A trip to הארץ (the land)

By Keith Cawsey, Head of RS.

Having been at Wimbledon High School for a whopping twelve years (how did that happen?), I was due a sabbatical. My first stop was Israel. 

I first visited Jerusalem in the January of 2000 and was keen to see what had changed and what had stayed the same. I was also interested in visiting a few places and museums that I have taught about since qualifying as a teacher, but never actually visited.

My first stop was to the Western Wall. Often called the ‘Wailing Wall’, it is best known by the Jewish community as ‘the Kotel’ (literally, The Wall). This is the only part of the original temple that was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Indeed, it is part of a supporting wall of that temple and is the most sacred place visited by the Jewish community today. To the left of the wall itself, is an arch – Wilson’s Arch – where the faithful were praying and a discussion on the Talmud was taking place.

At school, I lead the annual trip for students in Year 10 – Year 13 to Poland, where we visit Auschwitz concentration camp and Oskar Schindler’s factory. When he died, Oskar Schindler asked to be buried in Jerusalem, facing the Mount of Olives and his grave is visited by millions each year. On my second day, I searched for his grave. In a way, it was closing a circle. I had visited his factory in Poland, listened to many Schindler survivor testimonies and, of course, watched the film. Here was my opportunity to pay tribute to that awe-inspiring man, who saved so many. His grave had stones placed on top of it, a Jewish tradition to honour the dead. Later in the week, I visited Yad Vashem, the Israeli memorial to the Shoah (Holocaust) and saw his tree planted in the ‘Avenue of the Righteous’ – a row of trees placed in memory of all the non–Jews who helped save the lives of Jewish people during the Shoah.

Starting in the Muslim quarter on the third day, I walked down the ‘Via Dolorosa’ – a road that traditionally Jesus walked down on his way from being sentenced by Pontius Pilate, to his crucifixion. Each of the fourteen stations is marked by a number and many have churches or chapels where you can pause and reflect on the Passion of Christ. The last four stations are to be found in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – a church traditionally built on Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified. You can also see the place where Jesus was laid out after his crucifixion and the tomb where, according to tradition, Jesus was placed after his death and subsequently rose from the dead. Rudolf Otto used the word ‘numinous’ to explain that feeling of holiness and of the almighty and in this church. It was all around me.

Later that week, I queued very early in the morning to climb up to the area of the Temple Mount (Har Habayit in Hebrew). This is the place where the Jewish Temple once stood and is traditionally is the site where Abraham demonstrated his devotion to God by almost sacrificing his son Isaac. Today, the Al-Aqsa Mosque stands on the site as the rock that the mosque is built around is traditionally the place of Muhammad’s ascent to heaven during his night journey in the 7th Century CE. The view of Jerusalem and the vastness of the site itself was remarkable. The site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, some say, was once the ‘Holy of Holies’ of the Jewish temple and, as a result, praying by Jews on this site today is not allowed as they may be treading on sacred ground; only Muslims are allowed into the mosque itself to protect the sanctity of the building.

In Jerusalem, my final visit was to Yad Vashem, the Israeli memorial to the Shoah. The building itself cuts dramatically through the countryside as visitors are led past the Avenue of the Righteous through to the main museum. Here, there is a chronological display of how the Shoah unfolded between 1933 – 1945 as well as focussing on what happened to the Jewish community afterwards. The Hall of Remembrance has an eternal light and a list of all the concentration camps written into the floor – a fitting memorial to the six million Jews murdered in Nazi Germany. A time to reflect on the past, but also a time to pray that we all have a responsibility to ensure that such an event must never happen again.

The last couple of days of my trip were in Jaffa – a port just outside Tel Aviv. It is connected to a great character of the Old Testament – Jonah – sent by God to deliver bad news to the people of Nineveh. He tried to hide from God, but God had other ideas and taught him, and us, a valuable lesson.

I leave you with a Jewish toast – ‘L’Chaim’, which is Hebrew for ‘To life’.


By Alex Farrer, Scientist in Residence.

Since the launch of our STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) space in September, STEAM lessons, activities, clubs and assemblies have been delivered by the new Scientist in Residence team. This has created a buzz of curiosity around the school and enabled “STEAM” to be injected into the curriculum, but what is exactly going on, and why?

