Teaching Roman Britain for Key Stage 2

Teaching the Roman Empire and its impact on Britain at KS2

Drafting the history content proved highly controversial. Many of us felt that too much content that traditionally had been taught in KS3 was being foisted on KS2 teachers.  The first draft in February was execrable: the latest final draft is much more teachable, but will still require considerable re-planning.  The unit known to most of us as Roman Britain is a case in point.  The whole topic has been given a slightly more European focus, placing the events in Britain into a broader context.  So what differences will it make to your teaching?  see below

The outstanding lessons and smart tasks included here reflect the planning priorities though they do not necessarily cover every part of the planning. You will find a wide variety of teaching and learning activities as well as a rich array of teaching resources including PowerPoint® presentations. New lessons will be regularly added to meet the demands of the changing primary curriculum.

Outstanding Lessons

Teaching Roman Britain at Key Stage 2

The emphasis in this unit is on the nature of the Romans’ settlement and their legacy.  The lessons on the causes of the Roman invasion provide plenty of scope for hot seating, decision-making and conscience alley, leading to some polished explanatory writing.  Work on Boudicca, on the other hand, whilst also looking at cause and consequence through a living graph lesson, offers excellent opportunities for comparing contrasting interpretations of this fascinating character.   Why is she shown so differently in books today? Work on the legacy of the invaders justifies its existence, especially at a time when the government is so keen on establishing a notion of Britishness.  The under the cloth lesson is a superb hands-on way of making the legacy come alive – far better than short clips from The Life of Brian. 

Resourcing your Roman topic

For a range of interesting web-based material, including a video exploration of the opening of a Roman tomb go to the 24 Hour Museum site and see what’s on offer. Teaching Roman Britain at KS2 or the Roman Empire at KS3 then this new Free app is a must. Streetmuseum: Londinium, is a new mobile app from the Museum of London and the TV channel History and offers an original and exciting medium for exploring the city’s history. Opening with an illustrative timeline of London’s Roman heritage, the app then offers a map of the city, peppered with pins that highlight different historical aspects of life under Roman rule. The purple pins mark sites where archaeological discoveries were made.  The fun bit is where you use your finger to ‘dig’ the dirt or blow on the microphone to unearth bits of pottery and other relics). The red pins mark audio and video material, drawn from History’s large archive: for example, click on the amphitheatre to watch a video showing gladiators locked in combat. One of the more interesting things is the historical map that is included with the app. Move the slider along and the contours of Londinium, from the old walled part of the city and its various gates to long-lost geological features such as the River Fleet, are overlaid on the contemporary map, along with information about their use. Streetmuseum: Londinium is available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, and is free.

Teaching the Roman Empire and its impact on Britain

So what differences will it make to your teaching?

1. You need to be clear about what you MUST teach and what you COULD teach.  The only statutory bit is encapsulated in this one line: the Roman Empire and its impact on Britain.  The list that follows, shown in italics below, is non-statutory.  I haven’t put the separate items in a bullet point list simply to remind you that this is not a syllabus.  The sub-points below the main heading merely give you suggestions of what you MIGHT teach.  They are NOT statutory.  But they do helpfully give some indication of the balance of the topic.  Of the five examples 4 have a British slant and only one a European one. Julius Caesar’s attempted invasion in 55-54 BC; the Roman Empire by AD 42 and the power of its army; successful invasion by Claudius and conquest, including Hadrian’s Wall; British resistance, e.g. Boudica; “Romanisation” of Britain: sites such as Caerwent and the impact of technology, culture and beliefs, including early Christianity

2. You will need to link this unit to earlier work on the Iron Age which is now a mandatory part of the curriculum.  Most of you already taught something on the Celts.  Now you must do more but in a separate topic to the Roman one.

3. Most of us focus on the Roman invasion of AD 43 but now we need to look at events elsewhere in the Roman Empire to better understand the Romans’ motivation in invading.

4. Perhaps we might make more of a comparison between Caesar’s invasion and Claudius’.  What had changed in between?  How did the situation within the larger Roman Empire explain why Claudius invaded?

5. The focus on resistance and control continues so your work on Boudica is perfect.

6. You will need to look at the Romanisation of Britain.  How far did the Romans change the life of the Britons during their period of occupation?

7. Interestingly there is no specific reference to the legacy the Romans left.  This will reduce the size of the topic significantly as this was a key part of the last curriculum.  Perhaps this offers scope to return to look at the legacy as part of the thematic study (called unit in the final report which suggests some schools might want to look at the legacies of Greece and Rome).  By studying this at the end of the key stage pupils can see how these two ancient civilizations have affected other societies.  The only problem with this is that the Tudors and Victorians are not now on the curriculum.  Here might be a place to smuggle them in!

8. In terms of the historical skills and concepts that this unit might develop, I would suggest the following: Cause: Reasons for Roman invasion, perhaps comparing Caesar’s with Claudius’ Enquiry: an aspect of Romanisation; depth study on Roman villas.  What can we tell about Roman life from a study of this villa/fort? Interpretations: Boudica and her revolt Change and consequence : impact of Roman invasion on Celtic life.

9. In terms of building this study around enquiry questions, I would suggest the following:

  • Key question 1  Why on earth would Julius Caesar want to leave sunny Italy invade cold Britain and what would he have found here?  Chance to link back to work on Celts and Iron Age in the new  unit 1: ‘Stone Age to Iron Age’
  • Key question 2  Why did the Emperor Claudius invade Britain a cold bleak country, on the edge of empire?
  • Key question 3 Why did Boudica stand up to the Romans and how do we remember her today?
  • Key question 4 How can we explain the power of the Roman army at this time? This brings n European dimension to the Roman Empire and is where work on Hadrian’s Wall would feature.
  • Key question 5 What can we tell about Roman life from a study of this villa/fort?  Case study of places such as Caerwent, Fishborne, Lullingstone
  • Key question 6 How far did the Romans change the life of people living in Britain after the conquest?

These are the questions that drive the detailed medium-term planning that you can find here ( link) Within the plans are precise, differentiated objectives for each question, core recommended teaching and learning strategies, specific learning resources and recommended written outcomes and assessment tasks. The outstanding lessons and smart tasks included here reflect the planning priorities though they do not necessarily cover every part of the planning.

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