was credited with introducing sheep into New Zealand, an event that resulted in a huge impact worldwide. 
Also, another popular reason for studying local history is that it can enable you to incorporate those much-loved areas of the previous national curriculum now lost into your teaching. Examples of this are in the UKS2 Voyagers unit looking at the impact of the Second World War on our local area or at LKS2 Voyagers unit looking at locality to decide what was important to the Victorians.
A key question we debated at the Northern History Forum was what makes a good local history enquiry? The keynote speaker Tim Lomas gave us some steps to success to make it relevant, feasible, interesting and enjoyable. Firstly, make the project manageable! Nobody has enough time to look at the complete history of a locality, especially not in a half term. Selecting one key area, for example a key individual associated with the area or the impact of a significant event such as the Second World War, will really help the unit remain interesting, relevant and drive the learning forwards.

For relevance find a well-known feature in the locality to stimulate questions that can result in interesting avenues for enquiry. If you are looking at the impact of the First or Second World War on the local area, this could be your local war memorial or cemetery. Interesting? Yes of course!

Through Local History children are provided with opportunities to go out into the area and get to grips with the historian’s craft. An example is the inspiring local heroes topic in Voyagers KS1 where the pupils engage with artefacts, written documents and site visits. Throughout any enquiry it is really important for the children to have input into how the topic progresses so they have opportunities to bring in their own personal histories that will overlap with the topic being covered.
At the outset you need to have a vision of what the end product is going to look like and share this with the pupils. This enables the children to see a reward for their hard work and the final product is an excellent opportunity to engage with parents and the community.  An example of this appears in the Voyagers units of work for KS1 or UKS2, where a class museum is created. Or at LKS2 the Victorians local history unit engages the pupils in an actual campaign to save a local building.
Have we got you hooked? Not sure where to find the resources to support your enquiry? Try visiting the My Learning website. Just a quick search, focused on our city Leeds, led to us discovering sources to support our local history topics as diverse as an array of photographs to stimulate discussion about how the 2nd Second World War affected the city to a study of contrasting experiences of rich and poor in words and visuals from the seventeenth century to the present day.

Another excellent source of help is your local Archive. A search of our local Archive service in West Yorkshire brought forward sources to support many topics, including Victorian schools and the impact of the First World War.

We hope you will agree that rather than being the Cinderella of the curriculum Local History should now take its rightful place in the starring role!
Dixon, L. &Hales, A. What makes good local history? Primary History autumn 2015 pp. 19-24.

Article written by:
Stuart Tiffany, History co-ordinator and Year 5 class teacher Farsley Farfield Primary School, Leeds
Bev Forrest, Associate Principal Lecturer Leeds Trinity University. Member of the Historical Association Primary Committee. Member of the editorial board of Primary History. History Quality Mark assessor. 


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