Hurst College Head of Humanities Beccy Bownas on the importance of prioritising these subjects in our schools

It won’t take you long to find something in the media to outline the issue that humanities are taking a dip. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Guardian and BBC have all reported in recent years about the declining uptake and prestige of the humanities. However, it is my belief that they play a hugely significant role, and their power must not be undervalued.

With a rise of right-wing politics; abortion laws resurfacing in the US; climate, energy and cost of living crises; war and conflict in Europe and beyond; the study of the humanities is ultimately more important now than ever before. In recognition of this, we have created a Humanities Faculty at Hurst College. This includes the departments of geography, history, religious studies, politics, business, economics, sociology and classical civilisation from Year 6 in the Junior Prep School through to Upper Sixth in the Senior School. A fantastically diverse set of subjects and key stages all now work together collaboratively to share our love for the humanities, instil passion and enthusiasm in our pupils and make them acutely aware of the world around them. Looking ‘beyond their bubble’ is a phrase we have coined and one which we believe is important for our pupils. 

Hurst College Head of Humanities Beccy Bownas on the importance of prioritising these subjects in our schools
Hurst Year 6 students learning about the Battle of Hastings and its part in our history

From Key Stage 2, pupils are taught about a range of cultures, traditions, norms and values. They are taught valuable social skills, how to show empathy for others, and at a young age we foster justice and equality from humanities teaching. Throughout Key Stage 3 and beyond, the humanities teach pupils to deal critically and logically with subjective and imperfect information. Pupils are taught to weigh evidence sceptically and consider more than one side of every question.

The intention for the Humanities Faculty is to structure, linearise and design an effective curriculum which interlinks topics between subjects and key stages. The faculty allows for scaffolding of the key skills, especially higher order logic and thinking skills as well as improvement of writing styles. There is also a focus on teaching the harder components of the humanities world – for example analysis, discursive writing and evaluation skills.

We run a series of lectures and guest speaker events including a debate from local academics on What a truly feminist world would look like and what are the barriers to achieving this. We also hold an annual history dinner which hosts a range of guest speakers.

Humanities develops important life skills which pupils can use beyond their school years. For example, it encourages pupils to debate, challenge ideas, reflect upon their own personal experiences and empathise with the experiences of others who are very different, whilst applying concepts to real life examples in contemporary society.

As a faculty, we promote a range of super-curricular options for our pupils and firmly believe that these are vital for preparing them for life and society. The ultimate goal is to facilitate a love and excitement in our pupils for the humanities subjects and to show their relevance. We have managed to move away from the mythical mantra of ‘Smart kids do science and maths‘ and the Humanities Faculty is buzzing. Numbers of pupils opting for humanities subjects are incredibly strong and we have a robust set of departments paving the way for creating well-rounded, thoughtful, inquisitive and passionate students who we believe will go on to be successful global citizens in the world beyond school.

Hurst College

Further reading: DLD College London on learning for the here and now