Explaining the Blair governments in five diagrams

Teaching using the principles of direct instruction, applied by explaining key content through planned diagrams and a central narrative. 

I have felt that my teaching practice relies upon written text to do too much of the ‘heavy lifting’. Within the classroom, I feel like a wasted resource at times, and then one that is being used inefficiently as I tackle a range of questions and deal with any misconceptions that students come up with. One of my more recent attempts to deal with this, in the Government & Politics classroom, was to deliver a lecture on Margaret Thatcher’s premiership. This proved to be an interesting and viable teaching method, for the sixth form. Despite proving an effective teaching tool, some students said that they did struggle to “sit and listen” for such an extended period of time.

Following our case study of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, I needed to teach students about Tony Blair’s governments, their policy impact and to evaluate Blair’s governing style. Whilst doing so, I also wanted to invest students with a more detailed understanding of the principles of cabinet government and the broader electoral environment. I therefore came up with a lesson which I called ‘Blair in Five Diagrams’.

Step one remained rather similar to my ‘pre-lecture’ lesson with Margaret Thatcher. I cut back the amount of information supplied to two very short case studies, drawn from the course textbook, and a range of policies, actions and achievements of the Blair government which students categorised into a table like the one below.

  Strengths Weaknesses
Governing Style    
Policy Impact    


This warmed students up to the main themes of the Blair governments, and I devised five diagrams that I felt would deal with some misconceptions and extend a few key ideas further. The five are suggested below, along with some of the thinking behind them:

  1. Blair and the Use of Sofa Government: Students understanding of the term was a little weak. Students also did not understand the connection between poor government & the Iraq War.
  2. Blair and Brown: Questioning showed students didn’t understand why Brown was able to exercise such power.
  3. Blair and moving power out of Westminster. Students were fixated only on Scotland as an example so I wanted to show power moving to Northern Ireland, Wales, the Bank of England and the People through the Freedom of Information Act.
  4. Blair and John Prescott
  5. Blair, The Centre Ground and a Weak Opposition


For those interested in the specifics of what was drawn and explained, please do get in touch and I shall explain further.

I thought my approach would draw on the strengths of my lecture, by providing a clear narrative around the workings of cabinet government, with some carefully planned explanations. I am grateful for the kind of advice on good board work, and pens, provided by Ben Newmark which I kept in mind. I drew up my planned diagrams with the students, rather than supplying them fully drawn. Whilst doing so, I was carefully explaining my thinking aloud. Pausing after each diagram with a period of planned questioning broke up the learning a little more for students than the lecture had done. It also allowed me to check on students understanding and to use a classroom dialogue to work up knowledge.

I had planned for five diagrams. In the room, it felt like the fourth was unnecessary and the fifth had to be shifted over to the next lesson, due to a lack of time. I felt that the lesson worked really well and I think I’d use the same principles again when explaining key concepts. Some of the strengths and weaknesses of the lesson, as I perceived it, are given below:


Strengths Weaknesses
·         Drawing and explaining the concepts at the same time appeared to help students grasp

·         Questioning within the lesson and after the lesson suggested that this approach was able to draw on vague ideas students already had and to extend it with sufficient detail. The combination of principle (e.g. cabinet government) and the narrative that a real-life example provided seemed to really aid knowledge acquisition.

·         Questioning during the instruction also allowed me to support students in connecting their new knowledge to what they had before through follow up questioning and challenging misconceptions.

·         Students seemed truly engaged, as they had in the lecture. Though this is not a goal in itself, I think planning for a knowledge rich curriculum that students enjoy is. I took the number of questions that students produce in the lesson and after it as evidence of their learning and enthusiasm for the subject matter.

·         This worked far better than attempts at student presentations of Thatcher and Blair’s governments last year! Students writing is invested with far more technical explanations and a wealth of examples. I am going to give myself some credit for this!

