The need for humanities - Hurstpierpoint College

The need for humanities

Beccy Bownas, Head of Humanities at Hurst College, argues the case for the significant role of humanities in developing valuable and important life skills

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 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 worldwide current affairs seeing a rise of right wing and centralised politics in Europe; 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.

Creation of Humanities Faculty

Hurst College created a Humanities Faculty in September 2022, to include 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 working 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 believe one which we believe is important for our pupils.

Vital role

The role of humanities is thus a vital one. 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 they foster justice and equality from humanities teaching. Throughout Key Stage 3 and beyond, the humanities teach pupils to deal critically and logically with subjective, complete 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. To effectively outline skills, topic areas and cross-overs which pupils can apply to real life contemporary examples they see around them. The faculty allows for scaffolding of the key skills, especially higher order logic and thinking skills as well as improvement of writing styles. We also have a focus on teaching the harder components of the humanities world – for example, powers of analysis, discursive writing and evaluation skills.

Super-curricular options

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; Dr Hannah Mason-Bish delivering a lecture on Criminology and Gender Studies and what degrees in these areas look like; as well as an annual history dinner which hosts a range of guest speakers.

Humanities is vital for developing important life skills which pupils can use beyond their school years. For example, it encourages pupils to debate, challenge ideas presented to them, 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. Some of these are detailed below.

History Department

  • Recognises Holocaust Memorial Day with Sussex University: pupils attend talks and seminars, in conjunction with a pupil-led assembly. Previously, the department have invited in a holocaust survivor to speak to the whole school.
  • Sixth Form Annual History Dinner: with guest speakers.
  • Visit to the National Archives: with the Sixth Form
  • Charity Projects: for example, cards for International Women’s Day and Ukrainian appeals, designed by historians.
  • Annual Year 9 trip: to Berlin
  • Biennial Sixth Form Trip (Krakow in October 2022)
  • Year 8 online workshop: Equality and influence

Politics Department

  • Model United Nations Society
  • Feminism seminar: What would a truly feminist world look like and what are the barriers to it?
  • Visits from: an MP, a Lord and a political pollster to talk to the pupils.

Geography Department

  • Attendance of external lectures: organised by the Geographical Association
  • External guest speakers: to support and stretch beyond GCSE and A-level content
  • Day fieldwork trips and residential fieldwork trips: to complete Geography in the field
  • International trips: Azores, Sicily, Naples, Iceland
  • Non-exam assessment masterclass: improve and develop pupil’s use of GIS software
  • Online seminars and encouraging pupils to read beyond their subject: for example, webinar delivered by Bill Gates on How to avoid a climate disaster and Tim Marshall The power of geography.

Sociology Department

  • British Sociology Association: Young Sociologist of the Year competition
  • Guest speakers: Dr Zoe Young, expert in gender inequality in the workplace; and Dr Hannah Mason-Bish, Co-Chair of Centre for Gender Studies at University of Sussex
  • Court house trip: to see the criminal justice system in action

 Business Department

  • Online team: dedicated to sending out enriching articles, podcasts, documentaries, etc.
  • External essay competition entries: encouraging students to enter at least one competition in the Sixth Form
  • Off-syllabus reading tasks: increasingly being set
  • Photocopied chapters of books: for students to ‘try before they buy’ some of the key texts
  • Book display in the classroom: plus, wall displays with mini-reviews
  • Promoting online subscriptions: to the FT and Economist
  • Lessons on off-syllabus topics: current affairs focus at least once a week

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.


Learn more about Academic Life at Hurst College