Aim: To encourage students to ‘personalise history’ in order to broaden their conception of history, making it more meaningful, relevant and integral to their lives.

Background: This project was combined with the Head of Department’s MSc Teaching and Learning research at the University of Oxford. Her previous study had revealed a clear message from students - that increased focus on aspects of their own personal, cultural, family and local histories would be meaningful and relevant to them.


Year 1: Students, parents and teachers were interviewed and surveyed about their views of the potential benefits and challenges of students researching their identities. A new scheme of work was designed and trialled with some Year 7 and 8 groups, and the outcomes were evaluated. The department liaised with the makers of Who do you think you are? and Making History.

Year 2: The scheme of work was developed further with a specific focus on guiding students’ independent research and clarifying assessment criteria. It was trialled with all Year 7 and 8 groups; the opinions of students, parents and teachers were investigated and the outcomes of the scheme of work were evaluated.

Year 3: The scheme of work was developed to make it more accessible, and to give students the option to research either their family/cultural history and/or local history, and to provide opportunities for formal written assessment and exam-style questions.

Evidence: Questionnaires and interviews, student projects, student engagement and enthusiasm.

Impact: Most students and parents recognised that investigating their own family stories could develop students’ understanding of their personal identities and those of others. This was valued by students, who often revealed a complexity of perceptions regarding the plurality of their cultural identities. Parents and students revealed that the project had helped students to better understand one another’s cultural identities, promoting greater respect and tolerance of differences. Some also commented that the research had helped them feel a greater sense of belonging.

Students particularly felt that they could benefit from gaining a broader conception of history, involving not only mainstream content focused on major events and people, but also non-mainstream content focused on events and people significant to their own lives. However, there were tensions between these aims and the perceived purpose of school history (especially exam preparation), so teachers may need to consider how to sell a personal history topic through a focus on historical research skills rather than content.

Reflections: This kind of historical enquiry has the potential to be relevant and meaningful and can inspire students to continue History at the end of Key Stage 3. However, the design and teaching of such an enquiry needs careful consideration of potential sensitivities which might arise from family history, making an alternative focus on local history imperative. There are also practical obstacles to consider in terms of historical research and finding evidence on family stories. 

Contact: Amira Mekaouar,;