·         I wish I had been more precise in telling students how to make notes. There were a variety of approaches and some, I fear, were too busy trying to write everything down than listening. In future, I’ll experiment with ‘pens down’ during the explanation and providing writing time. Twitter’s Thinking Hard has also suggested leaving any note making and written analysis to after the lesson to make the most efficient use of lesson time.

·         Four or five principles are too many to explain in one lesson. One or two would have been far better. I think I knew this in advance, but I had treated this lesson as a ‘proof of concept’.

·         I’m still not confident on the interplay between pre-reading, direct instruction and follow up consolidation. I think this is me being a little ‘loose’ with my instructions and my focus has been skewed towards planning the direct instruction components and resourcing. Now these are in place, the next teaching needs to think about this sequencing with greater precision.

·         It was an intense lesson to deliver. It is built upon developing my questioning technique and in depth subject knowledge. This isn’t necessarily a weakness, but perhaps places an additional limit on how quickly some teachers might be able change their style in this direction or how many lessons that could be delivered in this way.  



Lecturing the sixth form: genuinely useful or an easy way out of planning a lesson?

It seems to me to be going against the grain a little to suggest that ‘just explaining things to students makes the most sense’. Yet his was my conclusion when I was seeking a way to educate my Y12 government and politics students on the finer points of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership. I thought I could break the material up and deliver it in stages over three lessons or worse still, get the students to prepare and deliver presentations and then top these up myself with what students really needed to know. Neither solution has worked well for me in the past. The premierships need to have a clear narrative to them and the content seems best when held together in one lesson. I therefore concluded that a lecture might actually be best, if handled carefully, and might give my students a taste of what their university experience might be like.

I started by giving students a lesson to complete some pre-reading. In hindsight, I think I gave them a little bit too much: a lengthy obituary. I thought this would alert students to the key themes and issues, which I could then pick up and explore in the lecture. I gave them half an hour to read the document, and spent fifteen minutes discussing the key Conservative policies in the 1980s and Thatcher’s governing style, to check they understood. They had a really good grasp of the issues, but there were too many details in the obituary to help them pull out some substantive conclusions. I took this into account when planning my lecture, so this wasn’t a problem, but I’d like them to be able to reduce the information down more effectively next time, so might construct a shorter edit or a shorter summary of my own for students to work from.

Students were given my Powerpoint presentation in skeletal form before the lecture, to annotate with questions and prior knowledge. Many students seemed to have done this in advance, which was great. I was able to produce this framework whilst planning my lecture, which took longer than I had anticipated. I had to think very carefully about the sequencing of material, what to leave in and to skip out and how to ensure that two to three key themes emerged for students to derive some clear reference points about Thatcher’s impact, governing style and how this evolved over time. I was very pleased with the end product but anyone who suggests that Direct Instruction is the lazy teacher’s way out is wrong.

I was feeling confident, and quite excited having taken a trip down memory lane by reviewing my own university notes. I therefore pulled out my trusty Dictaphone and recorded the lecture. Students weren’t too sure what to make of my proposed lecture, until they heard I was doing this. It put them at ease. A tip, should you try to replicate this, is to stop the recording at the end of each ‘chapter’ in your lecture. I then named the files and students can then easily find parts of the lecture to re-listen to at a later date; I made my recordings available by Google Classroom. Many students took a lot of notes. Others simply listened, and later produced the notes which they showed me. I suggested either approach was fine, but they should focus on the key points that were relevant to the specification. Although the lecture was in a computer room, I forbid the use of computers for fear students would try to write down everything I said, without truly listening to it.

I then set them some additional reading before delivering a seminar. I gave them the text of Geoffrey Howe’s resignation speech and some choice pages from David Child’s post-war history. I don’t know what these added, to be honest. I merely recommended to students to read the pages but I didn’t check that they did. I will look into this a little more when I see them next! My seminar questions were not planned to draw on this reading, and I didn’t search out any specific or unique references to the reading in my follow-up questions. It just didn’t seem necessary.

