How to tackle the new history curriculum

18th July 2014 at 01:00
In September, England's curriculum is changing for key stages 1, 2 and 3. This week, teachers reveal how they are approaching history


Many of us will recall the furore surrounding the first draft of the national curriculum for history. Teachers, including my colleagues, voiced concerns regarding subject knowledge, resources and the perceived loss of popular topics. It seems that the Department for Education listened, and the revised final programme of study has been received with far less hostility.

History has a prominent position at my school. Classes often explore historically themed topics, promoting cross-curricular learning. Over the years, parents have stood waving as coachloads of Celts, Tudors, Victorians and Second World War evacuees have taken an educational trip back in time. But can such popular contextual activities continue? And, more importantly, should they?

Ofsted's 2011 report History for All stated that the subject was "episodic" at many schools and that although children possessed knowledge of specific periods of time, they lacked a wider understanding of the past and chronology.

Recently, thematic learning has been criticised as having a negative impact on history progression. This was concerning for us and has had an impact on our discussions and planning for September.

To clarify the new requirements, we unpicked the densely written "purposes of study" and "aims" from the curriculum, dividing the information into three domains: subject knowledge, concepts and skills.

These steps have given us the confidence to continue to plan and teach in a thematic manner, while ensuring that our curriculum mapping and lesson planning has specific objectives, promoting clear progression in the three key areas.

We are determined to maintain our pupils' passion for history. A film that I recently made with a Year 4 class about the Battle of Bosworth Field demonstrates the children's desire to be not just learners of history but also teachers who share their knowledge with others. This growth mindset underpins the culture of our school, so rather than hiding behind shaky subject knowledge and textbooks, teachers are excited to investigate new eras with their classes.

Recently, an Iron Age roundhouse was built on the school field to bring the past to life. Plans are now under way for an archaeological dig in the school grounds, and we have had a meeting with actors from the Living History project at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, who are supporting our KS2 local history study. In addition, we will be working with the local historical society to investigate our town from prehistory to modern times, learning about the Victorians and the Second World War. Finally, lesson research carried out by teachers will promote professional dialogue and reflection, and inform future planning.

With so much new ground to cover, we welcome collaboration with other schools and beyond. As my Year 4s - and Winston Churchill - would say: "Let us go forward together."

Stephen Davy is a teacher and specialist leader of education at the Wroxham School in Hertfordshire, and a member of the Historical Association Primary Committee


The changes to the secondary curriculum are significant. For the past few years, we have been following a thematic scheme of learning organised around a series of enquiry questions. Although the option for enquiry-based questions is still available, the content and delivery of the new curriculum needs to be rethought.

Before we began to plan anything for KS3, we realised that this was an ideal opportunity to rethink progression in history between the primary and secondary phases. Our school is part of an academy trust with four feeder primaries, so we were able to plan a cross-phase curriculum.

We are a rural school with a number of Civil War battle sites nearby, so we felt that this would be an ideal opportunity to study two of them. To ensure continued engagement, we will look at different sites in primary and secondary history. However, we will consider similar themes surrounding them, with differentiation according to age and ability.

Likewise, in order to cement pupils' chronological knowledge through aspects and themes of British history, we have opted to study the effects of industrialisation at KS2, which students will then explore in more detail at KS3. A topic on Roman Britain in Year 7 will consolidate work completed in KS2.

Once we had found some primary history areas to slot into the KS3 curriculum, we then built the rest of the schemes of learning using the headings in the programme of study. So, in Year 7 we selected the period 1066-1509 and a local study; Year 8 will be 1509-1900; and Year 9 will look at the post-1901 era and the statutory Holocaust unit, alongside the US in the 20th century.

Our department has built up an excellent range of resources that it would be a crime to discard, so instead we chose to adapt them to fit our new three-year programme of study and used the remaining time to plan new units such as the local study.

One question that remains is: how are we supposed to fit all this into only one and a half hours a week? Answers on a postcard please.

Daniel Hartley is deputy headteacher at Minehead Middle School in Somerset

A look inside the new history curriculum

General changes in primary school


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