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Letters to a New History Teacher: No. 14

Looking Forward, Thinking Ahead – dealing with multiple changes

So here we are: 2015 Spring term, and one third of my way through NQT2! No more darkening evenings and dreary, rainy nights when we know ‘it’s only going to get worse’ as winter draws in. It is the “Spring” term: winter is officially on its way out… Summer and the end of NQT will be here sooner than I know (yaaaaayyy!).

Ok so I might be just a teeny bit ahead of myself. But I remember turning this corner in my NQT (ie coming into the Spring term) and feeling a little bit lighter and a bit more bonny. I hope you are too? The only slight issue I have that’s hanging over me is all this curriculum change going on. Key Stage 3 – no more levels, so what does progress look like?; new A level specs; and, gee whizz, new GCSEs too.

But in a Spring-like fashion (full of vim, vap and flowers bursting from the ground!) I’m determined to keep my NQT2 head above water and manage this sea of change. Here’s the advice I’ve given myself and I hope it’s of value to you.

1. Get talking to my Head of Department

I’m going to talk to my Head of Department about which A level spec they like the look of. I’m hoping they’ve been to the exam board websites and downloaded specs and done a bit of comparative analysis about content, skills / question styles etc. I’m hoping that we will be able to agree together which content and skills best suit the team and the students – not just this cohort but forthcoming cohorts too. I need to find out what plans there are for me to teach A level – and request relevant training (the exam boards are offering quite a few online tutorials, there are Historical Association and SHP Conferences coming up) and I can explore local schools and networks and virtual communities like to see if I can find others doing the same unit who I can share ideas with.

2. Reflect on the new demands of GCSE

Obviously GCSE is a bit tricky as only one board has released its draft, outline spec (see the OCR website) although another (Edexcel) has placed online an outline of its approach. But I think it would be really helpful for me to go through this spec with my mentor and Head of Dept as it gives us a flavour of what the new GCSEs might be like – as it’s had to follow the DfE guidelines which were set out last year. In particular the DfE specified a broader coverage of years and as I have only ever taught Modern World it’s going to need some thought and planning about how to teach history from before 1900, and covering a theme of more than 50 years! By reflecting on what the new GCSEs might look like and thinking about what development I might need (knowledge and pedagogy) I can ask my school now about CPD. I can also speak to my Head of Dept about likely options and so begin doing some reading to brush up on knowledge I don’t have! If my department is not going with OCR then I’ll ask my Head of Dept what date the other specs will be out and whether we can ask the leadership team for department days / time to select options and plan for them. If we don’t ask we don’t get!

3. Watch the publishers (Hodder, Pearson etc)

I rely on the work of experts to help show me amazing ideas and approaches – especially in times of change as I find myself in now. So I’m going to regularly check publishers’ websites to see what new publications are coming out for GCSE and A level as I can be certain that these will have been developed in collaboration with the exam boards.

That said don’t assume you must only use books written for a single spec or approved by the awarding bodies. There are some fab books out there which are not written by examiners and are not tied to single specifications – for example they may be older books, or new ones such as SHP’s Enquiring History series for A level which concentrates on good history and improving students’ ability to study history more independently and effectively. (If you’d like some tips tweet me or SHP or drop us an email.)

4. Finally I am going to try really hard to remember that good history teaching is good history teaching. No matter what changes are afoot, if I reflect on where the children are now and where they need to get to, and plan carefully and thoughtfully for that journey, I know I am still doing my job. The ‘where they need to get to’ bit is clearly changing but the weapons in my arsenal to get them there are for the most part going to remain the same (polished and sharpened over time of course!).

So I don’t usually make New Year resolutions, but if I had to it would be to approach these changes methodically and with the forethought to plan accordingly (points 1-3) and to approach them philosophically and confidently (point 4). It can seem overwhelming. The timing can seem badly thought out by the powers that be. But if I put aside my frustrations there is a way forward. I won’t get everything right first time round. But heck if I give my kids a million chances, don’t I deserve a few to get things right too? I’m certain you do!

Happy New Year all.

PS If you’ve any burning questions on GCSE and A level changes do drop me a line. Or if you’re worried you have no local networks or people to ask for advice get in touch too as I can direct you to some regional advisors.