To provide an authentic university experience, and to check students learnt anything from the lecture, I delivered a series of short seminars. I split my group of eighteen into three, and spent fifteen minutes with each group, asking some searching questions. I started by asking about their general impressions and then drilled down with increasingly specific questions. I was extremely impressed by students command of the details and ability to switch between valid generalisations and discussing the finer points of Thatcher’s premiership, e.g. characterising her cabinet style as one that changed, and then explaining the Westland affair in depth. While each ‘mini-group’ was in a seminar, the rest of the set were compiling their notes into a list of advantages and disadvantages of her premiership and preparing some low-stakes tests for me to use later on the subject!

I would thoroughly recommend giving this a go with the sixth form, where the students have a strong interest in the subject, and a particular body of knowledge is best delivered in one unit. I’m not sure it would have been successful without the prior reading, and I think students really do need access to the lecture later on. I’d be keen to hear from anybody else who tries this out, and willing to share the sparse resources I’ve used if people get in touch.

There is no joy!

Football management and classroom teaching are exactly the same. Well, sort of. I recently read Jonathan Wilson’s new book The Barcelona Legacy, in which the contributions of Johan Cruyff and Jose Mourinho are discussed, among other subjects are discussed. The book as a whole serves to set out the difference between the likes of Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho. On the one hand, Mourinho spends very little time on gym work and prefers to set out a structure, a formation, and get players to learn set patterns of play. Meanwhile, Guardiola, the purest disciple of Cruyff, focuses on ‘automation.’ The players are encouraged to develop the tools to rapidly deal with any situation that presents itself on the pitch. This is an extension of Cruyff’s philosophy of knowing the instinctive reaction of the opponent, and to use that knowledge to your own advantage. The value of this to teaching struck me when I learned what lay at the core of Cruyff’s entire belief system: if you focus on results, when they stop coming, what are you left with? Instead, one must focus on a style, on the approach. Not only is there something durable, that will outlast any individual result, but the results will probably take care of themselves.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this. What happens when we focus on learning responses to predictable examination questions. It is dry. It is boring. Perhaps it breeds dissent among the players. Sorry, students. Can we even predict what we will come up against anyway? The new examination specifications cover a far larger domain on knowledge, and in my two subjects of history and politics, value more connections than one could ever plan to make. Pep has it right. If we focus on the principles of our subject, and bring them to life with disciplinary knowledge, students will enjoy themselves. They’ll be left with something that they can manipulate to fit any exam question that they are presented with, and they’ll be able to do so with confidence. Most importantly, they’ll be left with something that far outlives the examination result: lasting knowledge. Teaching students how to apply knowledge in a set pattern seems likely to preclude transfer. Teaching should focus on the tools that are necessary to allow students to acquire knowledge, deploy knowledge and connect it to what they already know. With a solid foundation of skills, or historical knowledge with all the skills and ‘facts’ that might entail, they’ll have what they need.

There is a philosophical argument here against teaching to the test, apart from the fact, it doesn’t really work (see Christodoulou’s fantastic Making Good Progress). I become enormously frustrated at arguments surrounding “they don’t need to know that for the exam”, or “the question won’t be that, so why bother?” Such arguments seem to place zero value on the years of students’ lives invested in a particular subject, or the thousands of pounds of taxpayer money spent on developing those people to be useful and knowledgeable in the days and years after an exam. We don’t care what happens on the day, quite so much as the person left standing at the end. The exam is an indication of that, but as an end in itself, quite pointless.


Christodoulou is far better at explaining the issues with teaching to the test in this detailed post here on her blog, or in this quick and easy to read TES article.


In the unlikely event that a football manager or commissioning editor for TV documentaries read this, get in touch to hear my full pitch for an amusing series where I trade places with a football manager and apply the principles of teaching. I’m happy to manage at a non-league level, but swapping with Jurgen Klopp seems best. He’d deliver a cracking assembly, I’m sure, and no doubt achieve admirable examination results.

How can we change our teaching habits?

