Writing the BPP History PGCE 

Despite having worked with the world-leading Cambridge History PGCE for a decade, and despite having spent the last eight years writing a doctoral thesis about the published discourse of the history education community, I nevertheless found it quite a daunting task to be asked to write the History module for the new BPP PGCE. One of the challenges is practical: at present, the course is a PGCE ‘top-up’ that can be offered by SCITTs, meaning that the module had to be sufficiently flexible to fit around different approaches to training offered by different providers. The greater challenge, however, was working out how to condense the complex field of history education into a module that would ensure the trainees finished the course ready to enter in the rich professional community that history teachers enjoy.

My starting point in writing the module was therefore to ensure that the history of history education was woven into the different seminars of the course. It’s vital that trainees understand how curricula such as the National Curriculum and the GCSE developed in the 1990s and 2000s, not least because (a) this helps understand those curricula and associated assessment structures in their current form and (b) it provides some warnings as to where things have gone wrong in the past. It’s important that trainees know about the arrival of the ‘new history’ in the 1970s, how this became established in the 1980s, and how history teachers – often through published articles in journals such as Teaching History – began to take debates forwards, building a sophisticated critique of things that had gone wrong and exploring better and better ways of getting pupils to use sources or argue with evidence. We cannot have new teachers behaving as though the last 40 years hadn’t happened. They need to stand on the shoulders of numerous history teachers and scholars who have shaped and re-shaped the territory, and to take their own place as future shapers and critics. I structured the history module around this as, in my view, it is the best approach for making sense of the complicated state of the field, without having to use simplistic generalisations.

Then there’s the need to get one’s head around the conceptual structure of the discipline. Here I had a fair amount to fall back on, as so much has been written by history teachers and history education researchers over the last twenty years. It was therefore easy enough for me to write sessions on teaching pupils to argue about problems involving cause and consequence, change and continuity, and teaching the critical use of sources and the analysis of contrasting interpretations. The hardest challenge here was choosing which readings to make ‘required’ and which to offer as ‘further’ readings, but I am relatively happy with the choices I made (see below for the required reading list).

And the bit which is always challenging for training history teachers is how subject knowledge is structured into the course, given that trainees come from a wide range of backgrounds, and it is hard to assume that any period of history will definitely have been studied. I used the standard approach in many PGCEs to a Subject Knowledge Audit, broken down against the National Curriculum and common GCSE and A-Level periods, and working on building a reading programme around that audit will be something each trainee has to develop with his or her mentor in school. For the sessions I shall teach, my broad approach has been to focus on periods of history that I think are likely to be relatively under-studied and so, for example, one day is based around nineteenth-century European history, with an emphasis on the Unification of Germany. Underpinning all this is the challenge of making sure pupils, too, become completely secure in the material taught, so that they can call it up with ease and use it in ever more complex challenges.  Here, I tried to blend in what we have learned from cognitive psychology about memory, and the highly subject-specific issues around how it can be applied in history’s context.

So this has all been quite a daunting task, but also quite an exciting one. I am grateful to all those in the history education community who have given me ideas and suggestions. As with all new courses, I have no doubt that I shall be making further revisions and additions over time. If you want to talk to me about what we are doing, or have some ideas you would like to contribute, then please do get in touch.

