Poles in Britain: new, free teaching resources!

This blogpost from Helen Snelson (@Snelsonh), PGCE History Curriculum Area Leader at the University of York and Chair of HA Secondary Committee, introduces some new, free resources to support teaching about Poland and Poles in Britain in history lessons and beyond.

I know it is really tough to find space and time for yet another topic, but stay with me while I introduce some new, free teaching resources to you and try to persuade you of the need to think about including teaching about Poles and Britain in your school curriculum.

Why should this be done?

I would like to suggest a wider point that what is happening in Polish politics right now is likely to be very significant to our future, even if it is not being widely reported in the UK as I type. However, for more specific reasons relevant to our history classrooms right now:

  1. Despite the effects of Brexit it is estimated that over 800,000 Polish nationals live in Britain. There are many more people with Polish heritage. That means that many of us teach children who are Polish or of Polish heritage. If I am honest, the only way Poland really featured in my KS3 history lessons was as the victim of brutal occupation by Germany and the USSR in the 20th century. And even then, the focus was on the horrific fact of the Nazi death camps set up on Polish soil. That was not good enough. I should have thought more about the huge problem of only representing Poles as victims and the only mention of Poland being related to Auschwitz. Polish people and Polish culture is part of modern Britain and we need to teach pupils how this came about.
  2. There was a wave of Polish migration to Britain after Poland joined the EU in 2004. However, this was not the first wave of migration. For example, many Poles settled in Britain in the later 1940s and 1950s, and there was another wave at the end of the 19th century. They were part of the story of later 19th century and 20th century Britain. Without the broader picture, and the chance to look at the consequences of earlier migration, there is a danger that some misleading narratives about more recent migration go completely unchallenged.
  3. Every one of the major exam boards now offers a GCSE topic on migration and many schools are swapping to that topic. It is a big topic. And, as experienced teachers know, the thematic topics at GCSE pose particular challenges for pupils. Polish migration is not a large part of the GCSE courses, and so a short sequence on Polish migration at KS3 offers an excellent way to introduce some of the important disciplinary and substantive conceptual knowledge relating to migration, without repeating specific content in KS3 that will be then taught in KS4. For example, students at KS3 can be introduced to factors that encouraged migration using the example of Poles, and then later apply and extend their knowledge of these when they study their GCSE course.

How can this be done?

At the website of the Polish Cultural Institute you will find a selection of resources to get you started. There is a short, easily adaptable sequence on Polish migration to Britain since 1840. There are also resources that could be promoted by the history department for use across school. This is a cunning plan for introducing a focus on Poles and Polands despite the incredible pressure on the history KS3 curriculum. For example, there is:

  • A set of display materials about famous Poles relating to each curriculum subject -a ready made corridor display. (There is also a display you could pass onto careers’ colleagues.)
  • There is a booklet that includes 3 assemblies and form time resources that are based around the lives and work of Irena Sendler and Janusz Korczak. They are both people who resisted Nazi oppression and their stories reveal aspects of Poland and Polish life across the long 20th century.
  • There are resources on the history of Polish science and Maths, including the Enigma code breakers, that colleagues in other departments could be persuaded to use, thus extending study of the Polish past into other parts of the school curriculum.

A further intro to the resources is here. Please take time with a cuppa to have a look at them and to disseminate them in your school. Some schools have picked up Polish themed weeks using them and they can be easily adapted for use in an upper primary setting too.

If you would like to know more yourself then you could start with this interview with Adam Zmoyski, author of ‘Poland: a history’.

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