The curriculum for Key Stage 4 History is prescribed by whichever exam board a school is following. There are four main exam boards:

All these exam boards offer at least one History GCSE. If your audience is likely to be from local schools it is worth finding out what boards they use and if possible to talk to and get advice from history teachers about what would be most useful for them. The criteria of exam boards periodically changes.


It depends on the nature of your portrait collection and the syllabus of the exam board as to what learning programmes you could run for KS4. Below are ideas based on the GCSE History syllabuses of current exam boards:

  • A collection of portraits of workers in industry and elsewhere from the nineteenth century to the present in a local town can be used to direct an area of study around ‘Changes in work and employment in industry from the late 19thC to the late 20thC’. (Section A2 in Edexcel History B GCSE)
  • A local history project involving portraiture and historical interpretation could be the focus of the ‘History Around Us’ module for Coursework for AQA History A and ‘History Around Us’ in GCSE History C (pdf download).


A good example: Investigate the Past
The National Library of Scotland offers a workshop that uses portraits alongside other sources of historical evidence to investigate the nineteenth century. Original items are used from the John Murray Archive to develop historical research skills, to find out how archives preserve evidence of the past and to develop evidence handling skills. Students also have a tour of the library or visit a specialist department to learn more about the library and careers using history.


The workshop is designed to support the development of key skills when working with historical evidence. It is designed for Scottish Secondary 4-6 but is a useful example of a wider focus on looking at historical evidence and the role of portraiture alongside archive material.



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