Saturday 25th February the history department at West London Free School hosted its first national history teaching conference. 176 tickets were sold in advance of the day which clearly illustrates the demand for affordable, subject specific and academically rigorous CPD. Delegates were treated to a lecture from Christine Counsell of Inspiration Trust where Christine’s stirring call for knowledge based history teaching made the point that without secure substantive knowledge ‘the odds are stacked against the poor’ (see Christine’s Power Point here). Christine’s speech sparked the conference into life, especially on Twitter, where the conference hashtag, #WLFSHistory, burst into a hive of activity.
Delegates then hurried off, coffees in hand, to a range of workshops from experts from the history teaching community. Jim Carroll, a PHD student and history teacher at the Faculty of Education Cambridge, argued for greater sophistication when modelling answers for pupils by using academic scholarship as the model (see Jim’s resources from the session here) (and his Power Point slides here). Whilst Heather Fearn presented the findings of her masters thesis to demonstrate how knowledge stored in long term memory would enable pupils to make sense of abstract terms in new contexts. Vartan Tamizian presented the findings of his masters thesis, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of using historical narrative in the classroom (see Vartan’s Power Point here) (and his resources from the session here). Whilst textbook author and Associate Vice-Principle of the Historical Association Ben Walsh presented meaningful ways to approach the tricky issues surrounding historical sources and interpretations (see Ben’s handout here) (see Ben’s Power Point here). Michael Fordham showed the disastrous consequences of senior leaders attempts to combine dodgy progression models with invasive accountability frameworks; offering a manifesto for history teachers to produce KS3 assessments more honest to the discipline of history (see Michael’s Power Point here). PGCE tutor at the Faculty of Education Cambridge, Rachel Foster, provided an opportunity for delegates to reflect on the role of historical scholarship in the history classroom. Robert Peal explored the brand new WLFS KS3 history curriculum with his delegates, showing how his textbook series has provided the basis for a curriculum that minimises teacher workload whilst maximising pupil enjoyment and historical understanding (see Rob’s Power Point here). I had the great pleasure of displaying the hard work of my department to discuss the principles underlying, and the practical examples from, our brand new 11 to 18 curriculum. I also showed how, as a new head of department, I had attempted to cut teacher workload during this extensive curriculum overhaul with a focus on strategies such as redrafting, verbal feedback and direct instruction (see my Power Point here). Steve Mastin destroyed the arguments that a knowledge-based curriculum penalises weaker pupils; showing how abstract concepts like ‘republic’ and ‘monarchy’ can be revisited in different historical contexts. Steve argued that ‘weaker pupils should be brought into the discourse of the prevailing culture rather than pushed to the side to watch’. In many ways the conference saved the best till last, with nationally acclaimed historian Professor Robert Tombs’ lecture closing the conference. Robert captivated the audience with a range of anecdotes to stress the importance of a knowledge rich curriculum that gives pupils an understanding of their nation’s history. Robert also warned against the dangers of interpreting the past through 21st century lenses. This view from an academic historian was not only a unique perspective on history education nationally, but also extremely uplifting to hear such a respected historian speak so highly of the work of the history teaching community.
On Monday morning my inbox was filled with praise for our pupils (both Year 11 and Year 12 history pupils assisted on the day), as well as the work of our department and the wider ethos and culture of our school. Many prominent members of the education community blogged and tweeted their praise for the conference:
Tarjinder Gill; ‘I don’t think it can be emphasised enough how fantastic the inaugural West London Free School History Conference was’.
Holly Beckwith; ‘The WLFS History conference … was a brilliantly, rich, informative, inspirational and enhancing day’.
Lee Donaghy; ‘thanks to Louis Everett and the history team at WLFS, not to mention their immaculate pupils, for such a warm welcome and well run day’.
These comments are just a drop in the ocean of praise adding to an inspirational day which made me proud to be a member of the teaching history community, as well as a teacher at West London Free School. Thank you to all speakers and delegates who created such a buzz of enthusiasm and warmth, it has made the history department at WLFS even more determined to make this an annual event.