Teaching the fight for rights in KS3 History

Creating inclusive History curriculum blog author thumbnail image

Aaron Wilkes (AW), Alex Fairlamb (AF), Becky Carter (BC), Dan Lyndon-Cohen (DLC) and Josh Preye Garry (JPG) discuss how effective teaching of case studies on the fights for Women’s Rights, Disability Rights, Black Civil Rights and LGBTQ+ Rights can enrich your Key Stage 3 curriculum.

This blog post is based on their conversation for the Oxford Education Podcast. You can listen to the episode in full here.

Why should schools make space for studying the fights for Women’s Rights, Disability Rights, Black Civil Rights and LGBTQ+ Rights in their KS3 curriculum?

DLC: Whether it’s the extension of the franchise, or the ability to marry a partner of your choice, or express yourself in the way that that feels comfortable to you, being able to acknowledge that there are communities in our past who have had to deal with obvious examples of prejudice and discrimination, and actually focusing on the ways in which those communities have come through that struggle and have used resilience and resistance in multiple different forms – that is going to have a massive universal benefit. For our students to be able to understand the way in which those struggles have been fought, not always won – it’s not a linear progress through these kind of challenges – but for students to see those stories is very inspiring and hopefully people will tap into those stories and connect with them and might be able to see themselves reflected.

AW: As classroom practitioners, we know that students benefit from seeing their identities represented in course content. Modern classrooms are diverse places, societies are diverse places, and the curriculum should reflect that.

JPG: I think one of the reasons that I’ve found really important is to allow students to answer the question: What does history do for us right now? Why is it important? Sometimes we can be teaching units or topics which are incredibly interesting, but our students are still asking themselves that question.

We’re currently teaching one of the Fight for Rights units, on female suffrage, and we’ve lifted one of the inquiry questions to focus on what the suffrage movement means in the 21st century. We looked at the girl riots and the Spice Girls, and it allowed us to ask important questions about discrimination. There was an interpretation that we looked at where a female was made redundant as a result of her gender and it sparked massive debate within the classroom and allowed us to open up conversations and touch on some current social media influencers and to challenge them. But it also got the students to understand that this is why it’s important and that the fight that women started in the 20th century has resonance today. It allows students to make sense of the purpose of History right now for them in their lives. 

BC:A lot of the work that I ended up writing, I started looking at from scratch, and all of it was really eye-opening. I was like: I don’t know any of this history, and this is history that my mum lived through. It’s not that long ago, but there’s so much I had no idea about – examples of people protesting and in a really innovative way. 

I felt the same writing about HIV and AIDS and realising that so much of modern-day homophobia is related to things that happened in the eighties, and the HIV and AIDS crisis. Understanding what went on in the 1980s with the LGBT community explains a lot of stuff that’s going on today. 

What’s exciting about the KS3 History Depth Study: Fight for Rights?

AF: There’s a very common shared understanding in the History community that diversification is an important thing that we need to be working on collectively and within our own contexts. 

So, the ‘why’ has been long established, but I think the stumbling block for many has been the ‘how’. What might that look like within my school and within my curriculum? School is a busy ecosystem. There are many different competing priorities. There are so many diverse stories out there that it can be hard to justify which stories to include and not include. Oxford’s Depth Studies are a really powerful way to help shape and develop your curriculum in an accessible way, from the vast ocean of different stories that you could include. 

BC: I think what was really important with what we wrote was students being able to see themselves in the curriculum and that’s true for the entire book. We get Year 9s to write about a group of their choice and how their fight for rights has changed over time. It’s so lovely covering that information because the students choose different groups each time. I remember sitting there with a stack of thirty assessments and there’s a real mix. Some of them have chosen to write about a group that resonates with them. Some of them have chosen to write about a group that resonates with one of their friends, or they might not find one of those groups that they particularly fit with, but they think, well, actually I’m really interested in this particular bit of history that I didn’t know before. I found that was a really good opportunity for students to be able to see themselves.

I was a bit worried about writing the LGBTQ+ chapter, and getting the balance right, choosing which bits go in and which bits you have to leave out because the LGBTQ+ community is so broad. I really wanted to ensure that we were telling as much of the story as accurately as possible. We wanted to make sure that we demonstrated the intersectionality by making sure the community was represented. And I really wanted to do my friends justice. At the beginning of this project, I was talking to one of my LGBT friends, and he was really clear about the lack of education that he had had at school. (He was at school at the end of Section 28). He had no information about LGBT History at all. And I wanted to give our students the representative History education that my friends weren’t given.

DLC: There has been a big drive over the last ten or so years to really recognise that the narrative that has been traditionally taught in schools has led, possibly unintentionally, to the exclusion or the marginalisation of a substantial group of our communities. Many of the students we were teaching would not have seen themselves represented within the curriculum. 

The wider that we can make that lens, the more impactful it is going to be on all of our students because every one of them is going to benefit from understanding these stories.

