Dealing with the issues from lockdown in the history classroom. Thoughts and perspectives from the HA secondary committee.

This post accompanies the webinar that took place on Friday 5th March 2021. Members of the HA’s Secondary Committee addressed issues from lockdown in the history classroom. This post summarises their ideas, provides the links they referred to and picks up the main themes that emerged in the Q&A.

The terms ‘catch up, ‘recovery’ and ‘lost learning’ are negative and don’t capture everything. There are certainly issues. Pupils have not been with us in our classrooms. There are issues that are generic. History specific issues include:

  • Loss of some substantive knowledge: key terms, concepts, dates, events, stories, people
  • Loss of disciplinary knowledge: we’ve missed rich opportunities to use second order concepts and working on exam technique
  • Historical understanding to progress to the next stage: Yr9 → GCSE, Yr11 → A-Level, Yr13 → University

BUT! Please try to remember…

  • We’ve done this before and it was fine. It will be fine again.
  • Although lockdown has been grim it has brought some positives.
  • The best solutions to all these issues is just to teach great history.

So, some ideas for solutions…

Solution 1: clever long term planning. 

What do they need to catch up?  When do we need them to catch up?

  • KS3 don’t need everything right now. We can drip what they need in over time. Crack on with normal teaching so as not to scare the ones that have struggled and bore the ones that have done it all. Think about what they must have from work missed. What are the core threshold concepts? Here is an example of that thinking:

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  • Y10 and Y12 (we are currently assuming no spec. reductions). Don’t be tempted to cram. Do not try to get a normal Y11 and Y13 for them by cramming now. The deadline is the final exam (and they might have a reduced spec). Suggestion: do some squeezing of units, making some extra time for mock revision and an extended revision period at the end it needed. There is no point in assessing for gaps now. Get on with teaching and plan where the re-teach can happen if needed. Here is a possible model:

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  • Plan for getting into class and doing brilliant teaching!

Solution 2: better use of homework 

Identify the concepts and knowledge they need and when. Then re-jig homework to slot in these as catch-ups. For example, if they have missed their second intro to the concept of ‘communism’, then set a homework to revisit that.

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Don’t reinvent the wheel with this. Colleagues have been doing some great work on this. Here are a couple of examples on YouTube from Rich Kennett and Tom Pattison.

Solution 3: Less is more

What can we trim. Forget what you have always done. Ask yourself what the children really need to know. Think about a year group, what do they really need to know if they are to succeed at History or complete their studies of History? Write a list! Example:

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Then pick up the work of Natalie Kesterton on using narrative and big pictures in Teaching History 176 to address the challenge. A really well-written narrative can build knowledge on different scales and contextualise tricky substantive and disciplinary concepts.

To reiterate, study the spec and keep up to date with any updates from the examining bodies. Cut out all extraneous content this year. Be absolutely clear in your planning and in your teacher explanation the knowledge you need the students to have gained by the end of the lesson. Avoid overwhelm when bringing in anecdotes and distractors in your teacher talk, they tax student’s working memory. Choose a limited range of core knowledge you need the whole class to learn, including key vocabulary. Use regular, low stakes testing to make sure this is achieved. Refer to this knowledge regularly in your teacher talk.

Solution 4: avoiding the pitfalls of assessment and targeted intervention

We can control KS3, Y10 and Y12. You will have some data (some information) about how students are doing. A small number of the students have made faster progress. The problem is that the gap between students has become a gulf. The need range is wider. Take heart because as subject teachers we are in the best position to know the detail of this. Resist the urge to test-test-test! Only testing missed content could miss the point and cause more problems. You already know what content they do not know. You already know who and who hasn’t been able to engage and do the work.

  • Step 1: work out what you already know.
  • Step 2: work out what the key curricluar takeaways are – the MUST knows.
  • Step 3: then you can plan your assessment. It might be useful to assess cumulative knowledge from across the course. You can do this with carefully crafted MCQs or a timeline and make it quite light touch. You could then build this into homework.


