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 the school’s deputy head and a head of year. 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 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 up to 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 had over her expanding empire. This proves very popular with the boys as it is taught engagingly and with 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 Cadbury’s World 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 Y8 course begins with an overview of the Industrial Revolution and its impact on the way that we 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 1.5 – Students make an in-depth investigation of Victorian Britain with a core focus on all the mystery and evidence surrounding Jack The Ripper, crime and punishment and the advance of policing in London at this time
  • Term 2 – During Spring term 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 former WBGS boys and staff who were involved in the conflict. This course 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.
  • Term 3 – The KS3 History curriculum ends in term 3 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.

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 2019.

Key Stage 4 Curriculum 

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: Britain 1890-1918: WWI and the Home Front, the Liberal Reforms, Votes for Women
  • The British Depth Study will provide essential practise for their GCSE

Cold War in Europe and wider world: Berlin as the centre of European problems 1948-62; Cuban Missile Crisis; Arms Race; NATO and Warsaw Pact; Suez Crisis

Term 2

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:

Unit 1: Germany Democracy to Dictatorship 1890 - 1945 AQA Specification

This unit focuses on the development of Germany during a turbulent half century of change. It was a period of democracy and dictatorship – the development and collapse of democracy and the rise and fall of Nazism. Students will study the political, economic, social and cultural aspects of these two developments and the role ideas played in influencing change. They will also look at the role of key individuals and groups in shaping change and the impact the developments had on them.

Part one: Germany and the growth of democracy

• Kaiser Wilhelm and the difficulties of ruling Germany: the growth of parliamentary government; the influence of Prussian militarism; industrialisation; social reform and the growth of socialism; the domestic importance of the Navy Laws.

• Impact of the First World War: war weariness, economic problems; defeat; the end of the monarchy; post-war problems including reparations, the occupation of the Ruhr and hyperinflation.

• Weimar democracy: political change and unrest, 1919–1923, including Spartacists, Kapp Putsch and the Munich Putsch; the extent of recovery during the Stresemann era (1924–1929): economic developments including the new currency, Dawes Plan and the Young Plan; the impact of international agreements on recovery; Weimar culture.

Part two: Germany and the Depression

• The impact of the Depression: growth in support for the Nazis and other extremist parties (1928–1932), including the role of the SA; Hitler’s appeal. • The failure of Weimar democracy: election results; the role of Papen and Hindenburg and Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor.

• The establishment of Hitler’s dictatorship: the Reichstag Fire; the Enabling Act; elimination of political opposition; trade unions; Rohm and the Night of the Long Knives; Hitler becomes Führer.

Part three: The experiences of Germans under the Nazis

• Economic changes: benefits and drawbacks; employment; public works programmes; rearmament; self-sufficiency; the impact of war on the economy and the German people, including bombing, rationing, labour shortages, refugees.

• Social policy and practice: reasons for policies, practices and their impact on women and young people

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.

Unit 2: Year 10 Conflict and tension in Asia 1950-1975 

This wider world depth study enables students to understand the complex and diverse interests of different states and individuals and the ideologies they represented. It considers the role of nationalist movements in causing and sustaining conflict. It focuses on the causes and events of the Cold War in Asia and seeks to show how and why conflict occurred and why it proved difficult to resolve the tensions which arose. This study also considers the role of key individuals and groups in shaping change, as well as how they were affected by and influenced international relations.

Part one: Korea

• The causes of the Korean War: nationalism in Korea; US relations with China; the division of Korea; Kim Il Sung and Syngman Rhee; reasons why the North invaded the South in June 1950; US and the UN responses; USSR's absence from the UN.

Part 2 The development of the Korean War: the UN campaign in South and North Korea; Inchon landings and recapture of South Korea; UN forces advance into North Korea; reaction of China and intervention of Chinese troops October 1950; the sacking of MacArthur.

Part 3: The end of the Korean War: military stalemate around the 38th Parallel; peace talks and the armistice; impact of the Korean War for Korea, the UN and Sino-American relations.

Part two: Escalation of war in Vietnam

• The end of French colonial rule: Dien Bien Phu and its consequences; Geneva Agreement, 1954; civil war in South Vietnam; opposition to Diem; the Vietcong – aims, support, leadership and guerrilla tactics and Ho Chi Minh.

The US involvement: the Domino Theory; intervention under Eisenhower and Kennedy; Strategic Hamlets programme.

• Johnson’s War: the Gulf of Tonkin; the US response to Vietcong tactics; the mass bombing campaign; demands for peace and growing student protests in the USA; My Lai and its public impact; Search and Destroy tactics and impact; the Tet Offensive and its consequences for the war. Part three: The ending of war in Vietnam

• Nixon’s War: Vietnamisation; chemical warfare; bombing campaign of 1970–1972; relations with China; widening of the war into Laos and Cambodia.

• Opposition to war: Kent State University; the importance of the media and TV in influencing public opinion; the context of the Watergate affair.

The end of the war: the Paris Peace talks; the role of Kissinger; the US withdrawal; fall of Saigon; the price of conflict; problems of Vietnam in 1975

Unit 3: Power and the People

This thematic study will enable students to gain an understanding of the development of the relationship between the citizen and the state in Britain over a long period of time. It considers the causes, scale, nature and consequences of protest to that relationship. By charting the journey from feudalism and serfdom to democracy and equality, it reveals how, in different periods, the state responds to challenges to its authority and their impact. It allows students to construct an understanding of the rights and responsibilities of the citizen.

Students will have the opportunity to see how ideas, events or developments in the wider world affected the course of Britain's political development and will promote the idea that ideas of authority, challenge and rights did not develop in isolation, but these developments should be seen in terms of how they affected Britain and British people. Students will study the importance of war, religion, chance, government, communication, the economy, ideas such as equality, democracy, representation and the role of the individual in encouraging or inhibiting change.

Students will study how factors worked together to bring about particular developments at a particular time and their impact upon society. Students will develop an understanding of the varying rate of change.


Unit 4: Elizabethan England c.1568–1603

Students will study in depth the last 35 years of Elizabeth I's reign. The study will focus on major events of Elizabeth I’s reign considered from economic, religious, political, social and cultural standpoints, and arising contemporary and historical controversies.

Part one: Elizabeth's court and Parliament

Part two: Life in Elizabethan times

  • A ‘Golden Age’: living standards and fashions; growing prosperity and the rise of the gentry; the Elizabethan theatre and its achievements; attitudes to the theatre.
  • The poor: reasons for the increase in poverty; attitudes and responses to poverty; the reasons for government action and the seriousness of the problem.
  • English sailors: Hawkins and Drake; circumnavigation 1577–1580, voyages and trade; the role of Raleigh.

Part three: Troubles at home and abroad

  • Conflict with Spain: reasons; events; naval warfare, including tactics and technology; the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

Part four: The historic environments of Elizabethan England


Key Stage 5 

New History A-Level – Edexcel                                              

The new A-level 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 used at GCSE are developed in A-level and prepare students 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