Making the past
NOTE: We teach two History and two Geography topics each year on an alternating basis. These topics are organised to maximise cross-curricular learning due to the close links between the two subjects.
At Laddingford, our vision is History taught as a narrative subject that helps children develop strong chronologies of cause and effect, explore ‘Big Ideas’ across diverse topics and develop their critical and analytical skills as historians, interpreting textual and archaeological sources. History is not just ‘learning about the past’ but also understanding how we learn about and interpret the past. History, to some extent, is about constructing the past. It should be taught with a strong focus on the scientific method of discovering and evaluating evidence to support theories so they learn to interrogate historical narratives. We shy away from simple explanations and instead offer children a range of interpretations to demonstrate the richness and difficulty of history. Each unit introduces three ‘Big Ideas’ - themes that can be traced through other units, helping children develop the vocabulary to discuss history, connect the topics they study and reflect on the universals of ‘the human condition’ that the subject can illuminate.
We have developed our own scheme for teaching history, drawing on our staff’s extensive subject knowledge and research over the last several years. This scheme engages with primary and secondary sources to give children an academically up-to-date view of the topic they’re studying. We also try and stay on top of new evidence and breakthroughs as they are discovered and help children to understand the significance of them.
From the National Curriculum, we have identified the major skills of History that carry across from the Early Learning Goals to Key Stages 1 and 2. These are:
Chronology – Historians organise people, places and events based on when they happened, in time order.
Narrative history – Historians explain how people, places and events are connected through cause and effect and tell these stories.
Compare and contrast – Historians explain how people, places and events are similar or different to one another.
Historical enquiry – Historians ask questions about the past.
Evidence – Historians answer their questions about the past by searching for a range of evidence (sources).
Interpretation – Historians select and use evidence and their own reasoning to answer their questions about the past. The evidence they choose and their own beliefs and views might mean that two historians draw different conclusions about the same question.
Vocabulary – Historians use particular words and phrases to talk about the past.
To understand these key historical skills, in Key Stage 1, children study four topics:
- Changes within living memory: Toys – In this thematic unit, children examine how toys have changed over time and some of the reasons for these changes. Starting with their own toys, they trace back the development of computer games and other popular children’s toys, talking with adults in their lives from different generations to find out what they played with when they were younger. They create a toy timeline.
- Events beyond living memory: The Great Fire of London: Through the story of the Great Fire of 1666, children see how the interpretation of an event can change over time due to new evidence, research and hindsight. We trace how our understanding of the Great Fire altered from a suspected Catholic arson attack to a tragic accident in a bakery. Children also tackle some common misconceptions about the Great Fire.
- Local history: Laddingford Then and Now: This topic uses a variety of primary and secondary sources, including interviews with local people, to demonstrate how the school and village have changed in recent times. They also study historical maps and imagery to look at how the village has grown. We also delve into the school’s archives going back to the late 1800s to study how and what the children used to be taught.
- Comparing significant individuals: This topic compares nurses Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole and helps children to research using a range of secondary sources to find similarities and differences between these people and some of the reasons for them. They also learn about the context of women in Victorian Britain and the Crimean War.
In Key Stage 2, we begin to teach British History as a continuous story:
- Prehistoric Britain: We begin with an overview of prehistoric Britain, learning how homo sapiens arose as the dominant form of hominid over others. We see how the development of stone then bronze and iron tools gradually transformed the ability of humans to first survive then shape and control the natural world in the British Isles. We’ll learn how these technological advances led humans from nomadic bands of hunter gatherers to settled farmers in complex tribal structures over hundreds of thousands of years.
- The Romans in Britain: Next, we learn how the Roman arrival changed Britain and the way in which this powerful empire shaped and changed the course of British history. We’ll also look at the ways in which the Roman Empire began to crumble and the impact this had on Britain.
- The Anglo-Saxons: We learn how the Roman withdrawal from Britain made room for the arrival of Angles, Saxons and Jutes from Northern Europe and about the kingdoms that they formed with shifting centres of power.
- The Vikings vs. The Anglo-Saxons: Finally, we learn how the Vikings and Anglo-Saxons tussled for control of the British Isles, setting the scene for the Norman invasion of 1066 that children will cover in secondary school.
- World War 2 – Laddingford at War: In our post-1066, local history unit, we use our unique, primary sources in school to help children build a picture of how World War II impacted the school and community. Our school logbooks and registers document the arrival of evacuees from London, the construction of an air-raid shelter and a Luftwaffe bomb landing close enough to the school to blow out the windows. We also help children put this into the wider context of the beginning of World War II.
Our other units of History focus on providing comparison and contrast to our units on Britain:
- Early Civilisations Overview and Ancient Egypt Depth Study: We learn about the pattern of human development around the world from stone through the metal tools and the agricultural revolution. We then ‘zoom in’ on how the complex civilisation of Ancient Egypt arose and flourished around the River Nile in North Africa, tracing similarities and differences between their cultural development and that of prehistoric Britain.
- The Classic Maya: We look at the Classical Maya civilisation of the Yucatan peninsula and see how a culture with surprising similarities and startling differences evolved in isolation from Eurasian history and how archaeology and anthropology helped us to unravel the mysteries of this lost civilisation.
- The Ancient Greeks: We learn about how the cultural achievements of the Ancient Greeks were inspired by and then influenced those around them, especially the Romans, and continue to echo through history to the present day. We study their foundational contributions to literature, politics, the military, art, philosophy and history itself.
In EYFS, we’ve left the Past and Present teaching flexible so that our skilled, early years practitioners can pursue children’s emerging historical interests.
This scheme has meant a huge commitment from staff to share and improve their subject knowledge and, along with Geography, is still undergoing development and review. We aim to provide a rich range of activities in lessons that help children to process and remember these stories, demonstrating their growing historical skills.
SEND and vulnerable pupils
Given our intense focus on writing during English, we make it our aim to give children options about how to record their learning in History and Geography lessons. Many of them choose to write but, for those who find it a challenge, we don’t want that to become a barrier to them engaging with these fascinating subjects. As a result, children’s work in History and Geography may look different as they opt for different ways of recording their learning. The use of clear, yet layered, narratives through our topics also aids with comprehension and cohesion of learning for all. We firmly believe that pedagogy to support less able children is ultimately helpful to all children.
The impact of our history curriculum has been that children have a greater ability to recall the key events, sites and figures of the periods they have studied. Children are also developing a coherent, continuous and chronological view of British history and are able to connect the time periods that they’ve studied to one another. They can also make links between British and non-British history, examining common themes made explicit in our ‘Big Ideas’. We have had great feedback from children and parents around enjoyment and the depth of learning they have seen around the topics in class.
Our current research project uses Google Forms to quiz children on a week-by-week basis to see how well they retain key information as the topic progresses. Our hope is that, by teaching in a logical sequence and recapping previous learning, we can maximise the retention of key facts across the topic’s duration.