The future of cross-sector partnerships


In his excellent contribution to the September 2018 issue of HMC Insight Magazine, Dr Joe Spence, Master of Dulwich College, highlighted recent developments in cross-sector partnerships and (rightly) repudiated the charge that the independent sector has only tinkered in this area.  Across the country and over many years schools have been engaged in various types of cross-sector partnership, benefiting thousands of pupils and building important and durable links between teachers and leaders. Independent State School Partnerships (ISSPs) have been at the forefront of this critically important work, but also much has been achieved through bilateral arrangements and other forms of collaboration.

In recent years much partnership work has focused on pupil-facing activities, such as gifted and talented programmes, the provision of additional twilight courses at GCSE, and the raising and channelling of aspiration for post-18 study, and especially towards the most competitive courses and universities, where widening access remains an imperative.  There are, of course, brilliant opportunities for these hugely important activities to be further developed and embedded, especially in localities where such work is still in its infancy.  The important work Schools Together in promoting partnership work, and the welcome increase in interest and support from the DfE, as well as the ever growing appetite for collaboration among schools of schools of all types, bodes well for the future of cross-sector collaboration.

Joe Spence hits the nail on the head in arguing that independent schools have a great deal to learn from the state sector in areas such as data ‘sharpness’ – to which I would also add the effective support of pupils of diverse ability ranges within the classroom, among several other areas.  While Joe rightly cautions us against excessive generalisation, the enduring differences he notes in teaching cultures between the independent and state sectors underscores the importance of a two way flow of best practice.

His article also notes the work of Teaching Schools, which have considerably expanded opportunities for initial teacher training and continuing professional learning.  Teaching School Alliances, which have the networks, know-how and infrastructure to facilitate exchange, could play a key role in brokering mutually beneficial cross-sector work.  I would like to see more Teaching School Alliances becoming facilitators of exchanges between the independent and state sectors, as is already the case in those led by King Edward VI High School for Girls and by Wellington College, among others.

If partnership work is to be based – as of course it should be – on parities of esteem between the capabilities of the independent and state sectors, we therefore need to leverage some of the state sector systems that have emerged over the last two decades to benefit as many pupils as possible – including those in independent schools.  While many independent schools are privileged in their access to resources and staffing, this state of affairs is far from universal, and all institutions could benefit considerably from access to research-informed practices and to the networks supporting areas such as leadership, pedagogy and assessment that have emerged over the last decade principally within the state sector, for example through Research Schools.

Cross-sector partnerships also need to embrace those self-forming teacher communities woven by the filaments of social media. Twitter has proven to be an impressively disruptive force in educational discourse and professional learning, defeating constraints of geography and resource to link teachers with other communities, such as academic neuroscience, resulting in significantly enhanced understanding in areas such as memory, cognition and retrieval practice.  Those of us involved in cross sector partnership work can learn much from the accelerated evolution of movements such as ResearchEd, which function independently of institutional hierarchies (and are doubtless much more effective as a result).

A further priority for cross-sector partnership must now be to support deep subject understanding in teacher learning, not just in initial training, or in shortage areas, but across the curriculum. The fostering of a sense of sense of ownership and excitement around a subject, where extension work and pupil independent reading and research can flourish, is an ever more urgent priority in an age where domain-specific knowledge is regaining its status in educational discourse. Christine Counsell’s recent and welcome calls for curriculum to be a school leadership priority surely presents opportunities for collaborative construction across the sectors.

However, shared professional learning should not be confined to the sectoral axis of  independent and state in secondary education. One of the crucial challenges for teaching and learning across the coming decades is better vertical integration of subject understanding between schools, universities, professional bodies and learned institutions such as museums and libraries. This has long been recognised in STEM subjects, in part driven by the historic convergence of university and employer concerns over student numbers and the fragility of graduate supply (and more recently by governmental economic priorities), which has resulted in exciting activity in areas such as teacher subject knowledge enhancement, and summer taster courses for pupils, especially focusing on those from less advantaged backgrounds.

