Catherine Bickersteth

Catherine Bickersteth, NASBTT’s Primary History Associate Consultant

It is important that ITT providers prepare teachers to be confident in teaching history, which includes a sound understanding of the disciplinary aspects of historical enquiry. My key wish is that primary phase history does not focus mainly on subject content, as this could lead to perpetuating the misconception of history being a static body of ‘facts’ to be learnt and passed on. Trainees need to be able to develop a historian’s lens in children. Trainees need to be given the opportunity to learn how to teach historical disciplinary skills as well as enquiry into the past: for example, how to use artefacts, teaching chronological understanding and how to teach substantive concepts from KS1 onwards appropriately. Part of the exciting aspect of history is the unravelling of the past, being curious about people and realising how much history is a part of our world.

It is of paramount importance that those training to be teachers have had training which has included diversity, equity and inclusion in schools and how this impacts on children’s learning, aspirations and sense of belonging in a community. History as a subject has long been the object of many political, cultural and academic debates.  It is vital that teachers explore debates in history and can begin to see how their choices in how and what to teach is part of their responsibility to ensure that children are able to have a wider understanding of Britain and the wider world.

Part of the specific history training offered by ITT providers should include time for teacher trainees to interrogate key questions around the history curriculum:

  • Whose history is this? Who wrote this history? How can educators make history truly inclusive and include a true history of the people and countries studied?
  • For the British history content, how far does the content provide opportunities for children to engage with the totality of Britain – how have previously unheard voices been omitted and how can this be addressed?
  • How does the history which is taught help children have an understanding of chronology and the global context of the particular history that they are studying?

The history programmes of study for key stages 1 and 2 in the National Curriculum in England (1), need to be unpicked to avoid the misconceptions that have often been established about what should and should not be taught in history in the primary phase. For example, where there are suggested significant figures to include, trainees need to look beyond the examples, question who to include and why; local history is included as part of the National Curriculum, but trainees need to understand the different ways that this could be planned as part of the overall history curriculum and within the whole school’s ethos and vision. Primary schools may be using a published scheme of work in history, but if a trainee is learning how to  develop a sequence of lessons in history, it is important that they know how to plan this and how to make informed choices about the resources which they use.

History is a rich and fascinating subject which offers so much opportunity for creativity – to do it justice, the key is to provide opportunities for debate around the subject and open up trainees to asking questions about how they plan and teach history. Examples of projects based on improving subject- rich professional development for history teachers has been analysed, and the problem of how to fulfil this need for school-based teacher trainers has been raised as an area that needs to be further addressed. (Burn 2021) (2). For primary trainees, the number of subjects which need to be taught does create challenges when building confidence and expertise. I hope that ITT providers can direct trainees to sources which can be accessed to develop their knowledge, alongside including opportunities to develop historical enquiry disciplinary knowledge and teach it at an age appropriate level. It would be valuable if school-based ITT providers could develop links with history specialists which could keep enhance subject knowledge and practice in schools. For teacher trainees, I hope they have a stimulating dialogue with history, and so in turn inspire children in schools.

(1) History programmes of study: key stages 1 and 2 National Curriculum in England

(2) Katharine Burn ‘The power of knowledge: The impact on history teachers of sustained subject-rich professional development’  in Knowing History in Schools. Ed . Arthur Chapman (UCL Press 2021)

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