“It was great to learn more from a teacher at our club. I am inspired to become an archaeologist when I am older.”

Brooke, a pupil at St Bede’s Junior School in Widnes, clearly believes ‘history detectives’ could be the first step on a career path.

Gill Geoghegan, the history subject lead, runs the weekly club after school and attendance alternates each term between upper and lower KS2.

As part of her preparation for the Historical Association Quality Mark, Gill was looking for ways to increase the status of history within her school and felt club projects would be an excellent way to showcase good practice within the school.

She was also keen to inspire pupils and instil a love of the subject and felt the more practical aspects offered by the club would be an effective way to do so.

The history detectives club also gave her the opportunity to spend time researching the locality something she was keen to develop across the school within the taught curriculum.

Leaders often speak about the impact of clubs on increasing levels of pupil engagement in history lessons, with attendees acting as advocates for and experts in the subject. Pupils also benefit from developing their communication and social skills through working with a range of other pupils and adults.

So, if you want to help your pupils delve deeper into history and unlock the secrets of the past through a history club, here are some pointers to help you.

Get help

If you like the idea of establishing a club but feel daunted by the need to prepare and research activities, remember you don’t have to be the one to run the sessions.

Look for other members of the school community or anyone with links to the school – for example, governors or members of a local history group – to provide support.

Gill’s club was set up by an ex-teacher keen to spread her love of the subject among the pupils.

If you decide to focus on a local history element in your club, members of the community often have the knowledge of the locality that teachers may lack.

Potentially, they could organise and resource the activities while you attend the sessions to support with the management of pupils.

Consider the content

Making the right decisions on what to do during club sessions is a key factor in ensuring their success. Pupils need to feel they have ownership of the activities.

Why not use a pupil questionnaire to find areas of interest or ask for input from the school council?

Pupils will come with differing degrees of knowledge about topics, making it important to explore beyond the National Curriculum. You may also find success in linking to history in the news or pursuing an archaeology focus.

Local history is often engaging. Lawrence Bennie, who runs a successful club at Quarry Hill Academy in Grays, Essex, encouraged members investigated the meaning behind the name Grays.

They found that in 1195, Henry de Grey, a courtier of Richard I, was granted land by the king. The children then created their own portraits and coats of arms for Henry de Grey.

Lawrence also visited the local museum in Thurrock, which led to the club embarking on a project about Alfred Russell Wallace, a colleague of Charles Darwin who lived in Grays for several years.

Wallace’s home the Dell gave its name to Dell Road, where part of the school’s campus is based.

During the club sessions, pupils created timelines to identify the key significant events in Wallace’s life and career. Their project culminated in making pop-up storybooks about Wallace, to share with the youngest pupils in school.

Lawrence reports that Strong cross-curricular links with English, art and science were used and, in creating and writing their storybooks, the children encountered and applied a wealth of new specialist vocabulary to their writing.

Gill’s Club investigated a real history mystery when they were contacted by someone who had purchased a large commemorative certificate including the name of the school at a car boot fair.

The club researched the lady on the certificate, and found she was once the school’s headmistress and lived locally.

They discovered it was given to her upon her retirement over 100 years ago. As part of the enquiry they created her family tree, which now proudly hangs next to the commemorative piece in the staff room.

Get creative

Your club could provide opportunities for pursuing some of the creative activities related to your classroom topics that you and pupils would love to do but you never have the time to cover.

The Young Archaeologists’ Club website (see below) contains a wealth of these from creating your own ancient Egyptian death mask to baking Viking bread.

Making poo from different periods in history to understand how archaeologists can find out about diet and food preparation from coprolites could be very popular!

Keys to success

  • Be clear about what you want to achieve, as this will help you to target which pupils you would like to attend and what activities to include
  • Be realistic about how much time you can give to running the club. Consistent attendance by you or whoever leads the club is key to ensuring high levels of commitment among pupils
  • Give the club an attention-grabbing name – anything that includes detectives, mysteries and exploration are winners
  • Ideally, activities will need minimum preparation but have maximum impact
  • Clubs running within a fixed timescale are particularly effective and provide opportunities for a big finish – possibly an exhibition, visit or creating a resource
  • Always remember that whatever you decide to do, the club must be fun for you and the children!

Where to go for ideas

  • Meanwhile elsewhere: to support research beyond National Curriculum topics
  • Historical Association: soon-to-be-published guidance on how to run a history club. Contains history in the news features and links to anniversaries
  • Young Archaeologists’ Club: full of ideas and contains a specific section for engaging with the Home Front 1914-18
  • Historic England – heritage schools: contains over 70 short films full of ideas for local history investigations
  • Websites to support investigating the local war memorial: warmemorialsonline.org.uk and learnaboutwarmemorials.org/primary/pri-condition/

  • Bev Forrest is a primary teacher trainer and member of the Historical Association primary committee. She is on the editorial board of the journal Primary History and is an assessor for the History Quality Mark.