AW: There’s been a drive for this series trying to open up the study of the past beyond the narrow tramlines that have shaped many schemes of learning over the years. 

A diverse curriculum is about giving a fuller picture, and about highlighting the often-ignored contributions of marginalised people. They’re like hidden histories, and we share their stories in the book, often in their own words, which is both enlightening and humbling.

JPG: One of the things that we really focus on in the classroom is the construction of History and how there’s a massive difference between the past – what happened – and History, and the narratives that we choose to tell about what happened. 

I came across this first hand when working on the chapter on Brixton. One of the key things that comes across in this chapter is how the community at that time were able to come together and use something known as the pardner scheme to access mortgages to buy homes in Brixton. There was a moment where that might have not been included in the book, but Oxford acknowledged that it’s an important story and it was included. One of the things I need to get across to my students is that if you didn’t have a publisher who was open to hearing that, or if they didn’t have me, somebody who is from that community, somebody who knew about this first hand, what happens? That story disappears; it becomes marginalised. It becomes something that happened in the past, but it doesn’t become a part of History. And that’s a really, really powerful thing for us to understand when thinking about the construction of History and the importance of power in that construction.

AW: When you write something, for example on Weimar Germany for AQA, there’s a spec to follow.  Even at Key Stage 3 there’s often a well-established route through a topic. But we’re breaking new ground here and we could seek the advice of lots of expert groups and individuals. For me, working on disability rights, that was Tony Stephens of Disability Rights UK, and the People’s Museum in Manchester were just brilliant, making sure we got things right. They made sure that we told the disability rights story from a disability perspective. We followed a definition of disability developed by disabled people; we use authentic voices at every turn. 

Is there a particular a place where Fight for Rights would best fit within the curriculum?

DLC: Everywhere and anywhere. These histories should be dripped in throughout the entire curriculum. It should not be a bolt on for October for Black History Month, February for LGBT History Month and so on. That’s why this book is so important, because you can tap into it for all elements of the curriculum.

AF: It should be blended, not binary. Think of it like a lemon drizzle cake: the curriculum is the cake and then the drizzle that runs through it is all these diverse stories, which enrich it and make it more powerful. 

What advice would you give to a teacher who’s a little concerned about teaching sensitive or potentially contentious topics in the classroom?

AF: There’s got to be a really powerful conversation had at departmental level, working in conjunction with the Senior Leadership Team to make sure that you’ve got their support as well. 

It’s about how the Head of Department drives conversations about diversity, because we’ve got to bear in mind that there are people who would have taught during the era of Section 28, who will have had a very different experience from teachers who are newer to the profession.

You’ve got to work hard with your teams to establish a shared understanding of what is meant by the term diversity, because each person has a very different lived experience and will come to the term with a very different understanding of it. Having a shared understanding of what the word means, what a shared vision of diversity is within your curriculum, and within your teaching and learning, to make sure that when developing curriculum tools there is a common thread. And also working really hard on the language: what’s the agreed language that will be used when having those conversations with pupils? It’s about how we invest in staff training because we are going to have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. 

We are talking about uncomfortable History to many. As Maya Angelou says, you do the best you can until you know better. When you know better, you do better. It’s about creating that psychological and cognitive safety for staff members to have the space to educate and grow in that knowledge and know that it’s okay to make mistakes as long as, when you realise, you do something about it.

But this all sits behind subject knowledge, which is why the textbook is useful as a training tool with staff, not just as an artefact within the classroom. It’s how you sit together as a department and discuss what this will look like in your curriculum and discuss the narratives.

DVP: It’s also important to create safe spaces within the classroom context. Frontload the lessons in terms of the language that you’re going to be using about the framework that you’re working with, with the students, and really focusing on a very clear expectation for the students going into those lessons in terms of the language that they use to establish ground rules.

BC: Remember that although it can be sensitive, History is History. It happened. The people that we’re talking about existed, and although it is sensitive History, it is History. We’re in the business of telling History as accurately as possible.

JPG: Where you may not necessarily identify with the group, having sensitivity and honesty, front loading the language, and making sure you get the terminology right, and do it justice, is important.

As a Black male, I feel like I have a duty of service to other groups, just like me, when I was younger and wanted to see myself, to make sure their stories are told. What Fight for Rights does in a really amazing way is give me the subject knowledge and a degree of confidence in getting it right now. 

We don’t always get it right, but I think as teachers, it’s important for us to recognise that we are trying to do the right thing. Seeking out that support from the Senior Leadership Team, engaging the CPD to make sure we understand how to deliver it; there may be times where you don’t necessarily get it right, but it’s still important to make sure those stories are seen, because that storytelling might be the difference in making sure that a person is confident enough come out and be who they are.

Teach All Our Histories

All Our Histories is brought to you by the History team at Oxford University Press to offer you a growing collection of examples, resources and ideas so that you can develop your History curriculum for KS3, GCSE and A Level in a diverse and inclusive way that represents all of our histories. Find out more >