Aim: To connect the study of events with the study of the individual and to reward academic excellence through The General Gordon Research Prize.
Background: The school was founded in memory of General Gordon. Using artefacts and memorabilia at the school, Year 8 pupils were asked to consider how he should be remembered. Year 9 pupils conducted investigations around Old Boys of the school and their experiences of both the Home Front and the Front Line during WWI.
Year 1: The initial focus was on local history, and a curator from a local museum (the Army Medical Services Museum) was invited into school to help pupils with their investigations into General Gordon. The General Gordon Research Prize was awarded for the best enquiry and this continued over the course of the project.
Year 2: The project was refined to focus on using primary sources and pupil-centred investigation. Year 9 pupils each took the name of an Old Boy and had to research both his life at Gordon’s and his war record. Pupils needed a lot of help and a scaffolding approach was adapted to enable all pupils to produce a worthwhile piece.
Year 3: The Year 9 project was run again and on a Battlefields Trip pupils visited the gravesides of some of those Old Boys studied. This encouraged the pupils to consider the role of history in memorial. For instance, the pupils attended a service at the Menin Gate, on which there are the names of two Old Boys.
Evidence: Enquiries produced, uptake at GCSE.
Impact: The impact of this project can be seen across three areas:
The quality of work — The most able students have been stretched through this valuable opportunity for open-ended study. They have had to consider challenging questions of significance, memorial and using records to conduct their own research.
The profile of the subject across the school — The project has helped pupils decide to study History at GCSE, and numbers have remained high despite the introduction of new subjects as options at the school.
Reward — The General Gordon’s Research Prize has been awarded for the past three years, and is now embedded in the routine of the department. It provides recognition for academic achievement in Year 8, an often overlooked phase in a student’s school career. Each of the previous winners has elected to continue with History at GCSE.
Reflections: Research is not an easy concept to teach, and pupils familiar with ‘project work’ can be reluctant to take risks and produce their own work. It will take time, but I feel that a positive start has been made. We found that local museums were delighted to help, and that local historians had done much of the research for us! As ever, a balance needs to be struck between giving too little and too much to pupils. Fortunately the school has good records of their Old Boys, and so the teacher could tailor how much information was given to the pupil.
Contact: Jacqueline Pierce, Assistant Head Curriculum, firstname.lastname@example.org; James Dunn, Former Head of History, email@example.com