Changing how we teach is incredibly difficult. Making any change can be challenging, but it is particularly so in teaching when the lessons keep on coming, and the to do list keeps on expanding. It is therefore vital that we set aside some time to refine our practice and think deliberately about what we wish to change. Time is not something easy for us to come by, but it is worthwhile if we are to change some of our habits to work more efficiently. I have espoused this principle before, on my blog, but I really feel like I am living it this term. I am in a near permanent state of not feeling comfortable. The way I am doing things no longer feels automatic, but more deliberate. Arranging my ‘to do’ list, as I habitually do on a sticky note, is no longer a quick and easy task. Despite this unease, I feel like my teaching is improving and that my deliberate and carefully thought through changes are making a difference. I hope that this post might serve as to generate a few ideas on how our practice can change and how to try to go about it.


Here are some of my developing habits:

  1. I am deliberately setting aside some time to review existing lessons that are easily “sufficient” or “good enough”, but are they as good as they could be?
  2. I am not marking anything for the sake of it, something I vowed not to do, among a number of other tasks which are poor uses of time.
  3. I am trying to plan for more explicit instruction of challenging concepts, inspired by Harry Fletcher-Wood’s Responsive Teaching.

How I have attempted to change my working habits:  

  1. Careful planning of time. I am not allowing myself to return to tasks once they are missed. This has made me value the time I get to develop my subject knowledge or review my lessons and prevented me from getting sucked into emails as they appear in my inbox or non-urgent student enquiries. It is counter-intuitive. I thought rapid responses made me look caring and more organised. It can be difficult to ignore non-urgent enquiries, but I have learned to stick to the plan and value what really makes a difference, rather than valuing appearances.
  2. A clear set of priorities and objectives. I have drawn up a list of priorities for my department and my own teaching practice. This allows me to plan concrete tasks to improve in the time that I am routinely setting aside to do so.
  3. Critical evaluation of the changes I’m making. This is breeding confidence. Take for example my decision to put less ink on the page of my students’ work. I have been using questioning to see how far students’ have understood my feedback, and how they intend to implement it in their next piece of writing. So far this has suggested that modelling and comparing their work against exemplar material and integrating it with whole class feedback is effective. I will, obviously, need to continue to monitor this to ensure that it is paying off in students’ work. Setting aside a few minutes at the end of the day to take stock of the changes I’ve made, has left me feeling confident that I’m better able to explain concepts to students.
  4. Prioritising which classes to experiment with new techniques. I have tried to be more explicit in my teaching of concepts and found it has worked very well. However, even with effective time management, I found that I still could not identify where I wanted to offer more detailed explanations or plan ‘back up’ methods of explicit introduction, of the sort identified by Harry Fletcher-Wood and that I wanted to in my recent review of his book. I have started to triage which lessons I will review and identify which ones to invest some time into. This has started to take a pattern of my Y11 lessons and Y8. I think concentrating on these will allow me to more deliberately refine my technique and instruction techniques before this becomes a more consistent feature of all my teaching. I think this will be important. Making a change badly, which is how it started by running out of time and not feeling like I was managing the change, made for some unenjoyable lessons and it was very difficult to evaluate what was working and what wasn’t in my practice.
    I’d always recommend trying things out with a small number of classes or year groups before rolling out changes more widely.

Becoming a responsive teacher: three key lessons from Fletcher-Wood’s ‘Responsive Teaching’

I have written in the past about how I have tried to change my habits as a teacher. I am keen to set out some time to reflect on Harry Fletcher-Wood’s excellent Responsive Teaching, and select some priorities on how I will improve my practice as a teacher and head of department. One of the real strengths of Harry’s book is the clear focus on how teachers can go about implementing the principles he advocates. This is done through a chapter by chapter checklist and more structured guidance on how teachers and leaders at different stages of their career might embark on the process of developing responsive teaching.

