Using the wisdom on… developing a sequence as an NQT

Thanks to Vicky Bettney of York High School for this blogpost. Vicky reflects on her NQT experience of re-planning part of the school’s KS3 curriculum and how she drew on the wider history community and her learning from her PGCE to do this. She talks about her priorities and how she juggled these different priorities to develop a sequence that is, as ever, work in progress.  

Like many other departments, we sat down around this time last year to start replanning the KS3 curriculum. The consensus among us was that the lessons needed updating to be much more historically rigorous. I took my part and overall I set myself the pretty low standard of being happy if across my part of Y8 and Y9 there were:

  • more women,
  • historiography and
  • chance for every student to be more competent with second order concepts

As an NQT at the time, I was delighted to have the responsibility to put into practice what I had learnt as part of my fantastic subject-specialist PGCE training the year before. Using the ‘downtime’ Year 11 gain time provided for some thoughtful planning. I want to focus in on one part of this planning process. 

Our legacy Year 8 summer term had 24 lessons on the Industrial Revolution Britain. Yes, 24 lessons!  I didn’t entirely part with the Industrial Revolution; most of the first half term is still spent looking at either the creation of the ‘Workshop of the World’, or life within it. However, after much badgering, my wonderful HoD agreed to let me ‘go wild’ with the rest of the summer term! 

So I asked the questions: what was essential for students to know, would fit best at that point in their key stage 3 journey and would contribute most appropriately to a comprehensive and balanced curriculum? I wanted the development of women’s suffrage to go in, but I still had time for more. I knew we were not focusing on change and continuity enough in Year 8. I could see a big gap in local history. More representative history was something to think about. So many ideas whirling around and demands to juggle!

I looked at our end of Year 7 sequence about religious changes in Tudor England and the new end of Year 9 sequence about changes in aspects of life across the 20th century. I could see that there were parts of the concept of change that were not being taught in those two sequences and this shaped my thinking further. I floated the idea of comparing the whole history of York to the national ‘story’ of change through many stories and was persuaded by more experienced teachers from YorkClio that I did not have enough curriculum time to do something quite so big in the time. However, I have students who live fewer than 3 miles from one of the most historic city centres in the country and never yet never set foot in it. I wanted an aspect of York to feature and decided to zoom in on migration. All this thinking and chewing on ideas led me to a working title of Migration: a York story?  

Figure 1

This would help me to diversify our teaching (slightly), attempt to overturn some misconceptions about the origins of people in York, bring local history to the forefront of our learning, bring in some big concepts that would set up the learning for Year 9 and enable work on the pace, nature and scale of change.

To bring the enquiry together, I created an A3 sheet to be reviewed every lesson (below). This would ensure students were directly analysing the changes and continuities from each period. They would also, in a very Hugh Richards fashion, be considering the macro overview of this strand – although, in contrast to their usual macros, this would be self-constructed. I also wanted to use Rachel Foster’s incredible thinking on the pace of change; as part of which I would ask students to select the features they felt best described migration.

Figure 3

The lessons culminate in a review lesson. This has been designed to get students to directly answer the enquiry question, focusing on their topic knowledge and knowledge of change and continuity directly developed throughout the sequence. For more on this structuring of enquiries I recommend Richard Kennett’s 2018 HA Yorkshire History Forum keynote.

It took longer than the other sequences to plan this one. It was a new type of sequence for me and for the department. I had to gain topic knowledge and also to return to the reading on the concept to make sure that I had really grasped what I should be trying to achieve. It really helped to be able to send my final draft to my history PGCE tutor to critique. We are a very small department, this was not an area of expertise for us and it was great to be able to draw on the wider local history community for constructive feedback. She pointed out that the enquiry question would be richer if it allowed more problematisation of the topic. The version we are now using is: How should we tell the story of migration to York? 

Another sequence planned! But, of course, this isn’t the end of the story. Conversations about curriclula never end and I am already thinking about how to improve my basic version when informed by first teaching. 

  • More historiography 🡪 unlike other sequences, there is no direct reference to the work of historians in my lessons. Is that essential? Should there be?
  • Use of local resources 🡪 there are many local history groups in York. Could I use some of their research more thoroughly?
  • Does it do enough? 🡪 have I over or underestimated students’ abilities at this point in Year 8? Does it form an appropriate stepping stone into the Year 9 curriculum? Does that need work, based on this?
  • Does it even work? 🡪 Covid-19 has unfortunately meant that this sequence won’t be taught until next year. Will it even work?

Have you seen the @histassoc What’s the Wisdom On … Historical Enquiry Questions? 

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