Nicolas Kinloch: How Do We Record History Education?

Roundup: Talking About History

[Nicolas Kinloch teaches history at the Netherhall School & Sixth Form College, Cambridge.]

There’s much excitement in my school. It used to be split-site, with two buildings separated by a main road and some playing-fields.

Now, following a building project that seems to have taken longer than the construction of Versailles, one of the buildings has been abandoned and a vast new block has arisen adjacent to the surviving one.

We took possession at the start of term. It looks very splendid. And my only response is to hope I don’t have to create another time capsule.

I had to do this ten years ago, when we moved into a new building, and a time capsule was buried under the floor. It was a good idea. To Authority, it seemed an even better one that I, then Head of History, should be put in charge of it....

I asked the pupils for their ideas. Some contributions were obvious; some peculiar. We have a history of the school: we included a copy. We had an awful lot of photographs: we put them in. A school blazer was inserted by main force. We added an exercise book, donated by a rather too-willing pupil. In went a copy of the National Curriculum....

In any case, the real issue is a philosophical one. I suspect that no amount of artefacts can hope to convey the experience of education. Despite all the efforts of government to suggest that teaching and learning are rational endeavours, with predictable outcomes that can be governed by managing data and crunching numbers, they remain decidedly mysterious processes.

What is it about particular subjects that grips some pupils but leaves others yawning? How do some teachers create instant calm? Why, after the amount of money that’s been spent on it since - say - 1979, is there no convincing evidence that any aspect of education has really improved? Why do pupils go crazy when it’s windy?...

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