Education: the historians of tomorrow

“The students loved being trusted to engage with the documents. They couldn’t quite believe they were handling the ‘real’ thing, and were positively buzzing afterwards. It also really supported their learning.” (Year 11 teacher, Haringey)

Can you imagine studying chemistry without ever conducting an experiment? That’s what it’s like for people studying history, as the vast majority of pupils and students will go through their GCSEs, A-levels and even undergraduate degrees without ever visiting an archive, or conducting their own ‘experiments’ with evidence.

Using original documents can teach young people how to analyse sources, understand interpretation, and make a strong argument through evidence. They also offer students an opportunity to develop creative skills through literary or artistic responses to the material.

The National Archives has an award-winning education service that allows children to experience history first hand. Working with qualified and experienced teachers, pupils attend exciting, inspiring and fun taught sessions, both on site at Kew and online. The education service also runs a professional development programme to help teachers integrate the use of original documents into their practice.

This work is not part of The National Archives’ statutory – and funded – public task, so capacity is very limited. Demand far exceeds what can be delivered; The National Archives currently teaches around 10,000 students a year and sessions book up within minutes of their release. We want to change this so every child, all around the country, has the opportunity to have a direct encounter with the past.