Incorporating monarchy into a history curriculum
Subject Lead - History
This blog was authored by Benjie Groom, History Subject Lead, and Katie Marl, Primary Subject Lead
With the coronation of Charles III, attention will turn to the British monarchy. Has the spectacle of the coronation encouraged you to re-examine how you teach about monarchy in your lessons?
Teaching about monarchy in the UK is an essential aspect of any history curriculum. Understanding the concept of monarchy and its role in history is crucial for students to develop a comprehensive understanding of the society they live in.
We think an important feature of great curricula is careful and considered sequencing, with each subject building on previous learning to provide a comprehensive understanding of the topic.
Here, we share our approach to planning a sequenced and coherent curriculum that teaches about monarchy, to inspire and support your own planning. As we will reflect in our new curriculum and teaching resources, which we will be releasing the first samples of in autumn 2023, exploring the monarchy is key to unlocking pupils' understanding of history.
Teaching the substantive concept of monarchy
The best curricula build repeated examples of a concept or idea, helping pupils to understand context and meaning. In order to help pupils understand the concept of 'monarchy', strong history curricula plan for learning through repeated encounters with meaningful examples.
Early encounters allow pupils to associate ideas like 'monarchy' with tangible, specific examples. This provides a secure foundation and enables future learning. When students encounter monarchy again in a new context their prior knowledge supports them to absorb new knowledge about the concept.
Repeated encounters with meaningful examples in specific contexts allows pupils to develop a secure and sophisticated schema (memory structures that help students organise new information) for such concepts (1).
How does teaching the substantive concept of monarchy look in practice?
Students might first encounter the concept of monarchy at an early age when they hear stories of ‘long, long ago when kings and queens lived in castles and ruled the land’, evolving from fiction into fact as their educational journey continues. In KS2 the story of how the Iron Age king Cunobelin ruled his kingdom might be introduced before students then explore stories about the early kings of Rome and their eventual overthrow.
Approaches to curriculum development
Teaching about the monarchy in the UK should be embedded in a sequenced curriculum with an emphasis on chronology, so that pupils are able to understand its changing nature over time.
These encounters might not necessarily have a specific focus on what monarchy has meant, but by witnessing different examples in different contexts pupils will develop a more sophisticated example of the idea. As Christine Counsell has argued, “when it comes to curriculum, the hinterland is as important as what is deemed core” (2).
Although there might be specific monarchs, and details of their reigns that we want students to remember, we should also construct our curriculums to contain multiple rich ‘hinterland’ episodes and narratives that give an insight into the character of both individual monarchs and the institution itself.
What approaches to curriculum development could you explore?
- Depth studies
One way that history teachers have approached the teaching of monarchy is to use a depth study of one particular monarch in order to develop their understanding of the broad features of medieval society (4).
- Curricular ‘instances’
Another way to approach teaching monarchy is the careful plotting of moments where students ‘bump’ into particular monarchs within enquiries that are not specifically focused on the substantive concept itself.
- Hidden figures
Teachers might also choose to focus on ‘hidden’ characters at the periphery. These monarchs might be studied in order to expose aspects of monarchy that are sometimes neglected (5).
- Monarchy itself as an enquiry focus
Whilst these approaches, if carefully planned and sequenced, will help students to develop a nuanced understanding of monarchy as a substantive concept, teachers can also choose to focus specifically on monarchy alone, perhaps by examining change over time.
The value of interleaving
The concept of interleaving is the practice of mixing different topics or subjects in a learning sequence. Interleaving is an effective way to deepen learning and build connections between different concepts.
Interleaving can be particularly valuable when teaching about monarchy in the UK, as it allows students to see how the monarchy has influenced other areas of the curriculum, such as English literature.
For example, students could study the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in history and then explore the literary works of Shakespeare, who was writing during her reign. This would allow students to see how the cultural context of the monarchy influenced literature and vice versa.
Ideas for teaching about the coronation
The coronation is a historically important date. We can help you to make it a tangible learning experience for your pupils. Read our blog to get ideas for teaching about the coronation in your lessons, assemblies or form time.
You might also be interested in reading about:
- Our history partners and subject experts, Pearson and Future Academies, who will be shaping our NEW curricula and teaching resources.
- Our English partners and subject experts, Fox Federation and Twyford Church of England Academies, who will be shaping NEW curricula and teaching resources.
- Our approach to curriculum design as we shape our new teaching resources available from autumn 2023.
(1) D Palek, ‘“What exactly is Parliament?”: finding the place of substantive knowledge in history’, in ‘Teaching History’, Issue 158, March 2015, pages 18 to 25.
(4)D Banham, ‘The return of King John: using depth to strengthen overview in the teaching of political change’, in ‘Teaching History’, Issue 97, December 2008, pages 22 to 31.
(5)K. Apps, ‘Widening the early modern world to create a more connected KS3 curriculum’, Issue 176, October 2019, pages 48-57.