At Wellesley we have three main aims in teaching history:
- to stimulate and maintain children’s curiosity, interest and enjoyment in history
- to cultivate in pupils a sense of the past, a knowledge of events and their causes and effects
- to encourage pupils to have open, enquiring minds and thereby provide a sound basis for lifelong study and the pursuit of personal interest.
In Year 3, pupils are introduced to the understanding of chronology in history before moving on to study the history around us. This may include work on the story of Thanet or early invaders, offering the possibility of visits to Canterbury, Dover Castle or St Augustine’s Cross. We recognise the importance of storytelling in history and in the summer term pupils are given the opportunity to study some of the well-known stories from history through the ages such as the life of Florence Nightingale and the Great Fire of London.
The aim in Year 4 is to investigate both a world topic and a European one. In the first term, pupils study Ancient Egypt including pharaohs, pyramids, religion and medicine. Ancient Greece is the European study and this includes Greek cities and architecture, life and work, Greek gods and temples. Finally, pupils move on to the Ancient Britons, looking at Celtic life: tribes, homes, hill forts, warriors and religion.
We believe strongly that for children to have a real understanding of history, the subject needs to be taught chronologically. Each year at school, therefore, provides the building bricks for the next so that by the time the children reach Year 8 the notion of cause and effect is clear and they have developed a sound understanding of history.
In the Middle and Senior Schools our chronological study takes us from the arrival of the Romans to the end of Stuart Britain. Year 5 pupils look at the invaders, Romans, Saxons and Vikings, and their influence on English life. Pupils understand from an early age that history has many turning points and one of those, 1066 and the Norman Conquest begins Year 6. Pupils study important developments in the medieval period during the year that increase their understanding of cause and effect such as the murder of Thomas Becket and the power struggle between church and crown, Magna Carta and the development of parliament, and the Black Death and the Peasants’ Revolt.
In Year 7 pupils begin preparation for Common Entrance and for this we study the Making of the United Kingdom 1485-1750. The work becomes more detailed and the pace is therefore slowed. Having studied the importance of religion in the Middle Ages, the children are well prepared to understand the significance of the Reformation and its consequences in the 16th century.
Religion plays a major role in our study, reflecting its importance in everyday life at the time, including topics such as the Break with Rome, the Marian Persecution and the Spanish Armada. We begin to look more closely into source material in Year 7 and critical thinking is encouraged to question the provenance and purpose of historical information.
The importance of studying this period of history in Years 7 and 8 is that it helps to answer three essential questions that children need to know:
- how was the Church of England established?
- why does Parliament play a greater role than the monarch in running the country?
- how was the United Kingdom created?
The first of these questions is covered in Year 7 and the last two are dealt with in Year 8 when we look at the English Civil War and later the reasons behind the Act of Union of 1707. Those pupils taking scholarships study some of the same topics as the Common Entrance candidates but their brief is far wider and can therefore include areas of history outside the Common Entrance syllabus such as developments during the Industrial Revolution, and questions such as ‘How glorious was the Glorious Revolution?’, and ‘How can we ever learn the truth in history?’
To complement the teaching, various trips take place during the year to enhance the children’s historical understanding and in recent years these have included visits to the Imperial War Museum, the National Gallery, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Museum of London, and the National Maritime Museum and Royal Naval College at Greenwich.