Raising teaching standards

Ofsted inspectors observing a lesson at Royal Wootton Bassett Academy reported: “The engagement of students, their understanding and empathy is quite unique – a truly holistic and powerful learning experience. It is hard to judge against various criteria as we have never seen anything quite like this. Extraordinary.”

“The course was broken down so well and the resources and learning aims are all genuinely applicable to students’ learning and staff really appreciate that.”

History teacher, Kent

The Department for Education’s Teachers’ Standards outlines the range of skills an effective teacher needs, from being able to set high expectations through to being able to demonstrate good subject knowledge. The Centre’s CPD helps teachers improve their ability to meet and exceed each of these important standards.

1. Set high expectations which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils

Our lesson plans encourage teachers to embrace complexity and genuinely stretch students’ engagement with source materials. Many teachers report the highest levels of engagement from students that they have ever experienced.

“Engagement has increased and pupils are challenged more. Participation in lessons has improved…and pupils are much more on task as they are required to think more… The fact that they are interested means they don’t mind concentrating on the work and getting involved in discussions.” History teacher, Sheffield

“Made them think and question. They were gripped by the shoe lesson, Ordinary Things, and behaviour was really good.” History and RE teacher, Pupil Referral Unit, Birmingham

“They have been more engaged, enthusiastic and… moved by the materials. I sensed a passion with some of them when doing the activities.” Citizenship teacher, Lancaster

2. Promote good progress and outcomes by pupils

Students are encouraged to take greater responsibility for their own work and study. The Centre’s lessons demand that they make their own connections, encouraging them to develop their own thinking around the topics presented, leading to much deeper thought processes.

“Our Scheme of Work was rewritten based around the Centre’s resources… This new approach has had a very powerful impact with our children… a spectacular response! Despite some of our children perhaps not being so able, everybody tried very hard to do a really good piece of writing. This was possible because of the materials which meant that they were able to understand – conceptually – what the Holocaust was about. And that meant that they could therefore write something with a degree of confidence.” Assistant Head, London

“The learning is evident to anyone who sees the lesson or speaks to a student about these issues. It is an experience of what education should be.” Humanities teacher, Royal Wootton Bassett

3. Demonstrate good subject and curriculum knowledge

We place a great deal of emphasis on subject knowledge. Our CPD courses utilise the same lesson materials that can be used in the classroom, giving teachers the chance to develop and add detail to their understanding of this central event in modern history.

All our lessons focus on original source materials and historical case studies, encouraging students to develop the ability to question and to explore the nature and meaning of individual pieces evidence, as well as the connections between them.

“I think this consolidates for me a career’s thinking about teaching Nazi Germany.” History teacher, Leeds

“The CPD programme was very useful for me to gain confidence in teaching this topic, that there are key points that must be understood and knowledge students need – such as defining the Holocaust, key dates and people – but also that students should be encouraged to question and, within limits, to make their own judgements.” History teacher, Kent

“I have more confidence in challenging perceptions… I am more comfortable allowing the complexities arise in class discussions.” RE teacher, Aintree

4. Plan and teach well structured lessons

Understanding both what should be taught and why we are teaching it enables teachers to develop more reflective practice.

“Before the CPD I don’t think we had a clear rationale in our minds about what we were trying to get the students to learn. This year we have a very clear idea of what we’re teaching and why we’re teaching it.” Head of Humanities, Southampton

Teachers who have attended the CPD report that it clarifies their thinking and understanding:

“I want to really focus on the human stories behind the Holocaust. Some teachers, in my school included, sometimes focus on a sterile portrayal of statistics and industrialism without remembering the human cost.”

“Having recently taught Year 9 a short series of lessons at the end of the summer term, I realised how random and ad hoc our approach was. This seminar has reinforced the need to create a framework of specific lessons with specific aims.”

The Centre’s thoughtfully designed lessons increase engagement in the classroom, promoting the love of learning and intellectual curiosity. Our lessons are often rated by teachers as amongst the most engaging they have ever experienced, for example one commented that her students ranked their Holocaust lessons as “the most memorable study they had done and the one that had the biggest impact on them emotionally and intellectually.”

5. Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils

Each one of our lesson plans includes a section to support teachers in thinking through the needs of individual students. But it does so without over-simplification, providing access to higher level thinking for all students, who are simultaneously challenged and engaged by the lessons.

A teacher of excluded pupils who have experienced emotional difficulties writes:

Authentic Encounters is a very powerful resource. It opened the door to an understanding of the Holocaust for a cohort who struggle with emotional literacy. My anxiety over the ability of my learners to cope with the resource almost prevented me from using it. My message to fellow educators is: take the risk. It opens doors!”

The Centre’s materials utilise archival photographs, documents and a range of audiovisual materials, along with classroom-based tasks and activities, enabling teachers to support a wide range of student needs and learning styles.

6. Make accurate and productive use of assessment

Research indicates that many teachers are hesitant to assess learning about the Holocaust in traditional ways. A finding that emerged from our teacher research is that often the Holocaust is framed in terms of ‘universal lessons’, divorced from any specific historical context. It may be that approaches to the Holocaust that have broad, overarching objectives such as ‘tackling racism’ or ‘encouraging respect for diversity’ prove rather harder to measure students’ learning than those with more distinct, subject-specific teaching aims.

Our approach considers that deeper knowledge and understanding are essential if young people are to draw meaningful conclusions about the past. Assessment that is focused on more complex and nuanced understandings also ensures that lessons are structured in ways that support student progression. The outcome of such learning then allows young people to think in more powerful ways about the continuing significance and relevance of the Holocaust today.

A key focus of our current work with the UCL Beacon Schools and in our Masters module is concerned with clarifying teaching aims; exploring which pedagogical approaches and learning materials can achieve these aims; planning for progression across a coherent series of lessons; and considering how young people’s learning can be assessed in ways that measure whether the teaching aims have been met.

7. Manage behaviour effectively to ensure a good and safe learning environment

While classroom management is not a key focus of our CPD, we have found a strong correlation between student interest and engagement and their behaviour in the classroom. Our pedagogy takes a strongly learner-centred approach – not by replacing the teacher with self-directed ‘activities’ (quite the contrary – we argue for restoring the role of the teacher to the educational process), but rather by taking the questions and issues raised by young people seriously; encouraging them to explore these questions and construct their own meanings; and being genuinely interested in their conclusions, which might well differ from our own.

Too often the emotional power of the Holocaust is used as an opportunity to press a particular social, moral or political agenda. By contrast, we are careful not to use the Holocaust to manipulate young people; we refuse to impose our own ‘lessons’ on the past but rather engage young people in a continuing search for meaning. This respect for the student – that their views are taken seriously – helps to promote a good and safe learning environment.

Further, we suggest that what is sometimes perceived as ‘bad behaviour’ – young people making inappropriate remarks or even laughing as the horrors of the past are revealed to them – can result from the use of horrific images and texts designed to shock them into a reaction. Inappropriate behaviour can be the result of stress at encountering this emotionally-challenging subject. Consequently, we do not use shock tactics nor do we bombard students with atrocity images, but rather we take care to support young people in the development of their emotional literacy.

8. Fulfil wider professional responsibilities

Teachers who attend our CPD enhance their professional development. They regularly report improved teaching capabilities and feel that they are making a contribution to the life of the school. Many of the pedagogical approaches developed during the programme can be applied to other topics and subject areas.

Our advanced programmes, Masters module and the UCL Beacon Schools programme offer opportunities to develop leadership skills and encourage deep reflection not only on how to teach about the Holocaust but also on the purpose and aims of school education and what it can achieve.

“An amazing experience. It will definitely change my practice.” English teacher, Herefordshire

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“The absolute best CPD programme I have encountered in nine years. It is so useful to have a research based, academically rigorous programme combined with practical approaches to learning in the classroom.”

Head of Humanities, Oxfordshire