A similar re-engagement is now urgently needed in the Humanities, Social Sciences and Languages. Teachers in these disciplines need structured and supported opportunities to engage with academics to understand how their subjects are conceptualised,  researched and taught at university level.  As well as supporting teacher development, this engagement could also help schools in framing study opportunities in these subject areas to pupils from backgrounds where access is less of an expectation.

The interesting work of Will Bailey-Watson and Charlotte Crouch at the University of Reading to connect trainee History teachers and History PhD students offers a model for such professional dialogue, which surely has the potential for broader replication. Therefore, at a national level there is surely an opportunity for partnership work to be aligned not only horizontally across the sectors, but also vertically between the tiers. (Could there be some form of national academic library membership scheme to enable all teachers to access resources, both digitally and in print forms ?)

Accountability pressures relating to school partnership work are unlikely to diminish. While the political pressures are felt most strongly by the independent sector, leaders in all schools are confronted by tough and constraining choices over the commitment of both pupil and staff time to partnership work, and the imperative of demonstrating measurable impact.  While the need to reconcile investment to impact is a fact of life in a world of sharply limited resources, I hope that partnership work will always hedge its activities between those that deliver measurable outcomes (such as additional GCSESs for example) with more open-ended exposure to those intellectual and cultural experiences that are typically available to pupils in the best resourced settings.

Partnership activity throws up as many questions as it answers. But all state and independent schools leaders whom I know to be engaged in partnership such work do so because they believe that there will be real benefit to the pupils involved, ever mindful of the scarce resources of time and money committed.  Pupil benefit should always be the prime motivation, and evaluation of outcome should emphasise the formative experience and access to knowledge and cultural capital, as well as qualifications gained and offers received.  However, we also need to ask broad questions about the future direction of partnership work.

Greater opportunities for education professionals to work together, whether in person or via online communities, across the educational sectors and tiers, could build on and complement existing activities, creating sustainable collaborative models, and thus hopefully enhancing the life chances and outcomes of even more young people.

The poverty of utility – why we need a higher rationale for the Humanities

At the 2017 Telegraph Festival of Education at Wellington College, I spoke on the future of the Humanities. The posting that follows summarises my some of my key points.

A common modern rationale for the study of the Humanities is the acquisition of skills that can be applied to particular workplace occupations.

transferable skills

The incompleteness of the transferable skills argument lies in the assumption that the knowledge content acquired is, at the least of a secondary value and at worst interchangeable, redundant or irrelevant. The notion that Humanities knowledge is somehow chaff to the grain of skills presents, I would contend, a threat to the breadth of education over the longer term.  My argument is that to measure the value of the Humanities predominantly or solely by the yardstick of their workplace utility misunderstands their broader significance and value within society.  

We need to re-frame our understanding of where the Humanities fit in our society.  I think one of the greatest challenges to the Humanities has been what I would see as the unhealthy distinction between the “useful” skills to be gained, and the knowledge, which is so often seen to be disposable.

It is in the interrelationship of the skills (of ordered thought, analogy, critical understanding, expression, evaluation etc.)  and the knowledge content being studied that we gain emotional and intellectual insight into the human condition, whether we are studying the poetry of Ovid, the plays of Shakespeare, the art of El Greco or the Battle of the Somme.

Humanities knowledge has value to society as a whole, far beyond its utility to those occupations where it can be directly applied – e.g. academia, teaching, the heritage industry, the media, arts and publishing, among others.

The case for the societal value of Humanities content knowledge is not helped by the complexities of its own geometry. Whereas laws, principles and formulae give the numerical and natural sciences a self-reinforcing cohesion and universality, the Humanities lack canonical knowledge and pre-requisite foundations in the modern age. While much of scientific knowledge can be expressed through the universal language and processes of Mathematics, experimental method and coding, the Humanities rely on the more fragile and contingent communicative modes of linguistic expression and text.

Notwithstanding these challenges, my argument is that the Humanities, and the knowledge that we gain through their study, have a societal value and relevance that need a more coherent restatement.

Proposition 1

The Humanities give us a textured, layered and multi-dimensional understanding of the human experience – through text, space, material culture and the senses. These have the power to fire the imagination, curiosity and emotions of anyone, whether reading a poem, studying a building, or visiting a war cemetery.

