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Miss Esme Ballance

Head of Humanities and Head of History


Does running the country appeal to you?  Even if you don’t want to follow in the footsteps of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, studying history ‘opens doors’ into a range of different careers as you develop so many of the skills sought after by employers.  It’s also a facilitating subject, which means the top universities want students with history qualifications.  Historians have a talent for evaluating & analysing information, for communicating complex ideas effectively, for thinking creatively, for developing the ability to argue their point of view, and for developing research skills.

We believe in the words of Theodore Roosevelt: The more you know about the past the better prepared you are for the future.  We want our students to enjoy learning about the past, to understand how modern Britain came to be, and to be able to use the skills they have developed while in history lessons at Commonweal to be successful in the future.

In lessons students can expect to take part in a range of activities, some in groups and some individually, from building castles, to puppet shows, to acting out trench warfare tactics.

Top Tips to do well in History

  1. Learn the key events and key people.

    The more of your own knowledge you can show off in lessons the better. It’s also guaranteed to impress examiners!

  2. Be a detective.

    When you are working with historical sources ask questions to work out how useful it is. Who wrote it? What’s the message? Where is it from? When and why was it published? What impact did the author want the source to have?

  3. PEE through your work.

    PEE stands for point, evidence, explain. When you’re answering questions about the past make sure you begin with a clear point, back up your point with evidence and explain what your point means.

  4. Watch films, documentaries and read.

    This will allow you to deepen your understanding of the past and you’ll be able to link ideas together.

  5. Go above and beyond.

    The best students ask questions, complete all their work to a detailed standard and reach the extension tasks in class. They have visited historical places, have good knowledge of the world we live in and make connections between topics.

The Curriculum

History is delivered to Year 7, 8 and 9 over 3 one-hour lessons a fortnight.  To study a history at GCSE, students have to choose it as one of their four options.

Year 7

  • Introduction to history.
  • The Norman Conquest and Medieval England.
  • The Tudors.

Year 8

  • The English Civil War.
  • Empire and Slave Trade.
  • The Industrial Revolution

Year 9

  • The First World War and the Peace Settlement
  • The inter-war years: the Great Depression and the rise of dictators
  • The Second World War home and away
  • The Holocaust
  • Post World War 2 History

Year 10 & 11

We currently follow the AQA Exam syllabus for GCSE History.  – The GCSE course is split into four sections:

Studied in Year 10:

Understanding the modern world

  • Section A Period study: Germany, 1890 – 1945: Democracy and dictatorship.
  • Section B Wider World Depth Study:  Conflict and tension between East and West, 1945 – 1972 (the start and development of the Cold War)

Studied in Year 11:

Shaping the nation

  • Section A: Britain: health and the people c1000 to the present day.
  • Section B: British depth studies including the historical environment, Norman England, 1066 – c1100

Independent learning

There are three main types of homework:

  • Knowledge tests. Most year groups will have to learn key events, significant people and key words for knowledge tests throughout the year.
  • Home learning projects. Most year groups will have mini-projects to create/improve/learn to benefit your class experience and/or end of term assessments.
  • Revision and improvements.

Enrichment and trip possibilities

  • Year 8 trip to The Black Country Museum.
  • Year 9/10 Battlefields Trip.

A common question asked by parents is how can I help and support my son/ daughter in History.  At Key Stage 3 one of the most powerful things is to encourage a love of history, therefore we often recommend visiting places of historic interest, reading books, watching films or TV programmes.  The top history students often have other knowledge related to the topic being studied or knowledge of other things that were happening at the time, and this makes them stand out.  Therefore below you will find a reading list which covers topics we study or covers a similar time period for year 7, 8 and 9.  It is by no means exhaustive and would always recommend that you check the books suggested on the reading list are appropriate for your son/daughter.  If you have any other suggestions of appropriate books that could be added to the list, then please contact us.

Year 7 History Reading List

  • All Fall down by Sally Nicholls – set and about life during the Black death 1349
  • Tiger, tiger by Lynne Reid Banks ( two tiger cubs one is trained as a killer in the coliseum the other is given to the emperors daughter).
  • The Roman Mysteries Series, Caroline Lawrence (Flavia Gemina is a ‘girl detective in 1st century Rome)
  • Treason, Berlie Doherty (set in the court of Henry VIII. Will is page to Henry’s son Edward. But being a favourite brings powerful enemies, as Will discovers to his cost).
  • Time Riders, Alex Scarrow (Liam should have died at sea in 1912. Maddy should have died on a plane in 2010. Instead they are recruited by an agency that no one knows exists, with only one purpose – to fix broken history).
  • Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery (story of Anne Shirley the orphan girl who wins the affection of her new family – set in America)
  • Crusade, Elizabeth Laird (two faiths – two boys – one unholy war)
  • Wolf Brother (Chronicles of Ancient Darkness) Michelle Paver (Prehistoric adventure)
  • The Seeing Stone, Kevin Crossley-Holland, (The year is 1199, the place the Welsh Marches. Young Arthur de Caldicot is given a magical shining stone in which his legendary namesake is revealed).
  • Prisoner of the Inquisition, Theresa Breslin ( follows the life of Zarita when the frightening inquisition arrives in 15th Century Grenada).
  • Warriors of Alavna, N.M. Browne (Two modern teenagers find strength and power they never dreamed they had in this powerful fantasy that transports them to an ancient and mysterious Britain)

