Making sense of the past: history curriculum and the education inspection framework

Thanks to Heather Fearn, Inspector Curriculum and Professional Development Lead, Ofsted for this blogpost…

What images come into your head when I say the word ‘Egyptians’? Probably multiple thoughts and ideas of pyramids, pharaohs and hieroglyphics. Or perhaps the word triggers more modern connotations?

When I spoke at the Historical Association Annual Conference recently, as you might expect, I felt very assured of the audience’s depth of knowledge of the Egyptians!

What about the child relying on their schooling for their education, though? What will this child recall of the Egyptians by the end of their time in education? What reference points do they have for the sweep of our history?

Content choice and sequence are important

Our education inspection framework (EIF), which starts in September, includes a new focus on curriculum quality. What does that mean for history?

The past is a foreign country! So when children embark on their exploration of it, they need some guidance to give sense and coherence to what they learn.

Put simply, a really strong curriculum identifies a clear selection of historical knowledge that children need to know and remember to make sense of the past. There will be some justification for the choice of topics and the order they’re taught in.

When a set of topics are taught as isolated incidents, this suggests that there has not been much thought put into how prior historical knowledge can make children readier to learn about what comes next.

For example, a child learning about the Roman republic, laws, social classes and taxation at primary school has not just gained an understanding of the Roman period. That child is also in a strong position to understand the history they will go on to learn at secondary school – the social structure of the medieval period, and impact of illegal taxation in causing the English Civil War, leading to the creation of a republic.

Narrowed curriculum

Unfortunately, too often, history is marginalised in a narrowed curriculum. At secondary level reducing history to a set of techniques to help answer GCSE questions is a form of curriculum narrowing. The key stage 3 curriculum should focus on children learning a broad and rich history curriculum and not be one long rehearsal of ‘the 6-mark question’!

History and the EIF

When we inspect curriculum quality using our new framework, the national curriculum is our benchmark to consider the breadth and ambition of a school’s history curriculum. The key stage 3 national curriculum expects all pupils to get a chronologically secure knowledge and understanding of British, local and world history – not a secure grasp of GCSE technique by Year 9.

Pupils should gain the ‘disciplinary’ knowledge they need to answer questions about causation, change and significance. They should understand how different historical sources are used to make historical claims, and how and why contrasting arguments and interpretations of the past have been constructed.

In so many schools, the history curriculum fully delivers the ambition of the national curriculum. There is a flourishing history subject community. Organisations such as the Historical Association have long provided support for history teaching in schools. They have enabled a rich discussion between history teachers on the nature of a high-quality history curriculum and provided guidance and resources at primary and secondary level.

Those schools where children do learn a rich, broad and coherent history curriculum will find that they are recognised in our new inspection approach.

The HA offers support for all history departments working on the curriculum via 




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