Tag Archives: The History Boys

Approaches to teaching

Or a brief critique of Alan Bennett’s The History Boys from a teacher’s perspective.

But teachers bring their own personality to the classroom; and no two teachers approach the subject in quite the same way – as demonstrated in The History Boys.

Bennett cleverly sets up the scenario where there’re three members of staff all teaching the same students, the same subject, with the one aim: to get them through their Oxbridge entrance exams.  And in the Goldilocks scenario, Bennett provides us with the spectrum of teaching styles:

  • The Scatter Gun
  • The thorough and traditional and
  • Gobbits to get you through.

Hector (Student-led lessons – largely undervalued by the scholars)

(For the purpose of this piece we’ll ignore the indiscretion) An experienced practitioner. His Scope & Sequence (programme of study) plastered on the display boards around the room. Knows nothing of the limitations of the National Curriculum or an exam syllabus:  he has a lifetime’s worth of knowledge, and his sole purpose is to “Pass it on.”  He’s no idea what a lesson plan is, and has certainly never written one:  a chaotic, unpredictable, passionate, wonderful heavyweight.

Totty (Teacher-led lessons)

Felix‘s delight:  subject-knowlegeable. Organised.  Aware of the requirements of the examination and determined her scholars will meet them:  gets the grades by expecting hard work and more hard work. Perhaps the driving force of the trio. You can see why she’s attractive in a target-driven era of education.


The new boy; the cat amongst the pigeons – fresh from… well, he’s led everyone to think he’s Oxbridge.  All spin and style;  headlines and highlights; subverting the norm and justifying the stance.

Of course the professional classroom needs as much Totty as possible (!),  and our students need a bit of the critical thinking that Irwin was offering. But, really, the nagging feeling in my mind, is that it’s Hector’s insistence that “All knowledge is precious” that is sadly missing from the tick-box, number-crunching, desperate to be business-like modality of the last epoch of education.