Focus on the conceptual understanding not the factual knowledge. Teaching History 157 Assessment edition has lots of ideas. Always think: “What assessment would be worthwhile and tell us something we don’t already know?”

Inevitably there will be certain students who need targeted intervention. Time will be well spent with small groups and individuals. Have a conversation about how the interventions will help them to build disciplinary and substantive knowledge. Embed it in their school experience, don’t bolt it on. Think about how you ‘sell it’. For an intervention to work in history it needs to be tightly aligned to the curriculum. Beware of any intervention that removes them from history to catch up with something else. Literacy is best served through the subject disciplines, not via removal to ‘do literacy’.

Some of the questions and answers included…

Q: How should we be using extra money for catch up to support Y10 and 11 without creating an atmosphere of catch up?

A: The language we use around anything that is additional to normal teaching is really important – don’t call it ‘catch-up’. How we talk about it and sell it to the children is vital. Make sure it is history specific and taught by people who are history specialists. If there is some money about then you can strongly argue to use it for enrichment and museum visits. It is a valid use of catch-up funding.

Q: What advice do you have for PGCE students returning to the classroom?

A: Don’t worry – it will be fine! Focus on what you have learnt. You will be more tech savvy, you will have more knowledge about how to get participation and how to give feedback quickly. You have learnt different stuff. Now have the confidence to get back into the classroom and also to call for support as you need it.

Q:  What advice would you give to Subject Leaders?

A: Look after your teachers. Be calm and share your planning. Be confident and reassure them. Confident staff will reassure students. Resist any whole school pressure re grade ‘quick’ or ‘whole school’ fixes. Stick to the fundamentals of good planning and teaching. Take your time. Be organised and methodical.

Q: How do we catch up issues with writing, disciplinary concepts etc

A: Look across the forthcoming sequences and think – ‘When can I build that in? Again, stick to the fundamentals of good teaching.

Q: Could the HA do central catch up for students?

A: This is not a good idea as your students need you to work with them. It could unnerve students that things are explained differently and promote needless anxiety.

Q How do we build student resilience to do well?

A: Students want comfort and security and to know they are doing well. So language is important and for them to experience doing well and for you to tell them when they are doing well. Teach really enjoyable lessons. Our students have lost out on the joy of being in our lessons. Teach history well and get the passion back in – remind them why they enjoy history.

Q: If Y11 and Y13 stay beyond the date when grades are entered, how can we keep them engaged?

A: Every school is going to do something different. Think about your cohort and what they need. There is no national agreement on this yet. But there are some great opportunities here eg for local history, for reading in more depth, for picking up a really topical project and exploring its past, for doing an in depth study of eg Berlin. You could have free rein to teach what you are passionate about in the way you want. Enjoy it and don’t start teaching more exam stuff.

Q: Do you think we will have a spec reduction for Y10?

A: No idea! Plan for them doing it all and hope they won’t.

Q: May lockdown have changed the way we teach history in a postive way long term?

A: Teaching health and the people suddenly got conceptually easier when it comes to understanding vaccines, government involvement and why it matters. Also, we’ve gained a lot of confidence in recording, making nad resourcing things that will remain useful. We can think carefully about what we use classroom time for. What could better be done if students could take it away and listen in their own time eg milestone assessment and essay feedback. This frees up classroom teaching time and cuts down on marking workload. Another thing is that our teacher explanation has sharpened up.

Q: How do we plan to keep those pupils who have not engaged with online learning less anxious/with us?

A: The language we use point again. Allow successes quickly. Smuggle in complex ideas through the stories and narratives. Make the learning rich and be engaging and interesting.

Q: How do we plan for students continuing to isolate?

A: We are still going to have self-isolating students. You are doing your best. You are using the tech you’ve got. Keep personally in touch with them and check in with them. Be brilliant, be caring, but it is a pandemic and it won’t be perfect. But it will be OK in the end.

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With thanks to Martyn Bajkowski, Kath Goudie, Richard Kennett, Ruth Lingard and Hugh Richards for volunteering to do this for the HA and to amazing history teacher attenders on a Friday evening! 

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