Ask the Subject Experts new

We asked our Subject Experts the question. “What are the exciting developments within your subject as we move into a new academic year?” Here is what they told us;

Catherine Bickersteth – Primary History

Developments in teaching history have led to enhanced engagement, inclusivity, and the use of technology. Some key themes for history teaching this year are outlined here.

Digital Learning Platforms: Educational technology continues to play a pivotal role in history education. Building on the steep learning curve of using virtual and hybrid classrooms during the pandemic period, there has been a surge in the use of digital learning platforms that offer interactive lessons, virtual field trips, and multimedia resources. These platforms can also provide students with immersive experiences. An excellent example of this is The Forever Project developed by The National Holocaust Centre and Museum.  The Forever Project is an interactive experience that lets you not just watch a survivor talk, but have a question and answer session with them, even when they are no longer alive. Ask a question and their life-sized digital projection will answer you from a vast set of pre-filmed replies.

Incorporating Diverse Perspectives: History curricula have evolved to include a wider range of perspectives, particularly those that have been traditionally marginalised. Educators are now focusing on teaching history from multiple viewpoints, incorporating narratives of different cultures, genders, socioeconomic backgrounds, and regions. There are tangible benefits of a more inclusive history curriculum which can impact positively on increasing pupil engagement, the sense of belonging and ensuring equitable access to the curriculum, in ways that can make the difference in keeping pupils in school and on track to pursue whichever pathway they choose as they find their way through the school system. Museums and art galleries have been reinterpreting their exhibitions to show previously hidden histories and stories. Publishers are increasing the amount of quality history texts for children which reflect a wider range of histories. Diversity and inclusion is an important trend in children’s literature in 2023, which should provide educators with a richer choice of books for all ages. The school year may start with media attention on Black History month in October, but a move away from a tokenistic approach to black history, with more educators actively bringing black history into the curriculum throughout the year is a development in history that offers opportunities for further curriculum development. The Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) Reflecting Realities reports review the extent and quality of the presence of the global majority in children’s literature and have highlighted the extent of under-representation. Useful guidance on texts is provided by CLPE to help teachers in developing their curriculum planning throughout the year (Serroukh 2020). The opening up and deepening of history offers a myriad of ways to engage young people in history and ensure that desire to continue with history throughout their school years, and nuture an understanding of the world around them.

History curriculum reform has previously proved contentious. In response to the report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities in 2021 (DfE 2021) the Department for Education set out a plan to create a non-mandatory model curriculum for history.

To help pupils understand the intertwined nature of British and global history, and their own place within it, the DfE will work with history curriculum experts, historians and school leaders to develop a Model History curriculum by 2024 that will stand as an exemplar for a knowledge-rich, coherent approach to the teaching of history.” (DfE 2022)

As this deadline approaches, it will surely bring to the fore debate about the nature and purpose of history in schools. A project already in progress in response to the proposed model history curriculum is the Schools History Project Curriculum PATHS (SHP Curriculum PATHS), which aims to have history curricula shaped by teachers and responsive to local needs. This year will be a key one for the next stage of this project to progress, with educators from primary and secondary sectors working on this together. This is an example of how the history teaching community can work together, involving the primary and secondary history sectors, to actively share and build teacher subject knowledge and pedagogical approaches.

Historical Literacy: The ability to critically assess and interpret historical sources is something which teachers will be focusing on more. This is supported by the increasing availability of historical sources to use as part of rich enquiry sequences of learning. The skills of evaluating the credibility, usefulness and context of primary and secondary sources can support young people in the wider world, as they are exposed to a multitude of information sources in our digital age, requiring an awareness of how to weigh up the credibility of news and information.

Global and Transnational History: With the world becoming increasingly interconnected, educators are shifting towards teaching global and transnational history. This approach highlights the interconnectedness of historical events across different regions and cultures, providing students with a broader perspective on how historical developments have shaped the modern world.

In summary, there is the potential for even better integration of technology, diverse perspectives, and immersive learning experiences. These can create a more engaging, inclusive, and relevant history education that equips young people with critical thinking skills and a deeper understanding of the past, and the relevance to the contemporary world.


Serroukh F    Beyond Black History Month – Integrating the Study of Black Historical Figures into the Mainstream Primary Curriculum through Literature  November 2020 accessed August 2023

Independent report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, March 2021

Department of Education Model history curriculum terms of reference, 2022

Kit Rackley – Secondary Geography

By 2025, schools must have in place a Climate Action Plan and a named member of staff responsible for overseeing school sustainability. While these issues tend to be siloed into our subject, there is an opportunity for Geography departments across the country to led cross-curricular and operational change in their schools. Climate Action Plans which have a whole-school impact can be embedded in the curriculum in so many ways, and, indeed, can empower students to become leaders and decision makers in their schools based on the geographical knowledge and skills learned in lessons.