It is frequently reported in the press that thousands of additional science and engineering graduates are needed each year and many national initiatives aim to encourage more girls to aspire to such careers. However it is still the case that most pupils decide by the age of 10 that science is “not for them”. They enjoy science, they are good at science, but they think that other people become scientists and engineers. The STEAM initiative aims to encourage more girls to aspire to study science, technology, art and mathematics subjects post 16, but also to develop STEAM skills in all pupils. Not every pupil will aspire to a career in science and engineering, but every pupil will benefit from added exposure to STEAM. Employers and universities are increasingly looking for candidates who have problem solving skills, consider the impact of their decisions, use their imagination, communicate well, work well in teams and cope with frustrations, problems and difficulties. Cross curricular STEAM activities not only help to develop these skills for every pupil, but also show how relevant the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics are to all subjects.

More information is available here about the ASPIRES and ASPIRES 2 studies which track the development of young people’s science and career aspirations and also here about the benefits of keeping options open for possible engineering careers.

This new initiative at Wimbledon High aims to promote STEAM cross curricular activity for all year groups from Reception to Year 13. The Scientist in Residence team consists of experts in computer science, medicine and STEAM teaching and learning, who are able to plan activities that are practical, challenging, engaging and linked to real life situations. Visiting engineers and scientists enrich the projects and links are made to STEAM careers. In the lessons things might go wrong, groups may have to start all over again, team members might disagree and tasks may be really difficult to succeed in. Coping with the epic fails that can occur when imaginatively attempting to solve a STEAM challenge is all part of the benefit though, and there is also a lot of laughter and fun. The lessons can certainly be classed as “serious play”!

These are just a few examples showing how STEAM is beginning to form…

Year 3 launching projectiles ‘Into the Woods” 
• KS3 being creative with Minecraft Education Edition
• Year 7 using their physics knowledge to capture amazing light and colour photographs at the beginning of their art topic
• Year 6 learning about sensors and coding with micro:bits
• Year 1 becoming rocketeers
• Year 7 creating pigments for Joseph’s technicolor dreamcoat in R.S.
• KS3 gaining medical insights into the Black Death in History
• KS3 pupils designing and building a City of Tomorrow
• Year 5 designing ocean grabbers inspired by the R.S.S. Sir David Attenborough
• Year 4 controlling machines built with LEGO WeDo

Year 12 are also beginning a joint project with local schools and scientists from UCL and Imperial College as part of the ORBYTS initiative – Original Research By Young Twinkle Students – an exciting project using mass spectrometry to look at exoplanet atmospheres which includes the opportunity for students to be co-authors on an academic paper. There may even be a robot orchestra in the making, so there is certainly a variety of STEAM forming!

What all of these activities have in common is that they aim to promote STEAM dialogue around the school. The year 6 academic committee have been putting intriguing photographs with an attached question around the school to promote just this sort of discussion, whether it might be year 8 on their way into lunch or parents chatting while waiting to pick up year 2.




What happened here?




We want to show students and adults in our community that STEAM is something done by us all. As an adult yourself you may have felt in the “not for me” category – you might have given up science early, or not felt that it was your best subject. As role models we all need to show that we are interested in talking and getting involved in STEAM, so that no one in our community is in the “not for me” category. Helping with a competition entry, discussing Blue Planet 2, using STEAM news articles or photos as hooks for lessons, all help to inject STEAM into the school community.

Follow us on Twitter @STEAM_WHS to see more of what is going on and look out for future blogs on the importance of building science capital and using STEAM photos to inspire and engage. The following web links are examples of the many cross curricular ideas available for all age groups that could be used in lessons and at home. Create some STEAM!






The long and winding road: how factual recall tests can effectively support linear examination courses

Wimbledon High History

By Emily Anderson, Head of History.

Think back, if you can, to your own History studies at school, whether these were months, years or perhaps decades ago. For most, the content covered becomes, over time, increasingly hard to recall. My current grasp of the French Revolution, for example, which I studied at AS Level, is embarrassingly basic now, almost 15 years later, as it is something I have rarely had need to revisit. At Parents’ Evening, parents smile wryly at vague memories of the Corn Laws or the Spinning Jenny (not meaning to undermine their importance, but their ubiquity in the collective memory of British adults is truly extraordinary) and voice envy at the breadth of opportunities available in the current History curriculum.

