Inside Schools: Amy Bennett, Director of Learning for Humanities and Civilisations at Harris Academy Sutton

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We sat down with Amy Bennett, Director of Learning for Humanities and Civilisations at Harris Academy Sutton to talk about the importance of a diverse curriculum. At Harris Sutton, Amy is leading the new Pearson’s Migrants in Britain module as part of the GCSE History curriculum to help bring more inclusive perspectives and voices in history. 

Amy Bennett is the Director of Learning for Humanities and Civilisations at Harris Academy Sutton. Joined Harris Sutton right at the beginning of 2018, as a history teacher. Harris Sutton has been developing their Key Stage 3 curriculum to ensure it knowledge-driven, inclusive and ambitious, so all our students can benefit from rich history education over the past three years.

"I always knew I wanted to teach, from being a young age and bossing around my sisters and parents! I did some work experience when I was in secondary school that told me I didn’t want to be a primary school teacher, so I started exploring my options. At that point I wasn’t sure which subject I wanted to teach – I just knew I wanted to help children improve their life chances. My own background is in a school with a lot of PP students and people for whom having a good education is genuinely life-changing, and I wanted to contribute to that. This is what ultimately led to me training with Teach First in South London."

Starting at the beginning, can you tell us about your passion for History and where it all originated?

My route to history teacher is not so straightforward. I have always loved history – my Nanna and Grandad used to take us to museums and castles when we were younger, and I was fascinated. However, my own history education wasn’t anything special: it was taught in a very basic, uninteresting way that meant I didn’t even choose it as a GCSE Option. When I went to sixth form however there was a teacher there called Phil – he was so passionate about history and so enthusiastic that I asked if I could still take History A-Level and he said of course! Now, many years later, I have my A-Level, an enthusiasm for stories in history, and a degree. My aim is to make be more like Phil – not like my high school history teacher.

The help I have received from the History Consultant team at Harris has been invaluable. Before joining Harris Sutton, I had worked at another academy in the Federation, and had already forged links with the team to get support in lesson planning and supporting trainee teachers. However, I had much more appreciation for their subject specialism and network meetings when I was in a department by myself. They are so useful to bounce ideas around with, to help with the planning of historical enquiries, and to support with moderation and standardisation of assessments. As the history team at Harris Sutton has grown, it has also been great to provide them with subject specific CPD through the October and February Conference days, and through events provided by the Harris History network.

What can you tell us about the history curriculum and the need for more diverse history exploration?

History curricula have seen huge amounts of thought and debate in the past 5 years or so. As there were changes to the National Curriculum and to the GCSE exams, thoughts turned to what should be included in a history curriculum, what emphasis should be placed on knowledge and skills, and how diverse the curriculum should be. All of these have been in my mind since I began teaching around the same time and are questions that I am constantly asking myself and my team to think about. In the past, the history curriculum has had an unfortunate tendency to fit the “white, male and stale” trope. However, this was something I set out to challenge immediately, as it was this kind of history that had put me off the subject in my own secondary education.

Working alongside the consultants and their vision for a broader curriculum, I set out to be truly representative of our student body at Harris Sutton. This meant including Asian History, African History, the history of Sutton, more European history, and above all making it ambitious. The challenge within our curriculum is something I wanted to emphasise, as we want our students to be able to stand tall with those in the same borough going to grammar and private schools and hold debates and discussions around notable historical events and concepts. With that in mind, we began to map out key ideas, such as ‘democracy’, ‘revolution’, ‘power’ and ‘trade’. These key concepts become the foundation of our Key Stage 3 curriculum.

We also wanted to ensure some of the ‘untold stories’ of the past were included. Students should be able to see themselves represented in any curriculum they are taught, therefore it was vital for us to include enquiries on the Islamic World, Mughal Empire, Medieval African Kingdoms, Russian Revolution, 20th century migration, women in the Industrial Revolution and more. This ensures our students are getting a breadth of knowledge and a diverse experience in their history classroom.

It has very much been an evolving curriculum thus far: each year the history team has reflected on our enquiries, their impact and we have sought student feedback, to ensure the curriculum is as effective as it can be. However, it is very much a labour of love, as we want to ensure our students receive the best curriculum we can offer.

 

Can you talk about Pearson’s Migrants in Britain module and what made you choose to implement this in your GCSE History curriculum from this September?

As soon as Pearson announced their new Migrants in Britain option, I knew we would be teaching it. It very much builds on the work we have been doing at Key Stage 3, as it includes a wide range of case studies and builds knowledge of different migrant groups from around the world. It is providing us the opportunity to tell personal stories and highlight lesser-known communities within Britain, and how they came to be a part of British society.

We are also in the unusual situation of choosing our modules for GCSE without any precedent, as this will be our first GCSE cohort. This means we are able to build the Key Stage 4 curriculum from the ground up, the way we have with our Key Stage 3. This allows us to build in links to other topics, and to work done previously, right from the start. While teaching this new module will be a challenge, it is an exciting one.

 

What has it been like to plan for this new module’s introduction? Are there any specific areas of the module you are most passionate/excited about teaching?

Planning for the module thus far has involved a lot of reading! We don’t have any exam board textbooks yet to help with the planning, but that has been a more liberating experience than I initially thought. This curriculum will be one based on current academic scholarship and rooted in the work of historians as a result.

I am really exciting about teaching about the impact of migrant groups: I am generally a medieval historian, but comparing the impact of Black Tudors to the impact of the Windrush Generation is going to be something that I think our students will really engage with.

 

What do you hope you will accomplish by introducing this exciting new module to your GCSE curriculum?

I really hope that our students come out of this with a more sophisticated knowledge of British society and how it has changed over time. There are many current debates on what it means to be ‘British’, and a module that delves into the migration story of Britain will equip our students with the knowledge to engage with that debate as active participants in society. This, along with the representative and personal stories told, is going to really impact our students in terms of engagement and passion, which in turn will benefit them in the long run. It isn’t just about GCSE grades, it’s about giving them knowledge to allow them to be more fully developed global citizens, and this unit is perfect for that.

As we understand it, you will be blogging your progress and journey, where can we direct any interested readers to hear more about your experience?

The blog will be posted on the Pearson Diversity and Inclusion in History pages, which can be found here: https://www.pearson.com/uk/educators/schools/subject-area/humanities/diversity-and-inclusion/diversity-and-inclusion-in-history.html?utm_source=dandicasestudy&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=GBSEHI1020DIV

 

 

 

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