I would consider myself a reasonably effective practitioner, but good quality formative assessment sits at the heart of good teaching, and is something I still need to work on. I believe I can teach good quality lessons, and I’ve made some dramatic changes to my formative and summative assessment practices. I could still be much sharper in ensuring that my lessons hang together effectively and that my curriculum as a whole works for every student. It is with this in mind that I have selected three key lessons from Harry’s book, to focus on, for the winter term at least. I will follow each up with a more detailed blogpost, explaining how I have got on and providing some additional tips for other teachers looking to become (more) responsive teachers!

Lesson One: Planning Threshold Concepts

Harry defines threshold concepts as:

  • “Troublesome: difficult to understand
  • Transformative: of a student’s perspective.
  • Irreversible: once learned, they are hard to unlearn
  • Integrative: they show how different ideas are related.
  • Bounded: there are limits to the insight they offer”

I believe that I have improved in specifying what historical knowledge I would like my students to learn. I then assess this, within lessons, in a rather vague and varied fashion. Whilst generating knowledge organisers and the content I’d like to include within my historical enquiries, I still differentiate by outcome, perhaps too much. I will cast feelers out for what students have learned, and I have an intuitive sense of whether I’m happy or not. I think this is too vague. I’d like to be a bit more precise about what I would like to see all students master before I progress the learning on. In this way, I can ensure that my sequences of lessons build upon each other effectively. My current practice lends itself to this well. But I’m worried that my focus is skewed towards more simplistic definitions of knowledge. I need to drill down and identify the threshold concepts in my teaching, and assess these in lessons. I’ll use Harry’s guidance on exit tickets and multiple-choice questions to help me here.

Lesson Two: Rather than planning knowledge, we also need to plan pedagogical content knowledge

I am satisfied that my students are presented with a lot of history, in all three key stages. I have never been concerned that my lessons do not look particularly “fun.” Indeed a collection of senior leaders, head teachers and executive head teachers who observed one of my lessons suggested that the brilliance of my lesson was its very ordinariness. The typical structure of a Valentine lesson involves:

  1. The presentation of some text, including the key knowledge and events I would like students to know.
  2. Some activity involving the processing of this text, by transforming it into a different format.
  3. Some stretching and searching questions based upon the text to probe for understanding.
  4. Applying the knowledge to answer a historical question.


I’d welcome feedback on this approach, but I’m quite confident that the principles of an individual lesson are there. However, Harry has made me think that I rely too much on the text to do the heavy-lifting and the instruction. I also rely on questioning and tasks to demonstrate students’ understanding, but I can’t check knowledge for every student. In conjunction with refining my formative processes and the hinge-concepts, I’d like to plan in advance to check every student gets the concept I want, and to better consider:


“which images, examples, diagrams, graphs, stories, experiments, analogies are necessary to communicate a concept? In which form is the idea best represented? The best responsive teachers have a number of options planned in advance, to select the best to use ‘in the field’ or to switch to an alternative should one not work effectively in practise.”

Lesson Three: “Plan for horizon knowledge”

I remain realistic that students will not remember all of the precise knowledge that we grant them. I was gripped by Counsell’s differentiation between “fingertip knowledge” and the “residual knowledge” that students are left with over time. I want to drill down and learn a little bit more about what residual knowledge my students are left with, long after their lessons, and be a little bit more precise about what knowledge I want students to retain in the long-run. With this in mind, I can be far more precise in reviewing and recalling the knowledge from previous units of learning and structuring the assembly of a big picture overview of the past. This might also involve thinking a bit more about “foreshadowing”, and being more precise in arranging the connections between the lessons I am teaching this week and those I wish to teach in the future. Again, any reflections on how this process can best be facilitated are most welcome!

What will I stop doing this year

This time of year usually sees a volume of aspirational blogs and Tweets about how teachers and leaders will improve in the next academic year. I have written such material in the past too. This year I thought it would be better to focus on what I will not do this year. I believe that doing less will make me better, or at the very least release time to do more of what matters. I’d encourage all teachers to think in a similar way, rather than bringing further pressure upon themselves by committing to doing more. Pledge to do things differently, instead.

