Practical Ways To Raise Achievement in the GCSE History Classroom.

Briefing Pack

By Melanie Jones, published 9th May 2011

Whilst we can all appreciate the renewed status that the English Baccalaureate will bring for history, there is no doubt that along with it will come new pressures upon history departments to ensure that the maximum number of students achieve at least a grade C. The Historical Association is here to help. For a full and inspiring course that delves into the English Baccalaureate and what it means for history, as well as practical classroom measures to turn your Ds into Cs, why not try our new CPD course from Alf Wilkinson, presented in partnership with Osiris education. You can find further information here...

In the meantime, this brief list, in no particular order of importance may prove helpful to those looking to raise achievement in the GCSE classroom.


1.) Avoid using past papers or questions as tests initially. This can end up giving students negative feelings. Start supportively with writing frames and peer group answers before gradually lessening the amount of support until you have it to the minimum.

2.) Start a history club for Key Stage 4, but do not use this as an opportunity for extended GCSE history topic lessons.

3.) At the start of the course, send letters home to parents/carers detailing their child's targets and how they can help them achieve at home. Keep parents informed and involved.

4.) For those on the C/D borderline, the most common problem is fact retention. A pupil can achieve a grade C at GCSE without employing too much analysis, as long as they can recall relevant facts and use them within and answer. Therefore, fact-based home-works such as biographies or timelines etc may be a remedy.

5.) Introduce fact tests to lessons. These can make effective starters or plenaries. You may wish to start or end each lesson with a short test. What 4 facts have we learnt today/Last lesson? Can pupils recall them? Make this a ritual.

6.) Employ other fact retention methods such as using sayings or mnemonics. Get pupils to put the main facts that you want them to remember for a topic into a well known song tune. This can be extremely effective with some students and a really fun activity! ‘Factlists' on the classroom wall can help too - don't just use these for techniques/concepts!

7.) Make sure that you give specific and clear instructions. "Which 3 facts do I need to know?"

8.) Much as written work is important, ensure plenty of opportunity for kinaesthetic activities, such as sequencing, role-play, hot-seating, games. Some teachers even go so far as to interrupt the lesson at specific points and do exercises before re-focus! The idea behind this is to maintain the attention span and re-focus it back to learning once it begins to wane.

9.) In your marking and feedback. Make sure that pupils know what the difference between 2 grades is and that they know what they have got to do to get to the next grade

10.) Use relational diagrams to help students to visualise how facts can relate to a question. For a grade C, one of the most important things you can get your students to do is to recall facts and make sure that they are relevant to the question and that they can select and employ them. For this, they need to be skilled at recall and have some level of organisation of recall facts. When dealing with factual information in class, try as many organisational activities as you can in order to help students to organise the facts that are relevant to a particular theme. Visually this may be though diagrams or mind maps, kinaesthetically this may be through a series of actions or a sequencing activity/game.  Encourage students to organise their notes effectively. If you are persistent and ritualise this, then students can have a set of revision notes where the facts are organised for them. You can do this by at the start of the unit asking them to colour code the main themes of the unit and then highlight related facts in that colour whenever they meet them. If students keep computerised notes, they can use a filing system.

Finally - make sure that your students understand the point. Some students are self-motivated, or well motivated through outside influences. Not all students are like this. It is sometimes difficult to motivate the student who either feels they have failed, has not had the encouragement or does not see the point of learning about something. Try to make links to the present day wherever possible, or make links to relevance to foster an understanding.

Be positive about and reward the learning that takes place in your GCSE classroom - you will be surprised sometimes what a little bit of encouragement and praise for the smallest steps can do.