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KS4 History: Jane Brown Changes Her Job (1941)

Use a WWII propaganda film to explore utility and reliability in source analysis

Main image of KS4 History: Jane Brown Changes Her Job (1941)
AuthorPoppy Simpson, BFI
TopicWWII: Home Front; Changing role of women
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Typist Jane Brown swaps the office for the factory floor in this recruitment film produced for the Ministry of Information and the Ministry for Labour in 1941.

A useful film for looking at government propaganda during WWII as well as a starting point for considering women's contribution to and experience of the home front.

This lesson idea uses the film as the starting point for considering the intersection between utility and reliability in source analysis. It's a fairly standard history GCSE lesson, offering a structured approach to a fairly standard history GCSE question! But there is plenty of scope to really stretch students' critical faculties with this film - for example, by looking at how sound and image are manipulated to produce a piece of propaganda, by searching for clues about 1940s attitudes towards women or by comparing the film with other source materials from the time.

Lesson Objective

To understand the relationship between utility and reliability in source analysis and evaluate the utility of the film in answering the following question:

  • How useful is Jane Brown Changes Her Job to an historian studying women's experience of war work during WWII?


Split the class down the middle, giving each group one of the following two questions to focus their attention during the first minute of the film.

Neither group should see or hear the other group's question:

  • How useful is this clip for learning about the recruitment process for women during WWII?
  • How useful is this clip for learning about the impact of bombing on British cities during WWII?

Ask students to evaluate the utility of clip using a scale of one to ten where one is not very useful.

Students should feed back (still unaware of the different questions), leading to a discussion about why the clip scored so differently between the two groups. This simple exercise should highlight the fact that a source's utility depends on the question you ask of it.


Main Attraction

Ask students to examine the entire film closely, noting down everything that they learn about women's war work (paying attention to what they see, hear and infer). You could also ask them to listen for specific terms (ie. billet, labour exchange).

Once they have noted down their findings, ask students to categorise the information they have collected by generating headings to group the information under.

Lower ability students could be asked to note down their findings under pre-selected headings, such as Training, Types of work, Factory life, Pay etc.

Now, ask students to identify the limitations of the film by:

  1. Comparing it to their own knowledge of the women's war work. Students might find it useful to work in pairs/small groups to brainstorm the other types of war work women were engaged in.
  2. Assessing the reliability of the film as evidence of women's experience of factory work. This can be done by looking carefully at the filmographic information and the opening credits as well as analysing elements of the film such as the voiceover, choice of characters etc.

Ask students to finish the following phrase after discussing in pairs: This film is more useful for....


End Credits

It's time to answer the key question! Students should use the notes they have collected to help them plan and structure their response.

Final thought: Discuss how the film might have been adapted to show to an American audience given that the USA had yet to join the conflict.


External Links

Video Clips
Complete film (8:24)
Downloadable Teaching Resources

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Jane Brown Changes her Job (1941)Jane Brown Changes her Job (1941)

Read more about this film

See also