Thanks to Hugh Richards, Head of History at Huntington School for this blogpost. Despite this vision statements appearing across Twitter and in schools all over the country (as well as their being external CPD courses on writing them) there is little published about the thinking behind them. Here Hugh shares the process that he and his team went through to create a vision they are happy with – for now.
Recently, I was asked to develop a vision statement for our History curriculum. The purpose of this was to outline what we wanted our curriculum to achieve, over the course of 3,5 or 7 years, depending on how long students continue to study the subject.
Please note this is not an ‘intent statement’ to wave at Ofsted should they visit – they have made it repeatedly clear (Fearn, 2019 HA Conference amongst other times) that these statements cannot and should not be conflated with ‘intent’ of your curriculum. That is only found in the schemes of learning and the content we want them to learn. Think of this instead as the cover of the book – a blurb, an impression of what is to be found inside.
So how did I approach this?
My first step was to think about purpose. I asked myself: ‘Why is this a useful activity in its own right?’
I concluded that it was helpful to:
- Think about exactly what it is we are trying to achieve with our history curriculum at Huntington School,
- Articulate a clear statement that we had worked on together, all understood and accepted as underpinning out curricum intentions,
- Have something that we could hold ourselves to as we evaluate the curriculum provision over its 3-, 5- and 7-year manifestations.
Drafting focused initially on the ‘what?’
The first section was always going to be about what we wanted students to know. To clarify my thinking here I thought of those two or three A-level students who were the best historians we have ever had. What did they know, do and understand that made them so good? And what would our curriculum need to do to be the vehicle for every single pupil in our comprehensive intake to have a shot at becoming one of these brilliant A-level historians? It had to include elements of knowledge and disciplinary thinking, that much was clear.
This is where the work of some brilliant minds comes into it. The crucial thing is that thinking of the wider history community is woven into this – very little of it is actually my own thinking – there was little need to re-invent the wheel. The Historical Association has been helping to nurture brilliant history teachers to develop the boundaries of our professional practice for many years. I was able to draw upon this treasure trove and apply it to our school, our department and our students. It was a chance to bring together just a few of the ideas of wonderful thinkers who have influenced my curriculum thinking over the last few years. To name check a few, Claire Holliss has written about the need for a more representative curriculum. Similarly, Sally Thorne has written convincingly about illuminating the whole picture, trying to get a sense of history that is wider than a narrow national narrative. Since the 2019 SHP conference, Will Bailey-Watson’s desire that curricula explore the “contested and constructed” nature of history has been in the forefront of my thinking.
I knew I didn’t just want us to explore the ‘what’ however. I also felt it was important to allow our curriculum to be shaped by why delivering it well was important.
Moving onto the ‘Why?’
As well as what we taught, I also wanted our vision statement to discuss the desired impact of the curriculum on the student, inspired by this Peter Lee quote which I magpie-ed from Twitter some time ago:
(I would love to thank the owner of that thumb who found and shared this quote, but I have forgotten!)
This gave us the substance of the ‘why’ part of the statement. Arguably, the ‘what’ of the curriculum would have been enough, but we want our curriculum to have a ‘feel’ about it too.
Working in a totally comprehensive school, I took the opportunity to work in Christine Counsell’s call to arms regarding the curriculum and the powers of the powerful. I thought about ways to somehow re-phrase it, but I couldn’t. So I didn’t.
Reviewing and tweaking
Once I had done a first draft, the department went through it with a fine-tooth comb and improved several areas of unclear language and some of the substantive content. Rich Kennett and Helen Snelson gave me some useful thoughts – there is nothing as good as an honest friend to help you improve what you do. Finally, I put a pretty solid draft on Twitter and had useful feedback from the history community there. The finished product benefitted hugely from all of this input.
Sticking to it
Easily the hardest stage. We now need to make sure what happens in our classrooms reflects this every lesson and every day, even when nobody else is watching. We will need to revisit it regularly and hold ourselves to it. We may need to reshape it as more thinking is done, and parts of the process above may need to be repeated. New colleagues will need to be introduced to the thinking behind it. But, we hope that sticking to this will be easier because of the process we have been through as a whole department.
So, here is the finished product….