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St Bart's leads the way in Holocaust studies

A Newbury school is involved in a national scheme to improve its Holocaust education.

St Bart’s School has successfully signed up to become a Beacon School, a programme devised by the Centre for Holocaust Education at University College London to develop teaching and learning about the Holocaust.

This year, the programme has recruited 23 new secondary schools in England to engage in critical study of the Holocaust and mass violence and genocide more widely — and to dispel the prevailing misconceptions surrounding this.

UCL lecturer, Corey Soper, and Sixth Form house leader and A-Level sociology teacher, Mark Owen
UCL lecturer, Corey Soper, and Sixth Form house leader and A-Level sociology teacher, Mark Owen

Sixth Form house leader and A-Level sociology teacher, Mark Owen, who started at Barts’ last September, is heading the new project.

“I’ve always had an interest in the Holocaust and really want to develop Holocaust education at Barts,” he said.

Mr Owen was involved with similar schemes in previous posts but says these failed to address the full scope and wider context of anti-Semitism.

“There is definitely student and staff appetite,” he added. “People want to preserve the history of the Holocaust.

“But, I think, certainly out of the research I did last year, staff don't necessarily have the correct information or avenues.”

But the appeal of the Beacon School programme, he explains, is its interdisciplinary approach.

Pupils and staff across multiple year groups and departments — not just history — will be exposed to Holocaust education in some form.

UCL lecturer, Corey Soper, recently visited Barts’ and delivered training to 10 staff members, who will feedback on their findings to pupils.

Mr Soper, previously a head of history at a school in Birmingham, joined the centre in 2019 after completing the Beacon School programme.

“I’ve always had a keen interest in the period,” he said. “But what I covered at university and the reading I’ve done more widely did not correspond with classroom practice at all.”

He says research conducted by the centre in 2016 revealed pupils and teachers think the Holocaust is important and they should know about it, but often don’t.

The programme also brings attention to less-explored angles of this period, including analysing the role of perpetrators and Britain’s reaction to Jewish persecution.

Mr Soper continued: “I didn't think things like that were really present in the work I was doing because I was doing a very traditional scheme of learning I’d inherited from previous teachers, which really didn’t delve into the depths of stories like that.”

Mr Soper delivering staff training during his recent visit to St Bart's
Mr Soper delivering staff training during his recent visit to St Bart's

The training includes showing atrocity images to pupils to gauge their reactions — or lack thereof — and discussing these, while adhering to appropriate safeguarding measures.

One of the biggest challenges the course faces is the rising threat of social media.

Pupils will be advised on how to recognise misinformation and harmful online trends.

A group of Year 9 to 13 pupils have also formed a discussion group which will meet 12.10pm to 12.5pm each Friday.

Some pupils will be visiting the former Auschwitz extermination camp at the end of March next year.

On October 20, the centre is inviting 22 teachers — including one from Barts’ — to take part in an intensive four-day training course in London, featuring expert talks.

“We will be looking specifically at those misconceptions that do not seem budge and what we can do to challenge them,” added Mr Soper.

“We’re not going to completely teach a child everything they need to know about the Holocaust in five lessons in Year 9.

“We need to see there will be exposure and deeper learning as they move through their career.”

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