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Improving your subject knowledge – should primary teachers join organisations like the Historical Association?

What are subject associations and is it really worth joining? Bev Forrest sets out the benefits of these organisations...

  • Improving your subject knowledge – should primary teachers join organisations like the Historical Association?

As a subject leader in a small primary school in the 1990s, I often felt isolated and unable to find anyone to discuss how I could develop history across the school or where to find the support to improve my own subject knowledge.

When I discovered the Historical Association it opened up a new world of opportunities and I quickly became hooked.

As the years went by I became more actively involved in the association. Eventually I was elected to the primary committee and began organising CPD events in Yorkshire.

In 2019 I was proud to become chair of the committee and an honorary fellow. Not only has the Historical Association supported me professionally, but it has also become a great part of my social life – I can count many of the members as close friends.

What is a subject association?

These are membership organisations representing a curriculum area whose aim is to further teaching, learning and research in the subject. Some of the associations have charitable status and most cover all stages in education.

A major role of the associations is to provide a voice for their members at national level. They’ve been key in influencing government in areas such as inspection and curriculum reform.

Within humanities the big three are the Historical Association, the Geographical Association and the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education. Each one provides a wide range of benefits for members for an annual subscription. You can join as an individual or as a school.

Why should I join?

The Council for Subject Associations, an umbrella organisation for different groups, lists four key benefits of membership:

  • To be up to date in your subject
  • To be part of a subject community
  • To be able to pursue your own learning
  • To have access to dedicated sources of information

The range of benefits differs slightly between organisations, but they all provide support in delivering quality teaching through their resources and CPD opportunities.

The termly journals and archives of back issues are a popular benefit of membership as they are invaluable in supporting curriculum development.

The Historical Association even goes so far as offering free resourced schemes of work as part of your membership. All the organisations are a great way to find affordable or even free quality CPD, including face-to-face courses and webinars.

You may feel that at a time when there is so much information freely available on the web there is no need to pay to access these opportunities via a subject association. Robbie Russell, humanities subject leader at Raynville Primary in Leeds and a member of both the HA and GA offers a warning against this temptation:

“If we value subject specific expertise, we should turn to the experts who represent the subject associations for our information. Subject associations are an essential resource for the best of what has been thought and said in the subject that you lead.”

Is membership just for subject leaders?

This is a tricky one to answer. Obviously a secondary teacher would join the association representing the subject they teach, but what happens in primary when we need to have knowledge and expertise in teaching all subjects?

Although everyone can benefit from subject association materials, not everyone can afford multiple memberships. The best option is for your school to take out a corporate membership that gives both subject leaders and classroom teachers access to a range of resources.
 
Even if you are just setting out on your teaching career, either as a trainee or NQT, it is worth taking a look at what is on offer from the association representing your preferred subject area.

This will enable you to embark on a journey of acquiring the specialist knowledge greatly valued by schools in response to the new EIF. It could even help you in securing your dream job.

To entice trainees to join, subject associations usually have specific packages with lower fees and rates for attendance at courses and conferences.

Should experienced subject leaders join?

Absolutely. Subject associations are a great way to help you to develop your career and support you in ensuring high quality teaching and learning. Their value to you and the school is also acknowledged by Ofsted.

In her 2019 blog post for the Historical Association, Ofsted curriculum and professional development lead Heather Fern said: “Organisations such as the Historical Association have long provided support for history teaching in schools. They have enabled a rich discussion between history teachers on the nature of a high-quality history curriculum and provided guidance and resources at primary and secondary level.”

There are also opportunities to take part in teaching fellowships. Kerry Somers, humanities lead at Sherborne School in Hampshire recently took part in the Historical Association’s Age of Revolutions fellowship.

She says: “It was exciting and invigorating to learn about an aspect of history that I had little knowledge of. It was fantastic to visit Waterloo and learn first-hand from academics and other professionals. The course gave me lots of food for thought when planning my own lessons.”

If you want to become fully involved in a subject association there are a whole range of opportunities available, from helping to run regional events to writing for various publications.

The last word goes to Stephen Scoffham. He joined the Geographical Association early in his career, has been a member ever since and went on to achieve the status of President.

He says, “It’s been invaluable belonging to a community of like-minded people with whom I can share ideas and who have kept me abreast of the latest developments. I really believe I have ‘grown’ professionally as a result and I would recommend joining a subject association to everyone.”


Bev Forrest is a primary teacher trainer and chair of the Historical Association primary committee. She delivers CPD nationally, is a HA Quality mark assessor and a member of the editorial board of the journal Primary History.


Why I joined a subject association

Victoria Wilkinson

History subject lead, Silcoates School, Wakefield

I became a member of the Historical Association in January 2019 because I wanted to book onto one of its CPD courses. Little did I know the benefits and opportunities that would arise, both for me and my school. Through the HA I have completely changed my outlook on my role as history lead and how to teach the subject. I completely revamped our curriculum based on the HA schemes of work, switching to an enquiry-based approach and teaching in chronological order.

I booked a place at the HA Yorkshire History Forum in November 2019. At the event I made contact with the Holocaust Educational Trust. This led me to taking part in HET’s residential training course in the UK and then being accepted onto their teacher study visit to Greece. I cannot recommend becoming a member of a subject association highly enough.

Saima Saleh

RE subject lead, Ravenscote Juniors, Surrey

I describe my NATRE membership as a supportive friend. It’s been the best use of my RE budget as it has so much to offer. I’ve made use of termly RE Today resource books, free webinars, free courses, RE Today magazines, the British Journal of Religious Education and money-off offers for various conferences and publications. Platinum membership has saved me an incredible amount of money when you take into account the free courses and downloads and a substantial discount for the Strictly RE conference.

The association is my ‘go to’ for everything to do with leading and managing my subject. When it comes to planning or looking for inspiration, I know it will have what I’m looking for.


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