Planning in history

Planning has been one of the educational growth industries of the last 15 years. Most schools have now developed sufficiently good medium-term plans so that they can dispense with the QCA’s schemes of work which are now felt to have seen better days. This is very encouraging, but we do need to be careful. Often, medium term planning has occurred without there first being a really sound long-term plan with a thoughtful rationale. This has led to some reasonable lessons being taught but ones that do not necessarily develop pupils’ historical understanding in an even and systematic way.

Fundamental to good planning is the way the subject leader is able to provide exciting and worthwhile historical contexts in which to develop specific skills, conceptual understanding and awareness of the historical processes. The best way to do this, at all key stages, is through a limited number of key questions. Without these the history topics simply sprawl. If the key questions are sharp and well-written then the teacher, however, inexperienced will have a clear focus for the learning. They will quickly see the sorts of questions we ask in history and will find little attention being given to factual accumulation for its own sake. These key questions can also be liberating. Because they are restricted in number, let’s say about 5-7 per topic, then it becomes obvious what you are covering in depth and what in outline. By looking closely at the carefully crafted wording in the question, it will become clear which skill is being addressed. Teachers and pupils alike become familiar with questions such as What really happened? Why is it so difficult to know? Why do we have different views about …? Why did some people behave in that way but not others? How different was life for…?

A few words now about short-term planning. I once famously attended a county inspectors meeting at which we were asked to bring exemplars of short-term planning we used with subject leaders. My colleagues staggered into the room with impressive files: I brought nothing. When quizzed I simply explained that I felt that most detailed planning should be done at the medium term stage. Short-term planning should be a more personal affair, more notes to self, prompts about timings, transitions and issues to do with differentiation. Despite the cries of horror in the room, this remains my view. If colleagues lack confidence or are teaching a topic for the first time, then there may be a need for more elaborate short term plans, but none of us should be expected to repeat anything that already sits within the medium term planning. We simply don’t have the time. So half a side of hand written bullet point notes should be ample. This of course presupposes that the existing medium-term plans carry sufficient detail in terms of learning objectives and recommended teaching and learning activities to genuinely guide each lesson.

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