Proposition 2

The Humanities help us to bridge the internal experiences of emotion, spirit, faith, imagination and understanding, and the external settings of political and social organisation, cultural expression, economic activity and associational life.  Studying the Humanities is an exploration of the connections between individuals and groups within infinitely varied relationships, physical contexts and periods of time.

Proposition 3

The Humanities can be a force for societal cohesion, emphasising the intersections and commonalities of the human experience that transcend barriers of nationality, race and social-economic status, while also seeking to critically understand what has divided us through war and other conflicts.  The Humanities have the power to unify through a shared emotional and intellectual response.


In my defence of the Humanities I am very mindful of the counter argument that in an era of austerity  these disciplines might be considered luxuries, or the preserve of the socially advantaged. At a time of vigorous debate over access to Higher Education, the Humanities may be seen in some quarters as a preserve of the privileged.

My argument is that the Humanities must be for all. Indeed, subjects such as the Classics and Art History should not become the preserves merely of those schools that have the best resources, and all pupils should have access to a broad curriculum.  We need Humanities Hubs  (as much as we need Maths Hubs), linking cultural centres such as museums, galleries and monuments, with universities, colleges and schools of all types – following the organic growth model of ISSPs and Teaching School Alliances.






What do independent schools gain from working with the state sector?

“What do we get out of this?” is a question that may be asked fairly by an independent school when any form of structured relationship with a state school is proposed. The potential benefits to state schools from such contacts have been well rehearsed – including use of facilities, access to subject expertise for sixth form and extension, guidance on university applications – especially to the most competitive institutions, and shared participation in a broad range of activities. But the case for the benefits to be gained by independent schools from these relationships needs re-affirmation.

All good teachers, whatever the context of their school, want to deliver the best outcomes for their pupils, both in fostering a love of learning and in delivering measurable progress. Independent school teachers have much to learn from collaboration with colleagues from maintained schools, especially (but far from exclusively) in areas such as differentiation, classroom management, and the effective use of data and monitoring. However, independent schools can also benefit from significant subject and leadership expertise located in maintained-sector schools, especially those that are Teaching Schools, which can deploy Specialist Leaders of Education (SLEs) as a form of visiting consultant. Perhaps independent schools could be more open to looking beyond their own gates when looking to solve issues in particular subject areas.

Secondly, at a time of significant curriculum reform across a range of subjects, independent school teachers can benefit from an exchange of ideas and resources with other teachers from their locality, whether through teach meets or other more formal arrangements. Teachers in independent schools should also contribute to, and benefit from, the professional learning programmes of their maintained sector colleagues.  A third area where independent schools can strongly benefit from such links lies in SEN teaching. While many independent schools do have very effective provision in this area, the awareness of non-specialist teachers can sometimes be limited to the less challenging end of the spectrum of pupil need. Access to the concentrations of professional knowledge in SEN and behaviour to be found in those state schools with expertise in these areas, would be of real benefit to many independent school teachers.  All independent schools should consider joining a Teaching School Alliance, which can open access to a range of opportunities for professional development and collaborative work.

One of the most compelling arguments for independent-state collaboration lies in the imperative of locality. Of necessity, independent school strategic plans tend to focus on the essentials of pupil numbers, curriculum change, and investment in future plant and buildings. However, structured contact with local state schools can help an independent school to contextualise its strategy in relation to a whole range of local educational, economic, social, infrastructural and environmental considerations. A school that is in sustained contact with local partners is a better-informed school, in which decisions and actions can be more alert to local trends. Here altruism and self-interest meet, as all schools rely on the goodwill and understanding of overlapping spheres of local interest, including the parental body, staff of all types, local contractors and suppliers, residents and municipal authorities.

The achievements of a growing number independent schools in areas such as Academy sponsorship and the leadership of Independent-State School Partnerships (ISSPs) and Teaching School Alliances is beginning to gain more recognition – notably through the Schools Together website.  Independent schools come in all shapes and sizes, and many will have only limited capacity and resources to engage with the state sector. In such cases we should be understanding of the constraints that limit engagement to sharing access to pitches or pools. But all independent schools can learn from state schools in various ways, and often teacher-teacher contact can be low-cost, sustainable and highly impactful.