  1. Mark books because “it has been a while.”

    I am guilty of doing this. I would like to think that my formative assessment is quite effective. Providing feedback is a complex process, which can take many forms. It is rare that effective feedback can be characterised by taking in a class set of books and writing all over students work. I do this, in spite of the fact that I have my finger on the pulse and can be reasonably confident what my students can and cannot do and plan my teaching accordingly. I think there is a ‘fear’ factor, that a lay observer might pick up my books and be horrified that there simply is not enough ink on the page. I know that’s not how it works. My students know that too, I think. My senior leadership team know it. I shall safely stop taking in exercise books without reason, and focus on providing the feedback I deem my students need, when it is best given, in the format I consider to be most effective.

  2. Write in full sentences on assessments

    This is quite similar to my first point. I have done a lot of work in my school, leading an assessment working group, in separating out formative and summative assessments. Next year I will be clearer with my students about the difference. With the reforms my school is making to the assessment reporting cycle (fewer data entry points, which will be based upon cumulative judgements on students’ knowledge), I will be clear about what a summative assessment is with students and its purpose. It is extremely rare that a student will provide a unique response. Most students’ errors in summative assessments can sorted into a handful of groups. I can scribble some thoughts on a post-it note for a whole class, and focus on effective moderation. At present, I mark a few assessments, moderate them endlessly, or put them through a process of comparative judgement, and then write all over them. This last step adds nothing, but takes away a lot of my time.

  3. Hold meetings because they have been scheduled on the school calendar

    Meetings are usually held because they’re scheduled on the school calendar, irrespective of when they’re really needed. In my experience, colleagues fill up the time discussing administrative issues that could be far more efficiently dealt with through emails or very brief chats. This is an extremely inefficient use of colleagues’ valuable time. Meetings that I hold, as a head of department, will have a singular focus on making us better teachers. This will involve discussing students’ work and collaborating on how to teach specific aspects of the government and politics course better. If I have to take up colleagues’ time, I am going to make sure they find it useful and leave a better teacher than they arrived.

  4. Ignore the important because of the urgent.
    Urgent tasks are usually those that have been put upon us by somebody else. It is rare that I leave something I consider important until the last minute, anyway. To ensure that the important still gets done, I will carefully plan my time this year, planning my use of PPA slots and so-called ‘gained time’ to work on planning and my strategic goals for the year. Urgent tasks that threaten important priorities will be dealt with by way of:

    – Negotiating an extended deadline;
    – Explaining the consequences of my meeting a freshly imposed tight deadline.
    – Seeing whether the task is closely monitored. If it isn’t, it is unlikely to have been that important, and some de facto extension on getting it done might become possible.

    These potential solutions are ripped off from Harry Fletcher-Wood’s magnificent Responsive Teaching.

  5. Use the mornings to finish off yesterday’s trivial tasks

    I like to arrive in school very early in the morning and leave early in the afternoon. Apart from anything else, this beats the traffic. I am most productive between the hours of 7am and 8am. I fall off a productivity cliff pretty quickly after that (that’s a bit of hyperbole, but I know I am far less productive after lunch). It is great that I am aware of this. However, this last year I’ve found myself spending this golden hour of productivity finishing off tasks from the previous day’s to-do list. If these tasks weren’t important enough to do yesterday, why should I do them today? I shall continue to triage each day’s to-do list and call time when I’ve had enough in the evening. What doesn’t get done, can get written off. I can’t imagine anyone noticing. I’ll see how this plays out.

  6. Make exit-tickets out of paper, on the fly.
    I’ll write more about this in my next blog post. I like exit-tickets, a belief that has been reinforced by the aforementioned book Responsive Teaching. On too many occasions, I’m ripping up lined paper in a haphazard fashion, to collect in from students. The tatty look, I suspect, translates into students treating the task far too cursorily. In future, I will make use of checklists for my lessons. I will walk in with a clearer sense of what evidence I will extract from students, and how. Exit-tickets will be designed in advance, with a clear structure to elicit better evidence.

