Institute of Education


Q&A with Robin Whitburn

Dr Robin Whitburn led a 30-year career as a secondary school teacher in North-West London prior to joining the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) as a Lecturer in History Education.

What attracted you to take up your position at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE)?
The opportunity to support and influence future generations of history teachers in secondary schools attracted me to the IOE in 2010 after being involved in supporting a PGCE trainee teacher in my school. The IOE had been my academic ‘home’ in my Masters and Doctoral studies, so I knew it to be a supportive and forward-thinking centre for educational thinking and change.

What do you most enjoy about your job and why?
Working with people who are embarking on a new professional career as a history teacher is exciting and energising. The readiness with which our trainee teachers consider new ways of approaching the subject that they love, and the way they listen considerately and critically to fresh ideas about pedagogy and curriculum is inspiring and encouraging. Continuing to work with many of those trainees as they move into their first schools, and in many cases work with us after a few years as mentors themselves, has been a particular joy.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
The development of more inclusive history education in secondary schools was always a passion of my work as a teacher, and I have been proud to promote this in the work of the history education team at the IOE. The history of Black communities in Britain has been a particular focus for me within the wider field of Black History.

The development of more inclusive history education in secondary schools was always a passion of my work." 

Our PGCE History curriculum has a number of opportunities for the student-teachers to learn about diverse histories and to develop enquiries within that field in a number of their placement schools. I have recently worked with colleagues in the UCL Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership on a project with the Historical Association to develop teachers’ work in the teaching of Britain and Transatlantic Slavery.

What is the focus of your research and what benefits do you hope your discoveries or insights will bring?
The impact of teaching history through historical enquiries, that is sequences of lessons that are centred on a particular intriguing enquiry question, involving the pupils as key agents in seeking answers to that question across the sequence, is a particular focus of my research interests. The possible empowerment in learning history that this approach offers could be an important development for the subject in secondary schools, particularly in developing under-exploited diverse histories and encouraging more Black and Minority Ethnic young people to study, and then teach, history.

How has being in London or at UCL in particular benefited you?
The IOE has given me a highly respected and learned base for the development of work in history education. The team of dedicated and visionary professionals that I work with have been an inspiration and support throughout my time here, as were my teachers in the Masters and Doctoral programmes that I followed here.


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