The future of the Humanities in Secondary Education

International competitiveness, the demands of a high-skill, knowledge-based economy, and the global nature of technology-based industries, are all factors that have shaped the increasing prioritisation of STEM in UK government thinking in recent years. This trend has been sharpened by anxiety over international comparative data for pupil numeracy and scientific performance, resulting in significant policy and resourcing decisions, such as the establishment of Maths Hubs.

The prioritisation of STEM has also helped to inform the establishment of UTCs, and the setting up of centres that bridge and integrate knowledge between schools, colleges, universities and employers. STEM subjects have attracted specific bursaries for initial teacher training places, while subject knowledge enhancement provision is noticeably focused on these disciplines, reflecting the continuing challenges of recruiting and retaining suitably qualified graduates. Coding is now a feature of the curriculum in primary as well as secondary education, and the study of Artificial Intelligence will doubtless follow in due course. Schools are increasingly seeking to create new managerial and organisational carapaces to integrate coding, Engineering and computer-aided design with Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology, while the most fortunate are investing in new physical plant and technology to realise the anticipated synergies of integration.

This much-needed investment in, and focus on, science education is to be wholly welcomed, but it does pose important questions for the equilibrium of the educational culture of our schools and, more fundamentally, the relative value we attach to the acquisition of particular sets of knowledge and skills. In particular, we need to understand the potential impact of an increasing STEM focus on those subjects that are essentially text and language based, what we might term the “broader” Humanities, including English and MFL.

Two fundamental questions need addressing: why do we need the Humanities; and what is their future? In recent years a key rationale for the study of the Humanities has been founded on the proposition of ‘transferable skills’. This argument has much to commend it, as annually many thousands of Humanities students successfully embark on a variety of career and further or higher education pathways. Students of the humanities bring aptitudes and capabilities that are particularly developed through the study of text and language-based subjects, notably by the framing of argument and debate, critical questioning, close reading, analysis, evaluation and judgement.

But to justify the Humanities principally against a yardstick of utility to particular occupational sectors and economic activities is a very incomplete proposition. To truly understand the importance of the Humanities we need to take a step back and frame our understanding in terms of the dynamic interrelationship between the component disciplines and subjects. The Humanities are at their most powerful when the constituent disciplines and subject areas are integrated to enable us to form a textured, layered and multi-dimensional understanding of human experiences. Studying the Humanities helps us to bridge the interior domains of emotion, spirit, faith, imagination and understanding, and the external domains of political and social organisation, economic activity, and associational life in all its varieties – religious, familial, cultural, sporting and intellectual.

In the opening minutes of his 1969 television series Civilisation, Kenneth Clark turned to the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris with the words “What is civilisation? I don’t know. I can’t define it in abstract terms, yet I think I can recognise it when I see it.” It is through the study of the Humanities that we gain an understanding of civilisation – the endeavours of the human race to apply philosophy, culture, religion and structures of law and governance, as well as economic activity of all forms, to bring order to, and find meaning in, the shared experience of existence.

Inevitably, the Humanities will never command the same investment of resources and governmental attention as the Sciences. (The Sciences do of course need particular equipment and resources.) However, steps can and should be taken to ensure that the Humanities do not become marginalised in the future of secondary education. Action is required across two axes: the better integration of teaching and learning between subject areas within schools; and (as has been done for years in the sciences) the coordination of research and knowledge between groups of schools, universities and those vast treasuries of collective knowledge – our museums, libraries, archives and learned societies. We need Humanities Hubs as much as we need Maths Hubs.

The objective of de-siloing knowledge is not to dissolve individual academic disciplines (or indeed traditional timetables) with their distinct and valuable competencies and stores of knowledge, nor to sweep away established assessment systems, but rather to structure opportunities for cross-subject teaching and learning in as impactful a way as possible. In some respects this already happens (often unconsciously) in many schools – for example pupils in the same year studying the First World War in History, and the poetry that emerged from it in English.

