History: hearing more diverse voices from the past

Friday 5 Nov 2021

In the first of a series of blogs looking at equality, diversity and inclusion in our qualifications, our Head of Curriculum for History, Eoin MacGabhann, writes about our work to ensure the history curriculum reflects a more diverse range of perspectives.

The most pressing issues facing our world today have their roots in the past. So, for very good reason, history is front and centre in the debate about equality, diversity and inclusion in education.

There are many important questions to answer in relation to the history curriculum in schools. For example, how can we move beyond a Eurocentric perspective and place greater emphasis on the perspectives of indigenous, or colonised peoples in the history of empire and migration?

How best to integrate history that better addresses the experiences, roles and contributions of women in history, or of marginalised  groups such as the LGBTQI+ or disabled communities? And how should we explore in the school history curriculum other themes that are the subject of a large volume of recent academic historical research, such as class, gender, sexuality and the history of everyday life.

The recent withdrawal of an AQA-approved A-level History textbook by its publisher due to the inclusion of an of an inappropriate activity shows that there’s still much work for us to do in this area. The activity should never have made it through our process for approving textbooks and, while we’ve improved this process since then – for example, through working with external experts and providing better training for our reviewers and staff – we need to work harder to ensure that our qualifications and AQA-approved resources meet our commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion.

So that’s exactly what we’re doing – and we’re making progress.

Practical, meaningful solutions

A lot of this progress has been possible thanks to colleagues from the academic and wider subject community and their high-quality research. Recent reports by the Royal Historical Society and the TIDE-Runneymede project proposed practical, meaningful solutions to the current issues in the curriculum for exam boards and school history departments.

Similarly, through its annual teacher survey, publications, training events and its Diversity Steering Group – of which AQA is a member – the Historical Association has played an important role in disseminating insight and best practice on teaching and curriculum design, and in bringing together key organisations to discuss the future of the history curriculum.

AQA’s own research team has added to the body of high-quality research, recently completing an analysis of student and teacher perceptions of the current history curriculum. This found that participants from both groups had a strong desire for the history curriculum to be more relevant to a modern, diverse UK society and that more attention should be paid to embedding the perspectives of underrepresented or marginalised groups in society - not only in terms of race, ethnicity, and religion, but also in terms of gender, sexuality, and class.

Our history qualifications

In response to these reports and in collaboration with academic historians, subject associations, and members of museum and heritage sectors, we’ve already started to generate ideas about the history that we want to include in our GCSE, AS and A-level qualifications in future across a range of topics.

However, this sort of change takes time. The interrelated nature of the history included in any given topic means that currently-underrepresented themes and perspectives must be incorporated from the ground up and throughout the specification content for each topic, rather than bolted on. While we’ll always look for opportunities to improve our qualifications, the best opportunity to make the most meaningful changes will be at the next round of curricular reform, whenever that may be.

In the meantime, we’ll do all we can to support teachers through any future curricular changes, and with this in mind we plan to run free Continuing Professional Development in the spring and summer terms about teaching sensitive histories, the details of which we’ll be able to share soon.

Teachers can help shape the future

We’re also aware of the talent that exists within the teaching and subject community when it comes to curricular design, as demonstrated by some of the outstanding work that has been completed at Key Stage 3 by schools in recent years. We’ll therefore look to give teachers a greater say in the history curriculum at Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 5 come next reform. This process has already started, as we recently held a round of discussions with teachers about our GCSE thematic studies - and we’ll hold similar discussions about selected AS/A-level topics in the coming months.

We’re always interested in hearing more from teachers about the history that they’d like to see included in their areas of specialism in future, so please feel free to contact us at history@aqa.org.uk

Blog series

Read the second blog in our ED&I series – Creative Arts: designing and delivering greater diversity in our qualifications.