Intent: why do we teach what we teach?
The humanities curriculum is university and life preparatory. Through humanities, we develop pupils core cultural capital, ensuring they understand the world and the people who live in it, past and present, enabling them to become citizens who respect others and can consider topics from an informed and analytical standpoint.
We strive to make conceptual connections between areas of study so that pupils develop coherent relevant understandings they can apply to the world around them. In the Early Years, ‘understanding the world’ and ‘people and communities’ fall under the same umbrella, with each humanities discipline covered in at least one unit in each year group, making explicit connections between, for example, (need example). Pupils continue to study humanities as inter-related subjects through Year 1-6, although with an increasingly distinct focus on each discipline in each unit. These units are conceptually linked to the text being studied in English, again establishing the interrelated nature of the topics and issues affecting people and the world they live in. When pupils reach Key Stage 3, they study History and Geography as separate disciplines, incorporating RS from Year 9 onwards. The curriculum is planned to capitalise on cross-curricular links, for example studying World War 1 in History, French and English concurrently in Year 8. All students study RS and either History or Geography at GCSE. In Sixth Form we have a diverse humanities and social science offering enabling pupils to pursue a specific aspect of humanities in even more depth.
We believe that the humanities play a critical role in developing pupil’s understanding of the world, which should include both foundational, universal knowledge and develop specific knowledge about diverse contexts. We have designed units of study which both enable pupils to understand the immediate and familiar world around them and transport them to unfamiliar territory; we believe both are equally important. In Geography, this is true in our study of both physical and human geography. Students learn about fundamental physical processes, such as plate tectonics in year 7, and extrapolate universal themes from specific case studies. Some of these are local, such as analysing ‘big green spaces’ in London in Year 1, considering how Edgware Road has changed over time in Year 4, and evaluating regeneration projects in London in Year 9 Geography). Students also learn about the physical and human aspects of contexts outside their direct life experience, such as exploring the countryside in Year 4, the seaside in Year 2, what it is like to live in Antarctica in Year 1, earthquakes and volcanoes in year 7 and through case studies of Lagos or Rio at GCSE. The History curriculum gives equal weight to key moments in British history and significant periods and process around the world; students learn about the Roman Empire, the Anglo Saxons, the Middle Ages, the Tudors, the Victorians and the world wars, as well as considering Early Islamic Civilisation in Year 6, Crusades in Year 7, non-European experiences of World War 1 in Year 8, and a thematic study of Empire and Migration across continents and time periods in Year 9 and 10 History. By the time historians reach Key Stage 5, they are equipped to pursue an area of their own focus and engage with academic interpretations in their coursework. We ensure pupils understand the chronological progression of their study through both the design of the curriculum in Key Stage 3, and the use of timelines that are displayed and revisited in Primary. In RS, pupils study world religions through focusing on different festivals or key beliefs about controversial topics such as meat consumption and human rights, both in lessons and the events and assembly calendar, and then through explicit study of Islamic and Christian beliefs and practices in Year 9-11.
The curriculum is academically rigorous, with a deliberate emphasis on establishing a secure knowledge base before developing pupils’ academic skills of analysis, evaluation and communication. Across all humanities subjects we use Knowledge Organisers and quizzes to help pupils develop working memory strategies that support knowledge acquisition. This knowledge provides a foundation which empowers pupils to respond to the thought-provoking questions which guide study in every unit and ensure it has real-life applicability - ‘how do we know about the Stone Age?’ (year 3), ‘should the UK do more to help refugees and asylum seekers? (year 4), ‘what is happening beneath our feet?’ (year 7 Geography) or ‘have we achieved racial equality?’ (year 9 History). These questions enable pupils to approach the study of humanities with enquiry, curiosity and, increasingly, criticality and evaluation. Through revisiting core ideas, event and themes across the curriculum (such as climate change or significant historical periods) we deepen pupils’ understanding to enable them to engage in debates at a sophisticated level.
In an all-through school, we spiral knowledge upwards from EYFS and plan for progression in understanding. Each unit builds on previous skills and knowledge, made clear on its overview, and the progression in difficulty is clear from Year 1 to Year 13. We also plan skills and knowledge backwards from Year 13, with history being particularly well developed in this regard, as evidenced by the assessment objectives document in the curriculum overview.
Implementation: how do we teach what we teach?
The development of the Humanities curriculum is a priority for the school and we are working to embed and optimise our approach having recently redesigned the curricula to ensure pupils experience a coherent journey from 3-18. This is reflected in our current implementation.
Humanities is taught by subject specialists from Year 4 onwards to ensure that teachers have deep and up-to-date knowledge and subject-specific pedagogy. Medium term plans and knowledge organisers are created in advance to facilitate successful intellectual preparation for all teachers when delivering a unit around agreed knowledge and skills-based outcomes. Where non-subject specialists deliver lessons in primary, they are further supported through professional development sessions which focus on pedagogy and misconceptions. Planning and resourcing is reviewed by the subject lead through weekly line-management meetings, planning conferences and end of term reviews.
Our approach to teaching is designed to meet the needs of all pupils, including those with lower prior attainment or SEN. We know that we cannot just expect academically rigorous outcomes, we need to explicitly equip pupils to think, read, speak and write in an ambitious and precise way. Knowledge organisers are introduced at the start of each unit and pupils are taught how to engage with and utilise this resource. Regular quizzing through Do Now activities embeds this high-leverage knowledge, particularly as teachers are responsive in planning quiz questions to address gaps. We equip pupils to develop subject-relevant skills through explicit modelling with named steps for key processes. We recognise the importance of literacy teaching within the humanities curriculum and utilise scaffolding such as sentence starters, teaching vocabulary, text-based strategies and age-appropriate structures for writing, all of which empower pupils to express their ideas and demonstrate their skills successfully. Similarly, our enquiry questions enable pupils to think critically and form opinions, and are underpinned by Habits of Discussion which support pupils to engage articulately with real-life problems. In Secondary, our Parallel Histories extra-curricular programme encourages pupils to hone their discussion skills in academic debates with pupils from other schools about interpretation of contentious issues such as the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Impact: how do we know what pupils have learnt and how well they have learnt it?
Within the classroom, teachers continually review pupils’ learning through questioning (written and verbal) and live feedback which enables them to reteach knowledge and skills immediately. In Primary, we use blue and yellow highlighters to give pupils a quick indication of their progress and in secondary we use green pens for self-assessment and revisions.
Formative assessment also takes place outside of the classroom through frequent checkpoints, in line with the Academy marking policy, which take the form of quizzes, writing tasks or exam questions in order to reflect the importance of both knowledge retention (enhanced through repetition and interleaving) and skill practice and development. Teachers assess pupil learning, provide feedback and reteach pupils in order for them to make improvements to their learning. The outcomes of these checkpoint assessments are reviewed by teachers, middle and senior leaders to identify trends and address as necessary. The subject lead and other leaders also review pupils’ books as a source of evidence for pupils learning, to ensure consistency, unit coverage and to inform their understanding of pupil learning. Staff receive feedback after each book review.
All data gathered, both within lessons and outside of lessons, is used to inform future planning. Teachers adapt lessons in many ways, such as through reteach activities, changing Do Now questions to revise key knowledge and to focus on particular skills or parts of skills more frequently.