But this is merely the beginning. What we really seek is an arcing effect in the mind of the student, when the mental spark leaps from the filament of their understanding of one subject, to that of the next. To achieve this we need more imaginative steps, to break down artificial barriers between humanities subjects by creating short courses, lecture series and online resources that explicitly integrate knowledge content. For example, Sixth Form students of subjects such as Philosophy, Economics, History or Politics should be accessing at least some material in a second language. The requirement of students taking the IB Diploma Programme to study a modern foreign language across both Years 12 and 13 brings considerable advantages here.

A more integrated approach to the Humanities would also present outstanding opportunities for professional collaboration, such as having two teachers from different subjects in the same classroom approaching a topic from different perspectives, or jointly moderating a pupil-led Harkness-style discussion on a common theme, or a teacher from a different subject delivering a whole-class or year-group lecture to another subject, e.g. an Economics lecture on the causes of the Great Depression for GCSE History students studying the crises of democracy of the early 1930s. The permutations of topics and themes is endless.

Many of these opportunities could be realised through collaboration between Heads of Department, but this could be facilitated more systematically by leadership decisions to create curriculum space – and allowing those subject leaders discretion and opportunities to shape collaborative projects. While cross-subject learning can be undertaken at any stage in schooling (and indeed seems to flourish in many primary schools) Sixth Form may be an advantageous environment for such projects, given the increased capacity for independent learning and potentially the greater availability of individual study time.

Due to the growing popularity of combined humanities/science and Liberal Arts degrees within the UK, students aspiring to such courses may increasingly demand exposure to such integrated subject combinations. Another structural way to facilitate integrated humanities study may also be through the creation of powerful Heads of Humanities Faculty roles, with a specific brief for enabling and coordination cross-subject learning. Tutor conversations, year-group talks and assemblies, especially at Sixth Form level, should include a poem or art work, or musical piece of the week.

A transformation in the Humanities cannot be achieved by schools acting individually, but will require a networked solution that combines both vertical integration across the secondary and tertiary tiers, and peer-to-peer school led alliances, of the type already seen in the Teaching School programme. Humanities Hubs could draw upon Britain’s extraordinary density of outstanding learned institutions – not only universities but also museums, libraries and subject institutions and professional bodies.

The increasing power of the digital humanities, especially through virtual reconstructive technologies, presents exciting opportunities to engage pupils in independent learning, as well as to remotely participate in master-classes and other teacher-led provision. The full breadth of the Humanities – including subjects such as Philosophy, Classics and Art History – could be made available to a far broader segment of the pupil population through imaginative and powerful uses of technology to counteract local shortages of expertise. Humanities Hubs could produce online content that could help to bridge the gap between Years 11-12, and also extension material for students in Years 12-13. Our most competitive-entry universities could build further on their existing outreach efforts to ensure that the Humanities do not become seen as ‘luxury’ disciplines for pupils from the best resourced schools.

Britain’s Museums, libraries, learned societies and professional bodies form a national intellectual treasury from whose riches we should draw more fully when delivering Humanities Education. I would like to see more samples from collections brought directly into schools for pupils to hold in their own hands. We also need Humanities equivalents to the perennially outstanding Royal Institution Christmas Lectures in subjects such as English literature, History, Art History and Philosophy. BBC Radio Four has blazed a trail with programmes such as Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time, and Neil Macgregor’s A History of the World in 100 Objects, but we need more of these, including material tailored to the smaller screens that are the preferred platforms for senior school pupils.

It would be tempting to argue that the as the study of Humanities in schools is not fundamentally broken, then it does not need fixing. The popularity of some of the Humanities in terms of Sixth Form subject choices, and continuation to degree level study, may make this call to action seem redundant. However it is only through imaginative and collaborative responses that we can ensure the continuing vitality of the Humanities within the constraints of the present educational funding environment, and in the context of significant investment in the STEM subjects.

The Humanities have much to learn from the STEM subjects in terms of clearly articulating where they fit in the bigger picture of the nation’s future, and in the marshalling and deployment of material and intellectual resources across the sectors and tiers.  Although my argument is particularly concerned here with the Humanities, there is no less of an imperative to build in collaboration with the Sciences through the study of eras such as the 17th Century Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment.