Lynn Welsh – Secondary Art and Design

As we move into a new academic year, we truly do return to ‘normality’ – with 2023 grade boundaries near pre pandemic levels and the ESA reinstated, it is business as usual for Art, Craft and Design teachers all around the country. For many, this is the time we reconsider the Curriculum, how we teach, how the pupils learn and what knowledge do we need to build to enable success, not only in our subject but throughout their studies. The recent Research review in Art and Design is a great place to start when considering the practical, theoretical and disciplinary knowledge that underpins good curriculum design.

I am particularly interested in the reference to building convergent and divergent end points. For me, really successful teaching constantly builds on the pupils knowledge and skills, introduces them to a wide range of artists, craftspeople and designers from different times, cultures, and genres and encourages them to talk about art and make their own conclusions. Of course, this happens in a convergent, structured way at first but the real magic, the real progress, the amazing thing about teaching our subject is when the pupils start to think in a divergent way and develop their own ideas independently, experiment with materials and produce original outcomes.

When we think about our curriculum design and build in these opportunities at a young age we prepare our pupils to think more creatively, to take risks, to appreciate others work and develop a curiosity and love for the subject that help see them through all the challenges of GCSE and beyond.

Dr Linda Whitworth – Primary Religious Education

What an interesting question! As ever in RE, things can look different in different types of schools, through different Agreed Syllabuses, different geographical locations and through different curriculum aims. The most important thing is knowing that RE is undergoing exciting changes and there are local, regional and  national ways of getting involved.

Here are 4 ways in which I think or hope RE/ Religion and Worldviews will move forward in the next 12 months:

  1. I am sure discussions around ‘Religion and Worldviews’ will continue to be a key factor in RE in the up-coming year. Since the Commission on Religious Education published in its report in 2018 there have been many presentations and publications about religion and worldviews, with some vibrant conversations about how to represent diversity in religious and non-religious beliefs in the curriculum and stimulating discussions on how a worldviews approach enriches pupils’ understanding of their own and other people’s attitudes and beliefs. These discussions have energised exciting thinking around what RE can be and how it can assist pupils in understanding themselves and the diversity and complexity of the world. Whatever the outcome of these discussions, whether it leads to a name change as well as a change in curriculum, their value can already be seen in the quality and depth of thinking happening in primary schools up and down the country and in increasing opportunities to find out more about what Religion and Worldviews can offer as a new way of thinking about RE (e.g. the free introduction and digging deeper courses available on line at Culham St Gabriel’s Trust Moodle.
  2. Towards the end of the academic year there will be reports from the 3 projects which are being developed following the publication of the Draft Handbook for Religion and Worldviews in the Classroom: developing a Worldviews Approach project by Stephen Pett. These practical projects are helping the RE community to develop its thinking and planning going forward and I hope you will be able to join in the discussions in your different settings, perhaps through your local RE groups. Each project will bring different approaches which will help teachers think about what they are teaching and how it can be improved, be made more relevant to pupils and how substantive and personal knowledge can be further embedded in high-quality learning.
  3. One development I hope for during next year is increasing discussion about what RE could look like for all pupils across each of the constituent nations in Britain. RE as a subject has different names in England, Scotland and Wales. As there is no National Curriculum for RE, there can be considerable unevenness across schools and different areas in Britain when it comes to subject expectations, content and delivery. RE would benefit from a national understanding of its value, content and range and I hope that there are positive discussions and some ways forward in 2023-24.

All of these developments are at a national and regional level, but what could be exciting developments in your school and local area during the coming academic year?

  1. This one is about creating your own exciting developments in Primary RE! I always look forward to the Autumn Term because it is full of religious and other festivals and there are great opportunities to understand both the religions and the lives of religious and non-religious people as they celebrate. This could be an exciting area of development in your school, including making new or stronger connections with the local communities around you. Develop links to speakers from different traditions and worldviews, both religious and non-religious. Extend the range of visits you have for your pupils, and if they are difficult to arrange, explore on-line visits now available via the internet. An example can be found here. Contact your local RE advisor, SACRE or local RE group if you need help finding places you can visit or speakers you can invite into school. Most children are fascinated to find out about other people and the Autumn Term is a great opportunity to find out about celebrations and make your RE vibrant through visits and visitors.

