Platinum Jubilee: Exploring History with The National Archives

by Rachel Hillman & Clare Horrie, The National Archives, UK.

What is The National and Archives and Education service?

The National Archives’ holds hundreds of records relating to Britain’s history over the past 1000 years; these contain the stories of monarchs and politicians, along with those of ordinary people who lived through these changing times. Using this original archive material, the Education Service develops and delivers taught sessions to students from 5yrs to 18yrs, designed to meet the requirements of the National Curriculum and exam syllabi for history. These workshops encourage students to learn about history in an active and meaningful way; they make their own interpretations about the past from these records and learn how to think critically. The Education Service also has an award-winning wealth of online resources  Education sessions and resources – The National Archives, designed to allow access into these unique collections. These include structured investigations for direct use in the classroom, themed collections of documents with activities more suited for research and preparation and video guides which explore different records series with activities.

To mark the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, The National Archives’ Education Service worked with Toffee Hammer Animations ( to develop a learning resource to engage primary school pupils with these records. We wanted to use records from both The National Archives and The Royal Collections, giving pupils the opportunity to explore different decades of the Queen’s reign and to ask questions about how life in Britain had changed over this time. We also wanted them to find out about different Queens in the past and how the role of a monarch has fundamentally changed.

Above all, we wanted to inspire pupils’ curiosity and interest in the reign of Elizabeth II, enabling them to make their own interpretations from these records and how a historical narrative is constructed. Historical archives are not just the domain of adult researchers and academics, but a resource for everyone. We wanted pupils to work with original documents, challenging traditional notions and understanding of who archives are for and what they can achieve.

The Platinum Jubilee Resource

What is it?

The resource is a combination of narrated commentary in the form of an engaging, pacey video; and the use of archive material with supported activities, that invites pupils to take an historical journey through the different decades of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Spanning the 1950’s to the 2020’s, pupils find out about the Queen’s role and what life was like for many ordinary people in Britain during this time.

The accompanying digital resources also enable pupils to explore the reigns of four other female monarchs – Queen Matilda, Mary I, Elizabeth I and Queen Anne – and to consider how the role of a Queen changed over the centuries.

This resource not only supports those pupils learning about the Platinum Jubilee, but can also be used across both Key Stages 1 and 2 as part of wider study of the National Curriculum for History e.g. Significant People at KS1 and the Changing Power of Monarchs at KS 2.

How can teachers/ learners use it?

‘Platinum Jubilee’ is aimed at encouraging pupils in primary education to engage with original archive material in an accessible and innovative way, and to develop their skills as historians.  It can also be used in a cross-curricular way and by foreign language teachers. It provides opportunity for pupils to understand how we find out about the past and to make their own interpretations about events from this evidence. The resource is predominantly aimed at KS 2 but has a much wider target audience.  Teachers and educators can use the assembly video and archive material in flexible ways, that best suit the needs of their learners. 

This resource is freely available to audiences across the globe on The National Archives Education webpages and has been met with a very positive response. Making the resource available online has meant that these records are accessible to pupils who cannot visit The National Archives in-person, so they have the opportunity to develop their skills of historical enquiry and to find out about the importance of archives more widely.

This resource also brings together other collections’ records, for example The Royal Collections Trust, alongside The National Archives material, and was a completely new venture for The National Archives. Due to the success of ‘Platinum Jubilee’, The National Archives has gone on to create further resources of this type about Windrush and The Good Friday Agreement.

Value and impact

We chose this media to provide an immediate window into the past and provide opportunities to explore that past for example including original footage. We also aimed to select historical sources which would be accessible and appeal to our audience to allow them to identify the concept of historical change. The video also offers questions to explore and can be stopped at any time for class discussion. The digital lessons which accompany the video, reference the sources included for more exploration.

The narrative commentary and archive material, provide an alternative to the sanitised source ‘extracts’ available in textbooks. They enable pupils to gain a greater understanding of source material and how to construct their own interpretations using evidence. The whole resource is engaging and exciting, prompting pupils to ask and think carefully about what the documents reveal about life during Queen Elizabeth’s reign and how this compares to the role of other monarchs in the past.

We will sum up this article with one of the comments we received from a teacher who has been using the ‘Platinum Jubilee’ resource with their pupils: ”Thank you for some amazing Jubilee resources.  We did the What is a Jubilee? and Life in the 1950s with a number of age groups!… I will be teaching the other ones later in the year. Once again thank you for outstanding resources. You need to make sure your resources go for any Museum type education prizes as they are first rate!Primary school teacher, Solefield

Editor’s note: Platinum Jubilee was a finalist in the 2023 edition of the MEDEA Awards, submitted by the UK National Archives and represented by Rachel Hillman & Clare Horrie during the awards ceremony, which took place on June 2,0 in Leuven City Hall, as part of the Media & Learning Conference 2023 organised by KU Leuven and the Media & Learning Association.


Clare Horrie is Education Web Manager for the National Archives Education website having previous worked as a secondary school teacher and Head of History in the state sector for many years. She has developed, written and produced a wide range of online teaching materials from key stage 1 to key stage 5 for the website. She has also co-authored four books including When the office went to war: War letters from men of the Great Western Railway, Published by Bloomsbury 2015: co-author Kathryn Phelps , and Primary History Toolkit (2019) Co-author Rachel Hillman

Rachel Hillman is Deputy Head of Education and Outreach for The National Archives, having previously worked as a primary school teacher and History Co-ordinator in the state sector. She was previously Onsite Education Manager, and has researched, developed and delivered a wide range of onsite teaching workshops for The National Archives Education Service (for Ks1-Ks5). She has also led in the development of the organisation’s Special Educational Needs programme and Family programme, and co-authored three books including Diverse Histories (2020) Co-author Clare Horrie.