The longer term dividend to be gained from a more integrated approach to the Humanities could be a higher quality of discourse and a greater respect for knowledge in our public sphere. The price to be paid for neglecting the Humanities could be a narrowed and diminished educational experience for future generations, and a society estranged from modes of thought and understanding which both complement and balance those derived from other, equally valuable, intellectual disciplines and frameworks.

Why the Humanities need more subject-based professional learning

The growth of knowledge-focused professional learning in Maths and the Sciences has been a notable and welcome feature of teacher education and development in recent years.

This STEM emphasis is hardly surprising given, among other factors, the significant difficulties experienced by many schools in recruiting and retaining teachers with the appropriate degree qualifications in these subject areas. Successive governments, employers and professional bodies have, rightly, worried about the impact that non-specialist Science and Maths teaching may have on national competitiveness in areas such as industry, research and the technology sector.

However, there is just as much need for teacher knowledge enhancement in the Arts and Humanities. In order to ensure that as many young people as possible have access to inspiring and textured teaching, there is an imperative to unlock the very best of Humanities subject knowledge to be found not only in universities, but also in the highest performing schools and colleges, of all types.
Whereas teacher knowledge enhancement in the Sciences can be dependent on facilities that may be costly to access or to commit to such purposes, in the Humanities there are perhaps fewer barriers to professionals accessing and sharing knowledge, especially given the ease and low cost of online forms of exchange.
There is surely an opportunity for the best resourced Humanities departments to share subject knowledge with professionals in other schools, where there may be lighter concentrations of specialism. (I am not, however, implying any crude or automatic relationship between absence of specialism and quality of teaching and learning, but merely noting that this may be an inhibitor, in some instances, to pupil progress in these contexts, particularly at sixth form.)
Teaching School alliances, and other partnerships and networks of varying types, working with universities, and the great libraries and museums, could be the mechanisms for  powerful exchanges of professional and subject knowledge in the humanities.
If, through local and regional collaboration, and the better networking of teacher knowledge, professionals can support each other in deepening their subject confidence, then perhaps more pupils from a wider variety of contexts will have a richer and more profound experience of learning, with a potential benefit of widened access to the most competitive humanities degrees courses.

Extension teaching and learning for Sixth Form History. What’s next ?

As the season for university applications approaches, the question of how to most effectively extend sixth form student learning becomes topical. Of course there is no generic answer for all subjects. In a quantitative/numerical based subject the progression between levels of difficulty and challenge can be more immediately evident to the student for many reasons, including the accessibility (or otherwise) of the exercise, and the fact that attainment can be measured against agreed criteria, such as whether a process or formula has been applied correctly.

For the student and teacher of the Humanities the development of an extension programme is, perhaps, a more complex task. For my own subject of History there appear to be three main approaches – each with its own merits and limitations. These are, of course, combinable and in no sense mutually exclusive.

1.Widening the circumference of the student’s engagement with the syllabus topics by encouraging reading of academic monographs and other specialist literature, rather than reliance on textbooks, or teacher-generated distillations.

The advantage of this approach is that student may already have a foundation of contextual knowledge that will offer a platform to gain a more advanced understanding. The student may encounter some fantastic writing, and gain an appreciation of the skill involved in constructing narrative (yes, narrative) argument and analysis. The limitation is, perhaps inevitably, that the student’s awareness of other historical topics is not broadened as much as if the reading were done for an off-syllabus topic.

2. Approaching the subject through its philosophical foundations and historiography.

There are essentially two sub-sets to this approach, which can of course be blended. One is via the rich literature in the “What is History ?” genre. Sir Rees Davies once lamented that when historians attain a certain degree of eminence, they stop writing History and start writing about each other.  This was a pardonable exaggeration, but a number of highly distinguished historians have forayed into this area, including Sir Geoffrey Elton, J. H. Hexter, and Sir Richard Evans, whose glorious historiographical street-brawl, In Defence of History, is a must-read. These books can be a great introduction to the debates about the nature and evolution of History as a discipline, but are at their most effective if they lead the student into reading at least some of the authors mentioned by the historiographer. Otherwise, the student can become like the medieval felon who recites a verse of scripture to claim benefit of clergy, without any understanding of what they have just said.

