Posted by: markhowell101 | August 6, 2010

Combined Hums vs Geog / Hist / RE / Cit

This is a blog I have been thinking about for a while and would be very keen to hear the opinion of others on whether teaching combined hums at KS3 is better than subjects. I feel reasonably well placed to comment on this as my 2 PGCE placements were in schools where history, geography and RE were taught as separate subjects with provision made for citizenship in various ways. Both schools operated on a 2 week timetable, within which geography and history teachers saw students 3 times and RE teachers saw them twice. My current school deliver a combined hums program by 1 teacher who sees classes 5 times a week in y7 and 4 times in y8 and 9. I should say that my current school only began offering GCSE history and geography 2 years ago, until then just offering combined hums.

My history education stopped at year 9. Whilst I had an interest in the subject, options at my secondary school meant that I could only have either geography or history, and whilst I have done a little history at uni (geography of historic civilisations and such) I have done nothing since. I completed short course RE at GCSE and fared poorly, largely due to lack of interest or motivation and again have not studied the subject since. I therefore feel that my knowledge at both subjects is no better than the average man off the street and yet I have to deliver both to students up to year 9.

At first I thought this would present no problem. Surely the teaching skills required are transferable between humanities subject and so a bit of swatting up ought to be enough to get by. It was this mindset that made me apply for my current job in the first place as it was clear I would need to teach combined hums to ks3. However as the year has gone by I am beginning to increasingly feel that my subject knowledge is not good enough, therefore my lessons are not good enough and therefore I should not be teaching these non-specialist subjects.

Thanks to many years in geography education and an interest and passion in my subject I can pull a decent lesson out with little planning. Through my interest and enthusiasm I can usually drag a class through even the dryest of geography topics with decent outcomes and good levels of engagement. I see the ability to do this as being an essential part of a teachers job. However, I am unable to do this with history and RE and find myself sticking to schemes of work and getting colleagues to help devise lesson plans. What has not helped is that my department consists of 5 historians and me so many of the schemes of work are fairly vague leaving creativity up to the individual teacher, which is great for the specialists but not so much for me.

And this brings me to a future problem which I have been tackling all summer so far. I have struggled all year with what I perceive to be not so great geography schemes of work at ks3 and as such am spending a lot of the summer rewriting 9 ks3 SOW with new assessments. This is a massive task but one which needs doing desperately but I feel the fruits of my labour may be met with disdain by my historian friends. The problem is that at present our SOW’s are text book based and people have complained that they are difficult to engage kids with. I have certainly changed this and tried to make the plans far more engaging and challenging at times. I have also moved topics around, for example now teaching tectonics in y9 rather than 7 in order to get into some of the real science of the topic. All this sounds great on paper but come September I feel that my colleagues will suddenly be finding the same problems I have struggled with for a year.

So, of course the real people to judge would be the students. Are they getting value out of their teachers? When I look at levels of engagement and pupil progress in my history lessons compared to my geography lessons it really is black and white. I frequently leave history lessons feeling bad for the kids and my top set year 8’s have a running joke at my lack of detailed knowledge. I can only assume that historians feel the same way about geog lessons and indeed I know some of them do having had this chat with them.

Clearly the arguments against splitting the subjects are numerous; timetable issues, staffing issues, not seeing classes often enough, problems with the carousel approach etc, but I believe that splitting the hums subjects is the best way to get things done. Whilst the skills to teach are far more transferable than into other subjects (MFL, PE, Music for example) I feel, at least personally, that my subject knowledge is not good enough to give many kids what they deserve. For this reason I will think twice before choosing to work in a school which teacher combined hums again.

Would greatly value any one else’s comments on their experiences on this so feel free to comment or email me.

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Responses

  1. As a History specialist and a Head of Humanities I found I was constantly battling the attitude from SMT that all the Humanities subjects were the same, that it was just knowledge.
    I got, and am still getting, increasingly frustrated by the general attitude that ‘anyone can teach’ that all we need to do is follow the lesson plan, that it is all down to well constructed lesson plans, now this is something I partly agree with, a lesson needs to be well planned, but some of my best lessons have been when we have diverted from the plan, because of a comment, but we have only diverted because I have enough confidence in my subject knowledge to move the lesson in a particular direction.
    The pressure to combine subjects comes from above, and is sadly cost driven, what is needed is better cross-curricular linking, in which specialist can bring their specialist skills to a different subject, rather than expect a non-specialist to work outside their comfort zone.
    The main point should be, what is best for the students, and an enthusiastic specialist will always be better for the students than a pressed, stressed, reluctant volunteer.

  2. Agree totally. I can see from my HoD’s perspective that this is way we have to operate with our history heavy weighting. But you are right, the best lessons areslightly ad hoc and rely on subject knowledge and I find it difficult to deviate on subjects as complex as the world wars and the slave trade. I suppose you could describe my history teaching as adequate, but I wonder how fair it is to the kids for me to be adequate. Thanks you for your input


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