Two years ago, a new thematic curriculum for pupils in Years 7 and 8 was introduced at Vinehall, with themes such as Conflict, Climate Change and Migration. The aim was to provide pupils with a more relevant and meaningful learning experience and to ensure that the children left Vinehall with a broader skillset that would mean they were better prepared for the challenges ahead.

A relevant and meaningful learning experience

As the country went into lockdown for the first time eighteen months ago, the Year 7s at Vinehall, who, of course, were not actually at Vinehall but learning from home, were introduced to the theme of Equality and Rights. They began in 1215 with the sealing of Magna Carta at Runnymede, before working their way forwards through history learning about Simon de Montfort’s Parliament of 1265, the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the abolition movement in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the one-hundred year campaign for women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s.

Events in the news at the time meant that the theme of Equality and Rights had particular resonance, and discussions broadened to encompass the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests, as well as the toppling and removal of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol. At the heart of the thematic curriculum was the intention that pupils’ understanding of contemporary issues should be informed by a coherent chronological narrative that will enable them to appreciate both their place in an ongoing story and the responsibilities they have when it comes to writing the next chapters. In ways that could never have been foreseen when mapping out the new curriculum, events in the wider world were making it emphatically clear that there is much more to history than learning stories about things that happened a long time ago.

A love of learning for its own sake

Another key aim of the thematic curriculum was to foster a love of learning for its own sake by encouraging the children to ask questions and think for themselves and, last summer, two children decided to research the Black Lives Matter movement in greater depth. They produced a series of five posters, each focusing on a different area. For example, one of the posters concentrates on history and concerns the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement and the Thirteenth Amendment. The two girls said that ‘Spreading awareness is the first step to encouraging involvement and more impactful discussions. We really enjoyed finding out more about this subject, but it has also been an eye-opener to the injustices faced by people of colour every day.’

ISEB Project Qualification

The first cohort have now completed the thematic course of study, which culminated in completion of the ISEB Project Qualification. This new qualification requires the children to come up with their own research question and then answer that question, developing their research skills, their critical thinking skills and their ability to work independently. The research questions chosen included ‘Is space exploration a waste of money?’ and ‘Were witch trials a medieval form of discrimination against women?’

One of the children chose to answer the question ‘Can money buy you happiness?’ and, though she thought financial security was important, she concluded that ‘… once the basic human needs are met, I don’t think money can take you any further down the road of happiness; the only way to get to the end is by other things such as human interaction.’ A timely and perceptive conclusion, reflecting how much more aware we have all become of the importance of family and friends to our happiness and wellbeing.