Sir John Lawes is an 11-18 mixed comprehensive academy


To create a sense of excitement about History, to develop the skills required in an engaging way and build cross-curricular links to show students that skills are transferrable. Ultimately to increase take-up at GCSE.


The school is one of the best performing schools in the country. However the uptake of History at GCSE was inconsistent falling from 72 students in 2016 to 56 students in 2017. The amount of knowledge and skills to learn and apply was deterring students from being excited about the subject, and a student voice survey found that History was considered to be “too hard”.


Year 1: 

Learning walks helped the department see what engagement looked like across the school, and it was found that students are motivated by a variety of challenging activities, high expectations and being trained to take responsibility for their own learning.

Year 8 became the focus group. Activities from Russel Tarr’s The History Teaching Toolbox were used to introduce active learning into lessons and to generate an enthusiasm for History. Extracurricular activities were created for each unit of work e.g. the History Club Time Capsule and the Never Such Innocence poetry competition, a link with the English department.

Years 2 &3: 

Following the success of Year 1, the same year group, now Year 9, continued to be the focus; uptake in Year 9 increased by 23% with 104 students opting for History enrichment. The following projects were carried out:

  • Passchendaele at Home, funded by the Big Ideas Company
  • History Matters, the University of Chicester, Film makers competition
  • Young Historian Award, the Historical Association
  • A History Calendar with monthly challenges


Student voice, learning walks,


Participation in History activities and competitions was increased, e.g. there were 200 responses from all Key Stage 3 groups for the national poetry competition. Artwork from the Battlefields tour was displayed around the school and students asked for more opportunities to explore WWI.

In Years 2 and 3 community links were established with Harpenden library, who showcased the school’s History work. 100% of students who participated in the projects felt it was valuable and increased their enjoyment of History. Participation in the History Matters Filmmakers competition was difficult to achieve due to time constraints, but the work submitted was phenomenal and generated both History and Media skills. The take up of GCSE History increased from 58 (2017) to 82 (2018) students.


The competition element and the choice of activity outside lessons really engaged students. Cross curricular links with English were valuable and I want to involve MFL too in the future to show students how languages are useful for accessing sources. I would like students to promote and celebrate their History activities across the school themselves e.g. in assemblies, using Twitter and school newsletters. Some students need more guidance than others and there is still a need to build resilience and focus on independent learning.


Sarah Gillen,