February 2017


  • Time for action
    The crises in funding, recruitment and retention need urgent attention, says Malcolm Trobe. But they can only be resolved if government and the profession tackle them together. More
  • Learning beyond the battlefield
    Thousands of pupils and their teachers have retraced soldiers’ footsteps to the Western Front to mark the centenary of WWI. National Education Coordinator Simon Bendry highlights how schools can sign up for the free programme. More
  • Research insights
    In the third of a regular research insights page, Pippa Lord and Jennie Harland, researchers from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), present key findings that shed light on the emerging role of the executive headteacher. More
  • Primary focus
    Former primary head Dame Reena Keeble says a new review into effective primary teaching practice provides thought-provoking, practical advice to help schools improve their teaching. More
  • Raising the bar
    Research into the impact of the EBacc suggests that it is helping to improve attainment but Pupil Premium students may still be missing out on all of its potential benefits, according to researchers Rebecca Allen and Philip Nye. More
  • Going for gold
    Baroness Sue Campbell explains what lies behind Team GB’s phenomenal achievements at the Rio Olympics and how well-functioning schools have parallels in the turnaround in British sporting success. She talks to Dorothy Lepkowska. More
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Thousands of pupils and their teachers have retraced soldiers’ footsteps to the Western Front to mark the centenary of WWI. National Education Coordinator Simon Bendry highlights how schools can sign up for the free programme.

Learning beyond the battlefield

Since 2014, more than 4,000 students and teachers from more than 1,300 state-funded schools across England have taken part in the fully funded First World War Centenary Battlefield Tours Programme. This four-day visit offers one teacher and two students from each school a unique opportunity to travel to some of the most infamous battlefield sites in Belgium and Northern France, to develop a deeper understanding of the war and lead a community-focused commemorative project on their return.

As well as offering students a unique opportunity to experience the sites first hand, the programme is a fantastic CPD opportunity for teachers and staff, with a continuing professional development (CPD) itinerary included as part of the visit. Teachers and staff can also network with other schools, share good practice and forge new relationships.

Connor McElwaine, History Teacher at Ark Kings Academy in Birmingham, attended the tour along with some of the students from the school. He said, “The trip has been a great CPD experience. Currently we teach WWI in Years 9 and 10 and the trip has allowed me to bring in stories, lesson activities and pictures that has fostered much more interest from pupils than in previous years. Having done research on the local soldiers, the memorial sites and the importance of decoding monuments, students have been able to think more critically and analyse WWI. I’m now putting together a plan for our school to run a larger version of this trip and without this experience, I would not have been able to do this.”

Although many schools have sent their history teachers on the visit, others have sent teachers from different subjects including English and citizenship, with a few schools opting to send non-teaching staff and newly qualified teachers (NQTs).

Schools select students to attend the tour as they feel most appropriate, for example, by Pupil Premium status, holding a competition or choosing high attainers. Many schools take Year 9 pupils due to the synergies with their learning about the First World War across the curriculum.

Community connections

Unlike many other battlefield tours, and to encourage participants to engage with the various locations on the tour, the programme has been organised by first considering what aspect of World War I to focus on, and then deciding which location would provide greatest benefit.

At each site, students and teachers consider several enquiry questions:

  • How did World War I affect ordinary people?
  • Was the Battle of the Somme in 1916 really a disaster for the British Army?
  • Is remembrance more or less important after one hundred years?

Giving students a sense of purpose in this way helps them to see that a cemetery is more than ‘thousands of gravestones’ or a preserved battlefield site is more than ‘just a field’. The tailored itinerary reflects the regiments and regions where the schools are based, emphasising the exploration of personal and community angles and highlighting that what happened at these sites involved individuals from their own communities.

Time for reflection

Each tour is supported by a Guild of Battlefield Guide and serving soldiers from the British Army. WWI had a profound effect on individuals, families and their communities, as well as the landscape, and the guides provide thought-provoking historical perspectives.

As part of the visit, students and teachers attend a poignant Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ieper (Ypres). The ceremony takes place every night of the year at 8pm, and is attended by buglers from the Ypres volunteer fire brigade who sound the Last Post before a minute’s silence to reflect on the sacrifice of those lost.

Emily Morris (13) of St Benedict’s Catholic High School in Alcester and Georgia Thomas (13) from Shire Oak Academy in Walsall were chosen to lay a wreath at the ceremony on behalf of their visiting group. Georgia said, “I felt really honoured to be laying the wreath and it was a truly unique experience – one that I’ll never forget.”

Legacy 110

On their return, students have the opportunity to act as ambassadors by sharing their experiences with their peers and the wider community via the programme’s Legacy 110 initiative. Key projects are recognised annually at a prestigious ceremony that last year was held in the House of Lords. Legacy 110 is designed to inspire students to reach out into their local communities and create a lasting legacy for the First World War. Projects like this enhance community and social cohesion, as well as developing students’ key life and work-based skills.

At Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and Memorial to the Missing, students Jhonattan Goncalves (15) and Zach Opere Onguende (16) from Vale School, a special school in Haringey, North London, visited the grave of a local soldier, Private George Baxter Lowson. For their Legacy 110 project, the boys wrote a musical tribute to their local soldier.

The boys said, “We were really emotional when we found the grave of George Baxter Lowson, a soldier who lived really near to us in Tottenham. Although we had seen thousands of graves over the course of the Battlefields Tour, 'meeting'George made us very sad and really think about his sacrifice. We felt that in some way, we knew him and it was this that inspired us to write our song 'My Mate George'.” (Search for ‘My Mate George Vale School’ on YouTube to listen to their song.)

Tony Millard, Deputy Head at Vale School, said, “The students were proud and privileged to mark this historic anniversary and were extremely moved by the sacrifice made by so many during the Great War.”

Sarah’s Diary

13 year-old Sarah Jack, from Fullhurst Community College in Leicester went on the tour in October and kept a diary of her visit. Here she describes her experience:

Day 1

It was great to climb the ropes in the teambuilding session and get to know the other students in our group. After dinner, the soldiers showed us objects from WWI, the Lee– Enfield rifle was really heavy.

Day 2

We learnt about the first use of blood transfusions at Ljssenthoek and saw the grave of Nellie Spindler, a British nurse buried at the cemetery. At the Passchendaele museum, we smelt the gas used in the trenches and learnt how the war affected the people of Belgium.

Day 3

In France, we learnt more about how some of the battles of the Somme were fought. We talked about how many different countries were involved in the fighting – it felt strange, as everywhere is now really quiet and peaceful.

Day 4

I felt really lucky to have a chance to lay a poppy at my great-great-great-uncle’s grave at Tyne Cot. The whole trip helped me understand more about what life was like for the soldiers, and that every one of them had a story.

Free learning resources

The First World War Centenary Battlefield Tours Programme is backed by the government. It comprises free teacher development and educational resources developed and led by UCL Institute of Education, combined with a free four-day tour of the Somme and the Ypres Salient fulfilled by tour provider Equity. The programme runs until March 2019. Sign up your school for this unique experience


Simon Bendry is National Education Coordinator for the First World War Centenary Battlefield Tours Programme, UCL Institute of Education, London.