  7. Spend my PPA slots drinking tea and procrastinating wildly.
    Or will I… this one is healthy. Up to a point.

    If a PPA slot spent idly drinking tea, listening to the radio or reading a book makes me happier, and approach my lessons with more energy, is this such a problem? I’m also proud of the relationships I have established with colleagues in support roles, or teachers who work outside of my own building. If I lose a little PPA time in conversation with these people, that isn’t necessarily time spent badly. I just need to be aware of the cost and ensure that such PPA time isn’t lost too often. This was a problem for me in the middle of year. At least I recognised it, set myself some strategic goals, and worked with incredible focus during the ‘gained time period’ after my exam classes had left.

Are we too confident that we’ve got the teaching of Peterloo right?

Billy Bragg suggested that history teachers have something of a ‘top down’ approach to history, that has not celebrated the actions of the ordinary people, that we might typically characterise as ‘bottom up’ history. In less than 280 characters, Bragg quickly exposed an interesting side to the online history teaching community. Some of the responses to Bragg worried me. My personal reflection, after Bragg’s tweet, was ‘do I need to give this more prominence?’ I wonder how many others reflected in the same way. I fear not very many, and that’s a problem.

Greg Jenner had perhaps the most thoughtful ‘thread’ on Twitter. Jenner reminded his more general audience that school history has finite time, and the national broadcasters (BBC and Channel Four) cannot be relied upon to ‘top up’ school history with interesting documentaries, given the rise of online streaming services. Ultimately, Jenner suggests that there is no right way to teach school history, and that it involves a series of choices. For every minute spent on Peterloo, is a minute less spent on something else. It is important that we stand back from our history curriculum and ensure that we’ve laid the right foundations, the right ‘broad brushes’ of the past have been covered. This is not to suggest that ‘any content will do’, it is important that working class protest and organisation is covered, in some form, of the curriculum. Has this trend, which could be demonstrated by all manner of historical events and phenomena, been covered in some form?

How much of this professional theorising took place? The response among the history teachers I have seen on Twitter, where this debate seems to have been concentrated in recent days, can be divided into two camps.

  • You’re wrong, Mr Bragg. Michaela’s Head of Humanities, Michael Taylor, suggests that Peterloo features prominently in the new GCSE specifications, ensuring that his audience were reminded that this was at the instigation of the coalition government. The respected Dale Banham adds to this, suggesting that the teachers he knows situate Peterloo within a strong offering of dissent and protest. Paula Lobo even tweeted a very interesting scheme of work, demonstrating where Peterloo features in her teaching of revolution and protest.

    It is with good grace that Mr Bragg acknowledged that he had “not done his homework” on the teaching of Peterloo.

    Yet I was a little uneasy at how satisfied many were with their teaching. I much preferred the second group of responses, from:

  • Those asking searching questions. I must confess that I preferred Jason Todd’s approach. He asked whether his Twitter colleagues taught Peterloo, “if so, when and how”. I wonder whether teachers such as Taylor, cited above, ought to have asked themselves this very question. Is Taylor satisfied that Peterloo appears only in his GCSE, beyond compulsory history education? There is no right answer to that question, but I do hope this question has been asked. I’m sure it has been, but that simply wasn’t the tone of discussion on Twitter. Others raised questions of what else might have to give way, that is critically under-discussed in school history.


I was a little concerned about the tone of the responses. The second group of teachers, mentioned above, asking questions about Peterloo and its role/place/importance within the history curriculum is characteristic of the history teaching community. Those defensively guarding their practice and quite firmly rebutting Mr Bragg suggested a sense of accomplishment with their history curriculum. Some responses were somewhat political in their outlook, ironic given history teachers’ traditional contempt for political influence on the curriculum.


What I’d really like to ask, is not ‘who teaches it?’ but who has a grasp of this country’s tradition of protest and how many can situate Peterloo within such a history, aged eighteen? Aged thirty? Only then can we sit back with a sense of accomplishment, or reflect on what we might need to do differently.