Kate Percival – Primary Languages

As we move into a new academic year, we look to harness this ‘positive time of renewed focus’ as quoted by the British Council’s recently published Languages Trends survey.

We seem to be on the road to recovery post-pandemic where more schools in England are including primary languages more consistently in their curriculum offer.  International engagement is improving and there is a greater continuity between KS2 and KS3 transition which, although it still has some way to go, is definitely a step in the right direction if the government’s EBACC target of 90% of pupils including a foreign language in their choices is to be achieved. We see that in the Welsh curriculum, a development to include an international language strand into their offer is being implemented which will again spotlight the relevance and importance of foreign language learning at primary level. One further exciting development is the more prevalent use of digital resources and interactive apps to support pupils’ learning. For example, Primary Languages Network’s new web-based app ‘Planet Languages’ allows individual pupils to engage in a listening, reading and writing activity each week, consolidating the words and phrases they have previously learnt throughout the scheme of work. In the same way we have seen apps such as Spelling Shed and TT Rockstars increase the potential for pupils to self-study in bitesize chunks of time, language learning apps such as this aim to boost recall with its little and often approach.

Sara Davidson – Secondary Languages

The most exciting development for secondary languages, for this new academic year is the recent recognition by the DfE that the language teaching world needs some support. The government’s investment in the nationwide ‘National Consortium for Languages’ language hubs project, headed up by UCL’s Institute of Education, within which we have the Goethe Institut’s German Promotion Project (GIMAGINE project) to help German in particular will hopefully raise the profile of language learning. This £14.9 million investment (over three years) seeks to boost the number of pupils taking modern languages, as well as to promote heritage languages spoken by UK pupils, such as Polish and Bengali.

As well as this, we have new GCSEs to start preparing for (first examination in summer 2026). Hopefully the reduced vocabulary content will mean greater access to the qualification as well as the opportunity to push our best linguists beyond the constraints of the specification.

We also have a wonderfully inspiring and ever-growing community of language experts, presenters, podcasters, bloggers and writers out there, many of whom use social media to engage us in debate via the #mfltwitterati hashtag or on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.

Allie Beaumont – Primary Science

The EEF recently released their evaluation of the Focus4TAPS three-day training programme which aimed to support teaching, learning and assessment in primary science. It is generally felt that teachers in primary schools find the assessment of working scientifically skills more challenging – this programme aimed to support teachers with the understanding of disciplinary knowledge and effective teaching and assessment of this area. The programme was independently evaluated by the EEF and was shown to have a positive impact on student outcomes. It is not often that trials achieve such promising results and this has led to the EEF funding more schools to participate in the evidence-based programme. It is the intention to increase the capacity of accredited trainers so that the programme is more widely accessible.

Focus4TAPS draws together research from the Teacher Assessment in Primary Science (TAPS) project, which was funded by the Primary Science Teaching Trust with the yearlong programme. It is the combining of the research with the training that has been shown to have the impact. The EEF website succinctly explains: “The Focus4TAPS programme aims to improve science attainment of pupils, by improving teaching approaches and assessment in science. The course supports teachers to use assessment for learning in their classrooms, with a particular focus on assessing practical inquiry tasks to help pupils develop scientific reasoning skills and the use of self and peer-assessment to develop pupils’ metacognitive skills. The training provides resources and activities for teachers to use.”

This programme is exciting because of its focus on the disciplinary knowledge and the importance of teachers developing our students into the scientists of tomorrow.

Helen Snelson – Secondary History

There is a real energy about history teaching right now. The history teaching community is vibrant, noisy and there is a restlessness to change what we can, even though the much needed reform of exam specifications is not yet with us. Here are a few exciting things to connect with and keep an eye on:

i) The new textbooks from Hodder and OUP at KS3 are centring previously marginalised voices in a way that has not been done by such major publishers before.

ii) UCL is leading work on history education for a sustainable future with their new free CPD modules.

iii) The Schools History Project has a new Director, Dan Lyndon-Cohen. Dan brings years of expertise in teaching and teacher education to this role and is very keen to interpret the founding SHP principles for today’s history classrooms. If you are not familiar with the SHP, then you can find out more here. 

iv) The Historical Association is leading a project to engage with young voices. You can listen to the first round of this work, in which students in a variety of schools consulted 100s of their peers about what sort of history they would like to learn.

If you have any questions you would like to ask our experts, then please contact us.

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