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Battle of the Somme centenary: the IOE remembers

30 June 2016

First World War battlefield tours

A vigil will be held in Westminster Abbey this evening to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, the bloodiest battle of the First World War. 17 schools from the IOE's First World War Centenary Battlefield Tours Programme are attending the event, led by the Queen, which takes place at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior.

During the vigil, each student will tell the story of one individual who fought in the Somme. This reflects the programme's aim to adopt a process of 'microhistory.' By focusing on an individual soldier, students are encouraged to consider the First World War on a more personal level.

Simon Bendry, National Education Co-ordinator for the Programme, explains:

"One of the greatest challenges around these tours is the huge scale of the cemeteries - it could very quickly become a 'numbers' visit. By focusing on just one grave in a cemetery and learning about an individual's story, we can unpick the broader history."

" By focusing on just one grave in a cemetery and learning about an individual's story, we can unpick the broader history.

Hannah Butler, a history teacher from Honley High School, West Yorkshire, agrees: "All of a sudden, it's not just a number; it's that person, their story."

The five year programme, which runs from 2014-2019 and is funded by the Department for Education, enables two students and one teacher from every state-funded secondary school in England to visit battlefields on the Western Front. To date, more than 1,300 schools have taken part.

In a tour earlier this year, students commented on the impact of learning outside of the classroom.

Josh, from Honley, West Yorkshire, describes his experience: "In the classroom, you only see the pictures. You don't actually feel it and see what it's actually like. You hear other people talk about it but you don't have your own perspective."

Emily-Jo, from Wakefield, West Yorkshire, agrees: "Down in the trenches, it felt as though you were actually a soldier. It felt a lot more real." 

" Down in the trenches, it felt as though you were actually a soldier

As well as understanding how and when the war took place, students and teachers are encouraged to think about the deeper questions, such as the very concept of a world war and the role of remembrance.

Bendry emphasises that the programme is targeted at teachers, as much as students. To enrich the battlefield tour experience, teachers complete a Continued Professional Development (CPD) programme beforehand. There are also plenty of online resources available.

Dan Grainger, a history teacher from Danum Academy, Doncaster, says: "It helps me as a teacher and I know it definitely helps the students as well."

" It helps me as a teacher and I know it definitely helps the students as well.

Legacy 110, a commemorative project within the programme, tasks students with delivering First World War community projects which impact upon at least 888,246 people - the number of British and Commonwealth soldiers who died during the First World War. 11 of the 17 schools attending the Westminster vigil have completed a Legacy110 commemorative project, as well as a battlefields tour.

In addition to the vigil in Westminster, ceremonies will take place at Thiepval Memorial in France on Friday 1 July. Politicians, descendants of those who fought, and 600 school children from Britain, Ireland and France will be attending. Five of the six schools that will be taking part in the events at Thiepval have been involved with the IOE Battlefields Programme. 

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