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Schools History Project turns 40

This afternoon, I took my A level history group to an archaeological dig at a local Iron Age hill fort. The students will be focussing on aspects of Roman Britain for their A2 independent enquiries so a chance to experience historical investigation at first-hand seemed too good to miss. Ham Hill is the largest Iron Age hill fort in Britain, but we know relatively little about it. Why was it built? How was it used?  What happened to it after the Roman occupation? Archaeologists from Cambridge and Cardiff universities will be trying to answer these questions over the next three years ( .

As we toured the site, my students became increasingly curious about the lives and beliefs of the Iron Age inhabitants of Ham Hill. They were intrigued by a crouch burial found in a ditch, surprised by the decorative beauty of Iron Age pottery and puzzled by the skeleton of a dog found in the bottom of a grain pit. Over the next few weeks, I’ll need to build on this initial curiosity by developing the students’ knowledge of Roman Britain and by getting them fired up about the nature and extent of ‘Romanisation’. Hopefully, they’ll soon start arguing. Then I’ll know they’re ready to begin their independent enquiries.

As I drove home, I reflected on how so much of what we’d done at Ham Hill was based on SHP principles that were established forty years ago. Helping students to engage with the history around them, to become curious, to undertake genuine historical enquiry, to respect evidence, to understand the mindset and motivation of people in the past, to explain change, and (most important of all) to enjoy the study of history – these principles are still central to the philosophy of the Schools History Project as we approach a significant birthday (see SHP principles). In 2012, SHP will be forty years old! It’s easy to forget just how radical and distinctive the Project’s vision of school history was in 1972. By establishing a pedagogy based on the structure of the discipline, the Project provided a framework which, in my view, has served school history incredibly well over the last forty years. As specialist history teachers, we have a shared understanding of our subject that often makes history a beacon in the school curriculum. You only need to attend the SHP conference, or to read Teaching History, to be inspired by the creativity and rigorous thinking that underpins the learning in so many history classrooms. This practice is rooted in a shared understanding of the discipline that has its origins in the Schools Council History Project and the bold thinking of 1972.

Forty is a special birthday and we’re hoping for some decent presents. Here’s four suggestions for Messrs Gove and Gibb:

  • A revised national curriculum that preserves all that’s best about the current Key Stage 3 programme of study.
  • A requirement that the revised national curriculum is taught in all schools.
  • A reform of GCSE that will ensure genuine progression from Key Stage 3.
  • Adequate funding for specialist professional development for all history teachers

Have I asked for the right presents? Maybe I should be cheeky and ask for five; is there anything I’ve forgotten?

Next Time: In my next blog, I’ll dig deeper into history fieldwork. Why is it so important and why isn’t there more of it?

See Also: The new item from Ian Dawson and Chris Culpin on History Fieldwork


Michael has been SHP Director since 2008. He is responsible for the strategic direction of SHP, ensuring that the project provides an independent source of ideas and experience for the teaching of history in schools