History & Politics

Mr McDermott heads this large department with a wide range of specific historical interests and life experiences. Three of the nine teachers in the department are part-time, mostly because their expertise is shared with other areas of school life. Indeed, the department has a high profile in the School - currently providing one of the School’s deputy heads and a HOY. The Department organises the School’s annual remembrance day service each November; and is one of a number of departments which provides regular overseas and extra-curricular study visits.
The Department is principally housed in four classrooms, all with their own audio-visual equipment, and also has a sixth form classroom for A-level Government and Politics teaching.

The staff and the environment have combined over the years to make both History and Politics popular examination options, with typically almost one hundred students studying History and more than sixty studying Politics at combined AS and A2 levels. Usually, 150 students opt for History at GCSE level, making it the most popular option.

The Department places great importance in being well resourced and has dedicated a large part of its budget over the years to buying a wide variety of books ensuring students have ready access to all the relevant textbooks.

Key Stage 3

History is a challenging and popular subject at Watford Grammar School for Boys. The KS3 History curriculum is designed to encourage the boys to think about the world they live in and answer big questions relating to society, religion, politics and ethics. The skills that the boys develop during KS3 History – for example, source analysis, empathy, constructing arguments and effective writing – are designed to prepare the boys for onward study at KS4 across Humanities subjects and the wider curriculum. Students at KS3 are encouraged to develop an interest in and love for reading. The school library is well-resourced and used extensively over the KS3 History syllabus. All boys study History in their form groups during KS3.

Year 7 History – Contrasts and Connections

  • Term 1 – The boys begin Y7 by looking at England under the Normans. This includes why Britain was attractive to foreign rulers and migrants, the crisis of 1066 and the consequences of William of Normandy’s victory.

  • Term 2 – After looking at the Norman consolidation of power, the boys study the shape and challenges of life in Medieval Britain. This includes comparisons between rich and poor, religious life and the impact of the Black Death upto and including the Peasants Revolt

  • Term 3 – During Term 3 the boys undertake a comparative study of the Tudors and life under Elizabeth. This course is designed to encourage an appreciation of the impact of the religious changes in Britain under Henry, Edward and the power Elizabeth over her expanding empire. This proves very popular with the boys as it is taught so engagingly an with such passion by the members of staff.

The main Y7 History trip is an interactive day out at Warwick Castle; this is linked to a research project that the boys undertake in the spring on a castle of their choice. Y7 boys who participate in the lunchtime Humanities club also have the opportunity to go on other visits. In the past these have included trips to Cadburyworld and Greenwich.

Year 8 History – Societies in Change

In Y8 the boys explore the great social and political changes of the French Revolution and British Early Modern Period (the British Civil War). Comparisons with modern events are a strong feature of the course and are used to encourage the boys’ interest in and understanding of our modern world.

  • Term 1 – The boys investigate the causes, escalation, events and consequences of the French Revolution. The course ends at the start of Term 2 with a depth study on the rise of Napoleon and the impact of the Napoleonic wars on European History, thought and democracy.

  • Term 2 - The Y8 course begins with an overview of Industrial Revolution and its impact on the way that the boys live today. This includes why Britain was the epicentre of industrial advancement and how this drove social, technological and political change. A core feature of this study is the development of the British Empire and the role that the Transatlantic Slave Trade played in this process. The boys also complete an independent research project on an aspect of Victorian life of their choosing.

  • Term 3 – During term 3 the boys focus on the First World War. This period is of great significance to Watford Grammar School for Boys, given the large number of ex-boys and staff who were involved in the conflict. This course – which has additional current resonance as centenary commemorations of the war continue – includes the causes of the war, impacts of trench warfare and how life in Britain – the “Home Front” – was mobilised to support the war. The History Department has extensive resources on this period and is responsive to where the boys want to focus their learning. In the past this has included an appreciation of WW1 poetry, significant battles and the principal politicians and generals involved in the conflict.

To further extra-curricular reading, students complete a book review on a historical novel from one of the periods studied in Y8. Boys also complete a research project on how London changed during the tumultuous years of the Restoration, Great Plague and Fire of London.

The school operates a bi-annual trip to Normandy for boys in Y8 and Y9. This is designed to consolidate previous learning on the Norman Conquest and engender interest in WW1 and WW2 studies in Y9 and at KS4. This trip will next be run in summer 2017.


Year 9 History – Peace & War

The Y9 History course is shorter than years 7 and 8 because students begin their GCSE courses after the Y9 autumn half-term. The Y9 course provides a platform for understanding and explaining the world in which we live.

  • Term 1 – The KS3 History curriculum ends in term 1 with a study on Europe between the wars and, specifically, the events and impact of WW2. Topics such as Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain and the Home Front are covered in detail.
  • Term 2 - teachers are responsive to pupil choice on which topics to study. Previous class groups have undertaken research studies on D-Day, Hitler’s invasion of Russia, and the use and legacy of atomic weaponry.