Instead, it is the broad conceptual understanding of, say, the nature of power, as well as the skills that remain, and these which lie at the heart of the purpose of History education for our department here at WHS. Empowering our students to participate in the academic discourse of History is our core aim, to enable them to engage critically with the world around them in their future lives. It is, however, impossible to participate in this discourse without what has been termed ‘fingertip knowledge’ as well as more conceptual ‘residual knowledge’: to secure meaningful progress in History, both need to be developed (Counsell, 2000). As argued recently in Teaching History where dialogue around cognitive psychology is increasingly evident, ‘fluent access to a range of types of knowledge is what enables historians to participate in some of the more sophisticated forms of historical discourse’ (Fordham, 2017).

Recent changes to A Levels (AL) have brought how we secure this fingertip knowledge into focus. The nature of the new linear exams mean there is more demand for a greater volume of content to be retained over a longer period of time. The importance of detail is evident both from reviewing past papers and from our experience in examining at AL last summer.

To approach this, we reflected on our experience of nurturing fingertip as well as residual knowledge at GCSE, where the linear model is, of course, long established, as is our practice of setting factual recall tests at the end of each topic. Our evaluation of the latter is below:

Advantages Disadvantages

It is classic retrieval practice, which results in stronger storage and retrieval strength (Fordham, 2017).

It encourages an extra stage of revision early in the course before more high stakes testing kicks in for mocks and terminal exams, reducing the pressure on Year 11.

It helps lead to great results (above 75% A* in the past three years).

Our tests were much too challenging – becoming notorious amongst our students and sapping morale.

They were no longer fit for purpose – pupils would never need to recall such specific detail, especially after the reform of the CIE IGCSE Paper 4 in 2015 which removed such questions.


Therefore, we have changed the structure of our tests to open ended questions. At IGCSE these are in the style of 4 mark recall questions. At AL I am experimenting with questions taking the form ‘cite two pieces of evidence which could be used to support an argument that…’, or similar. To try to tackle the issue of relevant but vague answers, I have awarded bonus marks at AL for detail to encourage both a conscious choice in selecting evidence (as pointed out by Foster & Gadd (2013)) and in-depth revision. All are now out of a uniform mark – 20 – to encourage comparison across topics and at different stages of the two years.

Furthermore, we have used the new AL structure to rethink when we test, in order to support maximum recall over the two years. Here, we currently have two approaches: retaining end of topic testing at GCSE in order to keep the advantages identified above, but utilising spaced tests at AL (the benefits of which are argued by, amongst others, Laffin (2016) and Fordham (2017)) by revising and testing existing knowledge on a topic before the next stage of it is covered. This lends itself particularly well to the unit on the British Empire from c1857-1967: in the past few weeks, my Year 13 class have sat tests on the increasing independence of the Dominions and on India, both in the period from c1867-1918, before studying inter-war developments. Students then complete their own corrections, consolidating the learning and identifying areas for development. During the revision period at AL, they can also undertake the same test several times citing different evidence. My 2017 cohort had, at their own suggestion, a star chart to record how many times they had undertaken a test for each area of the course, broadening their evidence base each time.

Whilst I hope that this gives a snapshot of the department’s current and very fledgling thinking, I would be mortified if it was taken to show that we are overly focussed on factual recall testing in the department. We are not. Tests of course never can and never will be the ‘be all and end all’ in terms of assessing student progress, but approaching them critically can only be a good thing.

References and further reading

Counsell, C. (2000). Historical knowledge and skills: a distracting dichotomy . In James Arthur and Robert Phillips, Issues in history teaching (pp. 54-71). London: Routledge.

Fordham, M. (2017). Thinking makes it so: cognitive psychology and history teaching. Teaching History, 166, 37-43.

Foster, R., & Gadd, S. (2013). Let’s play Supermarket ‘Evidential’ Sweep: developing students’ awareness of the need to select evidence. Teaching History, 152, 24-29.

Laffin, D. (2016). Learning to like linear? Some ideas for successful introduction of the new A Levels. Historical Association Conference workshop.