Year 8 History Reading List

  • Alone on a wide wide sea, Michael Morpurgo – English orphans sent to Australia in the 20th Century.
  • Sally Lockhart Series, Philip Pullman (a girl tries to find out what happened to her murdered father in Victorian England).
  • Coran Boy, Jamila Gavin, (a dark story of one boy in 18th century England).
  • Little Women, Louisa M. Alcott (four sisters growing up in 1860s America).
  • Chains & Forge, Laurie Anderson (story of a slave girl during the American civil war).
  • Fallen Grace, Mary Hooper (Moving tale set in Victorian London of two sisters, one of which has an illegitimate child).
  • Young Samurai Series, Chris Bradford. (An English boy marooned in japan in 1611 and taught the ways of the Samurai).
  • The Tribe, Valerie Bloom. (Spanish invading Mexico and trying to force the people into slavery).
  • Petals in the Ashes, Mary Hooper (Account of London’s Great Fire of 1666)
  • No Shame, No fear, Ann Turnbull (after the English Civil War follows the story of Will and Susanna).
  • I, Coriander, Sally Gardner (set in 1650s London and follows the story of Coriander after her mother dies and her dad goes away).
  • Friends Though Divided: a tale of the Civil War, G A Henty (two-heroed tale is about Harry Furness, a Cavalier, and Herbert Rippinghall, a Roundhead. How will these two young lads remain true to their conscience and still remain friends in a turbulent, troubled time?) (Out of print; free on
  • Bog Child, Siobhan Dowd (Fergus uncovers the body of a child when digging for peat in Ireland, set against the troubles).
  • Gone, Michael Grant (One day all the adults disappear and the kids are left to fend for themselves).
  • Montmorency, E. Updale (1875: When an ambitious young doctor rescues a scruffy thief on the point of death, he inadvertently creates Montmorency – whose life is split between the new London sewers and Victorian high society).
  • The Sweep’s Boy, Jim Eldridge (its 1870 when the Workhouse master hires Will out as a chimney sweep boy).
  • Hetty Feather, Jaqueline Wilson (the story of a baby left at the foundling hospital by her mother in Victorian England).
  • The Secret Countess, Eva Ibbotsen (After escaping the revolution in Russia, the story follows Anna and her life in London).
  • Revolution, Jennifer Donnelly (a grieving 17 year old musician travels to Paris to complete a school assignment and discovers a diary written during the French revolution).

Year 9 History Reading List

  • Private Peaceful, Michael Morpurgo (WW1, pacifism)
  • War Horse, Michal Morpurgo (WW1 battlefield)
  • The Wheel of Surya (and sequels), Jamila Gavin (partition of India – independence of India 1947).
  • When Hitler Stole pink Rabbit, Judith Kerr (WW2, refugees)
  • Al Capone does my shirts, Gennifer Choldenko (1930s, depression, Alcatraz island)
  • Good night Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian (WW2, Evacuees)
  • Postcards from No-Man’s land, Aiden Chambers (spanning 50 years evokes the atmosphere of war)
  • How I live now, Meg Rosoff, (an American stranded in war time Britain)
  • I am David, Anne Holm ( 15 year old David’s quest – escaping from a concentration camp).
  • 1984, George Orwell (Winston Smith works for the ministry of truth where his job is to re-write history).
  • The Dam Busters, Paul Brickhill (true story of 617 squadron’s historic bombing raid on the Ruhr dam using the ‘bouncing bombs’.
  • Walkabout, J. Vance Marshall (two lost British children trying to survive in the Australian outback aided by an aboriginal boy.
  • Z for Zachariah (the originals), Robert O’Brian (Ann Burden has survived a nuclear war, this is a story about what happens next).
  • Against the Day & through the Night, Michael Cronin (what might have happened if Germany invaded Britain during Second World War.
  • Guantanamo Boy, Anna Perera (15-year-old British Boy on holiday in Pakistan who is abducted and taken to Guantanamo boy detention centre).
  • Auslander, Paul Dowswell (thriller set during the Second World War seen from the point of view of a German boy).
  • Sweet Clarinet, James Riordan ( WW2 Billy is badly burnt and the story is about how he learns to hope and live again).
  • The Man who was Thursday, G.K Chesterton (detective story filled with poetry and politics. Gabriel Syme is a poet and a police detective. Lucian Gregory is a poet and a bomb-throwing anarchist. Syme infiltrates a secret meeting of anarchists)
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou (Classic autobiography of a young black girl struggling against the brutal American race discrimination in the 1930s.)
  • The Road of Bones, Anne Fine (Yuri grows up in a country where no freedom of thought is encouraged. But it is still a shock when a few careless words lead him to a virtual death-sentence – sent on a nightmare journey up north to a camp amidst the frozen wastes).
  • Tamar, Mal Peet (after Tamar’s grandfather dies she discovers a series of clues and coded messages about his life as a resistance fighter).

Curriculum Maps