In addition to the bi-annual Normandy trip, which many boys choose to go on in Y9, the boys visit the Imperial War Museum during the year. The Museum offers an excellent range of interactive exhibits and consolidates the boys’ learning and appreciation of the sacrifices made by those who lived during the wars.

Key Stage 4  Curriculum Outline

History answers many questions about the world we live in. The topics we study for GCSE History are particularly interesting and relevant to an understanding of modern world issues. Boys follow the AQA Modern World History GCSE and study the following topics:

Year 10

  • Depth Study: Germany and the Rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party
  • The Cold War 1945-75
  • These two topics will be examined at the end of Year 11 in a Source Paper and an Essay Paper. Together, both Papers account for 45% of the GCSE marks

Year 11

  • Aspects of Russian History 1917-45 (Controlled Assessment)

  • Britain 1890-1918: WWI and the Home Front, the Liberal Reforms, Votes for Women

  • The British Depth Study will be examined at the end of Year 11 in a Source Paper and accounts for 30% of the GCSE marks. The Russia Controlled Assessment accounts for 25% of the GCSE

Key Stage 5 

New History A-Level – Edexcel                                              

The new A-level that you will study has been constructed to afford a much broader and deeper understanding of a range of political, social and economic histories of different countries in the 19th and 20th centuries. The skills that you have used at GCSE are developed in A-level and prepare you for a variety of courses at university. Studying History allows you to interpret, investigate and debate before coming to reasoned conclusions, which is a highly sought after skills set for any career path you choose.

Route E: Communism in the 20th Century

Paper 1: Russia 1917-91 from Lenin to Yeltzin This option comprises a study in breadth, in which students will learn about the key political, social and economic features of communist rule in Russia during the twentieth century, an era that saw the USSR’s authority and influence rise to the status of a superpower, only to diminish and decline later in the century:

Establishing Communist Party control under Lenin, 1917–24:

  • Stalin in power, 1928–53: The secret police, purges and WWII
  • Reform, stability and stagnation, 1953–85
  • Industry and agriculture in the Stalin era: the Five-Year Plans
  • State control of mass media, propaganda and religion
  • The personality cults of Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev

30% A-level (Essays and historical interpretations)

Paper 2: Mao’s China 1949-76 Investigates in depth the impact of Mao’s reorganisation of China with emphasis on Communist ideology and the part it played in political, economic, social and foreign policy.

  • China before the Revolution in 1949
  • Takeover and consolidation of power by Mao
  • Rebuilding of China: Agriculture, Industry, Five Year Plans
  • Great Leap Forward: Causes, Effects and Impact
  • Terror and Control
  • Cultural Revolution
  • Foreign Policy: Cold War conflicts – Korea, Vietnam and ping pong diplomacy [1969-the-chinese-peoples-liberation]

A-level 20% (Interpretations and source essays)

Paper 3: Britain: Losing and Gaining an Empire 1763 -1914 This option offers boys the opportunity to study Britain's influence on the development of the world during an exciting period of History. It offers a broad overview from the mid-18th century to the outbreak of the First World War. Key events that have shaped our modern world politics will be studied such as the American War of Independence, complemented by individuals such as Gordon of Khartoum. The focus moves away from Europe to considering countries not touched at GCSE such as Australia, India and Africa. This is an exciting opportunity for boys to discover how Britain came to rule one quarter of the world's land surface changing politics, society and the global economy for ever.

  • The Origins of British Power
  • The Indian Mutiny and Its Impact
  • The British Raj 1858-1914
  • The Nature of Colonial Society
  • The Role of the Indian Army
  • The Great Game: The Northwest Frontier and Rivalry with Russia

30% Source analysis and essays

Paper 4: Coursework India and the British Empire 1757-1947 This is an essay assignment that considers a range of interpretations over distinct issues in Indian history within the British Empire up to independence in 1947.  Students will devise a question and tackle it using a range of accessible source and reference material before reaching an evaluated conclusion. This follows on from Paper 3 learning and can include:

  • The Rise of Indian Nationalism
  • The Amritsar Massacre of 1919 and its Impact
  • Gandhi’s Campaigns for Civil Rights and Independence and their Impacts
  • British Politics and India 1919-39
  • India and the Second World War
  • The Fall of Singapore and Its Impact on the Image of Imperial Superiority (Pax Britannica?)
  • The End of the Empire
  • Economic Pressures on Post-War Britain and their Impact on Imperial Policy
  • Attlee’s Labour government and Britain’s decision to withdraw
  • The Role of Key Personalities in the rise of Muslim and Indian Nationalism
  • The Outbreak and Impact of Communal Violence 1947

20% of A-level Historio-graphical analysis and evaluation of interpretations