The other sub-set of this approach is to engage with texts that are particularly characteristic of an historical school or movement. A typical pathway is to engage with social and economic History, in part as a means of finding something that is an alternative to the political and military History that is so prevalent in the examined syllabus.  This can be an exceptionally rich and varied wing of History, and was predominant in the discipline from the 1950s to the 1970s. Although often susceptible to aridity (and sometimes derided for this with varying degrees of fairness by other historians) Social and Economic History can be a useful corrective to an “intentionalist” conception of History that overly privileges the actions of powerful men and women.

My suggestion here is for the teacher and student to look beyond the obvious ports of call. References in personal statements to Le Roy Ladurie’s use of primary sources, “against the grain” of their creator’s intentions, in his admittedly wonderful Montaillou, must have become somewhat tiresome for the longer-serving gatekeepers to the world’s most competitive History and liberal arts degree courses.

The hardier may venture into E. P. Thompson’s now neglected The Making of the English Working Class or set out on the vast and choppy waters of Fernand Braudel’s Mediterranean or dabble in Keith Thomas’s Religion and the Decline of Magic. The resurgence of biography since the 1980s and the enduring popularity of narrative history for periods such as the Tudors and 20th century dictatorships and wars, has rather resulted in these old masters being re-hung in the less visited corners of the historiographical gallery. There are, of course, more recent and accessible paths into this genre (in the broadest sense) – try for example Carlo Ginzburg’s The Cheese and The Worms and Peter Linebaugh’s The London Hanged.

Both these sub-sets of approach No.2 can open the student’s eyes to a world of historical writing in which the conceptual and methodological principles are more overtly detectable than in, say, biography or military history (two genres which I am in no way denigrating). However, the challenge can come when the student needs to re-integrate their understanding of these approaches back into their own sense of what it is to study History. The risk is that the label of “Whig” or “Annalist” obscures all the other features of that historian’s spadework, craft, knowledge and imagination.

3. Guiding the student to a particular off-syllabus topic that is in a timespan or region that is not on the taught syllabus.

There is much to be said for this approach, as it requires the student to engage not only with different types of evidence, but sometimes with entirely different assumptions about polities, institutions, cultures, sex and race and modes of living, working, and thinking.  New vistas can be opened up, in areas such as non-European History, Medieval History, and the History of minorities and the excluded.  Such an approach relies fairly heavily on the teacher’s familiarity with the material (and their preparation and delivery time, no less) to guide the student through this unfamiliar landscape. The issue of resourcing is perhaps less prohibitive in an age when a bounty of free resources is instantly available from national libraries, archives, digitisation projects, universities and educational charities and programmes.  However, coordinating and arranging this material into a course of study can nonetheless be a major task.

Ideas for a new approach to History extension teaching

The student of History who has the good fortune to have a teacher who introduces then to any one of the above approaches will certainly benefit as this support will doubtless help them to think critically about History and expand and deepen their engagement with the subject.

However I think that extension work could do more to bridge both the gap between History and other subjects, and between how History is studied at school, and what academic historians do in universities.  I have three proposals below.

1.Studying History through the medium of a second language. Any student who wishes to study History should attempt to engage in some of form of text or writing in a second language – whether ancient or modern. Teachers of History and languages should collaborate to make this happen.

(I will return to this point again in the future.)

2.The use of digital technologies. History as a subject has lagged behind other disciplines in its adoption of reconstructive and immersive technologies. Just as GIS has already begun to revolutionise the teaching of Geography, it has that potential for History too. Even more recently, the University of St Andrews’ Smart History project has enabled the individual to walk through virtual streets reconstructed from historic maps. The potential for this is extraordinary, but is as yet in its infancy. Who interested in History would not want to walk the streets of Vermeer’s Delft, or of pre-1666 London, or of medieval Baghdad?

3. Archives, Libraries and Museums.  National, regional and town archives and museums are often neglected treasures for teaching and learning with vast collections of Historical documentation. We can use them to access so much History – whether charters from Norman barons gifting land to abbeys, or the records of Early Modern charities, or how communities developed and evolved through industrialisation and immigration. Every student applying for a History degree should spend a day with a collection of documents, and should produce some form of written response based on their reading of a pre-20th century hand-written document.