Unlocking history with The Great War Debate

Having just finished the last event in our second run of The Great War Debate, it feels like the perfect time to share our highlights and reveal some of our exciting plans for the next one!

Coordinated on behalf of the Department for Education, this series of highly interactive panel discussions are key to helping young people unlock events from 100 years ago and consider how it's impacted on life as they know it today.

Chaired by the likes of BBC Newsnight’s Mark Urban and TV presenter and historian, David Olusoga; we’ve hand-picked panels of experts from a range of specialist areas and backgrounds, including the IWM and Science Museum, to get young people thinking about the far-reaching implications the Great War has had on the world we live in. From the extent to which it drove forward female emancipation, to the impact it had on social mobility and class divides; students have had the chance delve deep into topics beyond their text books and challenge leading academics.

Each debate offers unique insights into the war which stretch and challenge students’ views, while demonstrating the intrinsic power of debate within history; in shaping not just how we remember the past, but who we remember too.

Led by our resident military historian, students have got up close and personal with an array of artefacts from the war, getting their hands on trench periscopes and uniforms, as well as real (but thankfully inert!) grenades.

Hearing feedback from students and teachers who’ve attended has made our whole team so proud to have helped make it happen, with one student at Brighton Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College commenting that the debate “opened my mind to different viewpoints of the First World War. I have realised how much more of history, especially WW1, that there is to explore.”

Hannah Murray, Head of History at Highcliffe School tweeted to say: “Some very, very satisfied customers! Year 12 have come away elated and inspired. Some even now thinking about changing their university options.”

The tangible impact the events have on students reflects the way in which we bring schools together in a completely fresh and interactive way – something crucial for subject matter that can otherwise be all too easily confined to a classroom setting. A highlight for me was seeing so many students stay behind after the debates to go up and quiz the panellists on where they can find out more to develop their understanding of the Great War further.

What’s more, we want to make sure as many students as possible have access to this unique opportunity so we record each of our debates as podcasts. If you’d like to learn more about The Great War Debate, you can listen back to all our events here, as well as hearing more from students, teachers and panellists involved.

Having now run 18 debates across the UK and reached over 2,100 students in the process, we’re now planning for the final series that will take us to the end of 2018. To commemorate 100 years since the armistice 11th November 1918, we’ll be planning an extra special event so watch this space. If you’re interested in any information about how to get involved, please send us an email at

About the author

Ellie Thomson

Ellie works across a range of clients including HS2, Shell, Kellogg’s and DfE. She has an MSc in Environment, Culture and Society with Distinction from the University of Edinburgh, alongside a First Class Honours degree in BSc Geography from the University of Bristol. Most recently, Ellie worked at Marks & Spencer within their Plan A sustainability team and was a news and politics intern for the BBC, after becoming NCTJ qualified in 2012.

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