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Planning priorities for the new SHP GCSE (OCR B)

I’m full of admiration for history teachers planning the new SHP GCSE course. Your dedication, knowledge and creativity never cease to amaze me. It’s been great to see such enthusiasm for the new specification and to hear about the plans of different schools. Some wonderful site studies are emerging for History Around Us and many history departments are taking the opportunity to study at least one new topic at GCSE: Migrants to Britain, Britain in Peace and War, Viking Expansion, The Mughal Empire, The First Crusade, Aztecs and the Spanish Conquest…. The new specification should provide a breath of fresh air at GCSE, but I know that a new course creates more work. I hope you find the following five priorities helpful as you take forward your planning:

  1. Big pictures and closer looks. The SHP specification has been carefully constructed to indicate the knowledge which students should develop in each of their five studies. You should find that section headings and bullet points in each study provided a firm foundation for planning your schemes of work. Some bullet points deliberately cover a sweep of time or take a panoramic view of the past, while others focus closely on a particular event or situation. Don’t feel that you need to devote more teaching time to the ‘big picture’ bullet points. If you have two hour-long history lessons a week, a good starting point is to allocate a couple of lessons to bullet each point. You can then adjust your plan, teaching some bullet points in a single lesson and allocating three lessons to others. When deciding exactly how much teaching time to devote to specific bullet points, you will need to think about the complexity of the history, your students’ interests, and what learning resources and activities you will use.
  1. Historical Enquiry. Structuring each study around a number of rigorous and engaging historical enquiries will provide a clear focus for students’ learning, but make sure students also build the knowledge they need to answer any question which they might face in the exam. Remember that good enquiry questions capture students’ interest, develop particular aspects of historical thinking and build historical knowledge. You could devise enquiry questions for particular sections or for particular bullet points of content. For example, the following enquiries could provide a useful structure for the The People’s Health: Did anyone really care about health in medieval England? 2. The people’s health, 1500-1750: more of the same? 3. Why were there such huge changes in the people’s health, 1750-1900? 4. Do the changes in public health since 1900 tell a simple story of progress?
  1. Your own stuff! The SHP specification tries to strike a balance between providing clarity about what you should teach and giving you the freedom to use examples and case studies of your own choosing. The bullet points of content deliberately do not try to pin down the content in too much detail. In the exams, students will be rewarded for any valid knowledge which they deploy in response to a question. You therefore have the freedom to focus on people, places, events and situations which are of particular interest to you and your students. There is a lot of scope for using local case studies to engage your students: living conditions in your nearest nineteenth-century city, medieval migrants in your own locality, a local motte and bailey castle, a witch trial from your own county…
  1. Meaningful History. A determination to connect school history to the lives of young people was the driving force of SHP when it began in 1972. The new SHP specification has been deliberately planned to create curiosity about history, to encourage your students to develop their own opinions about the past based on a respect for evidence, and to build a deeper understanding of the present by engaging with the past. As you plan schemes of work, make sure you focus on the diverse experiences of different people in the past. Get your students to develop their own view on specific issues and to argue about the past (e.g. Do they agree with you that the Norman Conquest of England was ruthless and brutal? Does Akbar deserve to be remembered at ‘the Great’? Should we be encouraged by the story of crime and punishment since 1900? Each of the thematic studies focusses on a fundamental aspect of human history which is constantly in the news. Help your students to make sense of contemporary debates about air quality, the purpose of prisons, government policy on migration…
  1. The structure of assessment in OCR B (SHP) should provided access and challenge for all your students. Exam papers will contain a range of tasks from one-mark factual recall questions to eighteen-mark essays requiring students to make a structured and substantiated judgement about a particular historical issue. Each study has a different focus of assessment so make sure you build this into your schemes of work as you plan. For example, in the thematic studies students will need to show factual recall, create their own structured accounts, write explanations and make judgements. You will need to create opportunities for students to deploy their knowledge in different formats as they engage with a particular study. Above all, make sure you give careful thought to the construction of students’ notes and to the enjoyable and rigorous learning activities that help to build historical knowledge and understanding.