Required reading list

  • Banham, D. (2000). ‘The return of King John: using depth to strengthen overview in the teaching of political change’. Teaching History, 99, pp.22-31.
  • Bellinger, L. (2008) ‘Cultivating curiosity about complexity: what happens when Year 12 start to read Orlando Figes’ The Whisperers?’ Teaching History, 132
  • Bradshaw, M. (2006) ‘Creating controversy in the classroom: making progress with historical significance’, Teaching History, 125
  • Bradshaw, M. (2009). ‘Drilling down: how one history department is working towards progression in pupils’ thinking about diversity across Years 7, 8 and 9’. Teaching History. 135, pp.4-12.
  • Byrom, B. (1998) ‘Working with sources: scepticism or cynicism? Putting the story back together again’, Teaching History, 91
  • Byrom, J. and Riley, M. (2003) ‘Professional wrestling in the history department: a case study in planning the teaching of the British Empire at KS3’, Teaching History, 112
  • Card, J. (2004) ‘Seeing double: how one period visualises another’, Teaching History, 117
  • Carr, E. (2012) ‘How Victorian were the Victorians? Developing Year 8’s conceptual thinking about diversity in Victorian society’, Teaching History, 146
  • Counsell, C. (2004) ‘Looking through a Josephine-Butler-shaped window: focusing pupils’ thinking on historical significance’, Teaching History, 114
  • Counsell, C. (2011). ‘Disciplinary knowledge, the secondary history curriculum and history teachers’ achievements’. Curriculum Journal. 22.2, pp.201-225.
  • Dawson, I. (2004) ‘Time for chronology? Ideas for developing chronological understanding’, Teaching History, 117
  • Dawson, I. (2008). ‘Thinking across time: planning and teaching the story of power and democracy at Key Stage 3’. Teaching History, 130, pp.14-23.
  • Fordham, M. (2013) ‘O brave new world, without those levels in’t: where now for Key Stage 3 assessment in history?’, Teaching History Supplement, Curriculum Evolution
  • Foster, R. (2011) ‘Passive receivers or constructive readers? Pupils’ experiences of an encounter with academic history’, Teaching History, 142
  • Foster, R. (2013) ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same: developing students’ thinking about change and continuity’, Teaching History, 151
  • Hammond, K. (2007). ‘Teaching Year 9 about historical theories and methods’, Teaching History. 128, pp.4-10.
  • Howells, G. (2007) ‘Life by sources A to F: really using sources to teach AS history’, Teaching History, 128
  • Howson, J. (2007). ‘Is it the Tuarts and then the Studors or the other way round? The importance of developing a usable big picture of the past’. Teaching History. 127, pp.40-47.
  • Howson, J. (2009). ‘Potential and pitfalls in teaching ‘big pictures’ of the past’. Teaching History, 136, pp.24-33.
  • Laffin, D, (2012) ‘Marr: magpie or marsh harrier? The quest for the common characteristics of the genus ‘historian’ with 16-19-year-olds’, Teaching History, 149
  • Lang, S. ‘What is bias?’ (1993). Teaching History, 73
  • Lee, P.J. and Shemilt, D. (2003). ‘A scaffold, not a cage: progression and progression models in history’. Teaching History. 113, pp.13-23.
  • LeCocq, H. (2000) ‘Beyond bias: making source evaluation meaningful to Year 7’ Teaching History, 99
  • Lee, P. and Shemilt, D. (2009) ‘Is any explanation better than none? Over-determined narratives, senseless agencies and one-way streets in students’ learning about cause and consequence in history’, Teaching History, 137
  • McAleavy, T. (1998). ‘The use of sources in school history 1910-98: a critical perspective’. Teaching History, 91, pp.10-16.
  • Pickles, E. (2010) ‘How can students’ use of historical evidence be enhanced? A research study of the role of knowledge in Year 8 to Year 13 students’ interpretations of historical sources’, Teaching History, 139
  • Price, M. (1968). ‘History in danger’. History. 53, pp.342-7.
  • Riley, M. (2000) ‘Into the Key Stage 3 history garden: choosing and planting your enquiry questions’, Teaching History, 99
  • Vermeulen, E. (2000) ‘What is progress in history’, Teaching History, 98
  • Ward, R. (2006). ‘Duffy’s devices: teaching Year 13 to read and write’, Teaching History, 124
  • Woodcock, J. (2005) ‘Does the linguistic release the conceptual? Helping Year 10 to improve their causal reasoning’, Teaching History, 119
  • Woolley, M. (2003) ‘Really weird and freaky: using a Thomas Hardy short story as a source of evidence in the Year 8 classroom’, Teaching History, 111

2 Comments on Writing the BPP History PGCE 

  1. Looks like a pretty comprehensive list, great job. If you’re still looking for suggestions: I’d have something older and non-British on there as well probably just to get across the idea to the trainees that history teachers have a rich tradition of pedagogy that can be mined. Maybe someone like Ray Karras and his article on writing MCQs? https://www.jstor.org/stable/492246?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

  2. I agree with the above point of adding in some non-British thinkers. I always find Sam Wineburg extremely useful as an introduction to what it means to ‘think historically’ and Peter Seixas on progression in conceptual understanding. And Keith Barton and Linda Levstick on historical enquiry and researching history teaching.

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