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A Summary of Ofsted’s History Subject Report: Rich Encounters with the Past

Ofsted have released the second and third of their latest subject reports which use the research reviews as a lens to evaluate the curricula of schools they have inspected. This report explores and evaluates the state of history education in England. The findings are based on a relatively small sample of schools (50) but nevertheless provide some useful insights and frameworks for considering your own school's history provision.

I've tried to summarise some of the key points from the report and wanted to share them with other as, in the past, people have said they've found them useful. As always, these notes are my interpretation of the report but the arguments themselves come from Ofsted's own work. If I have misinterpreted or misrepresented any of the findings, please let me know. You can read the full report by clicking here.


This summary has taken me the longest to produce out of everything Ofsted have released so far. I’ve summarised all sections of the report, but if you’re only looking at the headlines, the first part of this will probably be most useful to you. I have summarised both the primary and secondary sections of the report too, hence the summary’s overall length.


The shortest summary I can make of the report is as follows:

Teachers and leaders should ensure be clear about what content should be learned and in what detail. These decisions should be based on ensuring pupils develop sufficient knowledge to access material they will encounter in the future. The curriculum should be sufficiently broad and deep to ensure this content is learned securely and so that teaching does not cause misconceptions or gaps in knowledge. Pupils need to be taught how historians construct historical knowledge. Leaders can support teachers and enable pupil success by making sure that content is specified in sufficient detail in addition to narrating the connections pupils should make between topics so that they develop a rich and sophisticated mental model of the many substantive and disciplinary historical concepts.

If you would like to support the work I do at the same time as downloading a high-quality PDF version of the visual summary, please visit my Gumroad page by clicking here. (I’ve included an additional PDF of the written notes and editable Microsoft Word version as a thank you for your support 🙏).

If you'd like to refresh your memory of the research review, click here for my summary.


 

🥜 The Report in a Nutshell

  • Most schools are offering a curriculum which is at least as ambitious as the National Curriculum.

  • The position of history is much more secure than it was 12 years ago when the previous history report was commissioned.

  • There has been significant work done in primary and secondary schools to develop the quality of their history curricula.

  • It appears that the gap in quality between primary and secondary history curricula has closed. Primary teachers’ subject knowledge has improved.

  • There was more variation in quality between schools than sectors, with schools sharing similar strengths and weaknesses.

  • The report uses the Research Review from 2021 as a lens to evaluate school curricula.


🔑 Key Points from the Report (Shorter Summary)

  • Effective curricula focus on development of key concepts over time. They map out the detail of the knowledge - both the substantive and disciplinary - children should learn and the way in which this knowledge is connected.

  • When pupils knowledge becomes richer and more secure over time, they are more able to access a broad curriculum which increases in complexity. The quality of the earlier curriculum affects pupils’ access and success with their later learning.

  • Effective curriculum planning involves basing curricular decisions on what pupils already know and understanding so that new content can build on what they already know. In addition, content is selected, emphasised and revisited to enable success with later learning.

  • There is variation in the quality of practice between schools. A lower quality of history education is provided when leaders fail to fully grasp the complexities of how pupils make progress in history.

  • Many schools have invested a significant amount of time into developing their history curriculum.

  • A lack of specificity and detail in what pupils should learn leads to a multitude of issues with curriculum design, teaching and assessment. An emphasis or focus on superficial understanding or approaches to answering historical questions leads to learning which is insecure, patchy and limits pupils’ understanding.

  • It is important to focus on developing pupils’ mental models and schemata rather than too narrowly focusing on recall of disconnected facts and dictionary definitions of concepts.

  • Leaders need to understand the nature of progress in history and not mistake generic features of lessons as evidence of high-quality teaching and learning.

  • Disciplinary knowledge is an area in which both primary and secondary schools have opportunities for development and improvement in developing pupils’ understanding of how historians work.


💎 What makes a history curriculum high-quality?

  • Pupils get better at history as they develop their substantive and disciplinary knowledge.

  • The ease with which pupils learn new material depends on the range, depth and security of their prior learning. Progress does not follow a linear path.

  • Leaders and teachers need to make careful decisions on which knowledge to emphasise and revisit. This is core knowledge.

  • Some concepts appear frequently throughout the curriculum. Pupils’ progress is dependent on the growing of their mental models and schema of these recurring concepts to be able to make sense of new material. Meaningful examples of concepts, which add increasing nuance and detail to mental models, are an effective way of growing pupils’ schema.

  • Pupils should develop chronological frameworks and knowledge of broader features of historical periods and places.

  • Pupils are supported in their learning by knowing enough about the historical context of the content they are studying. They need to have sufficient security with many aspects of the content in order to think historically and construct accounts or arguments.

  • Pupils need to understand how historians generate knowledge – historical argument is a specific form of knowledge construction. Over time, this understanding should develop and avoid providing pupils with simplistic or erroneous ideas.

  • The curriculum should have sufficient depth and breadth to enable pupils to become secure with the content they are studying, to prepare pupils for success with later content, to prevent pupils from developing misconceptions or over-generalisations, and to ensure that pupils develop a rich understanding of the diversity of the past on a local, national and international scale.

  • Over time, pupils’ knowledge should become increasingly secure and sophisticated. Pupils should be enabled to make important connections between different topics to develop a broader understanding of the past and its complexities.

  • The scope of disciplinary knowledge may be more limited for younger pupils but teachers should be aware of how their teaching prevents pupils from developing misconceptions or unhelpful oversimplifications.

  • For older pupils, teachers should teach pupils increasingly complex knowledge about important disciplinary concepts. Teaching ‘tips and tricks’ designed to score on KS4 examinations can lead to misconceptions about the nature of historical enquiry. Drawing on the published work of historians can be useful.

  • Teachers should choose activities which emphasise and revisit important content and concepts. This helps pupils remember core knowledge as well as providing the context for pupils to learn new material.

  • Narratives and stories are a highly effective way of teaching new content in history.

  • Support for pupils with SEND and those with gaps should be focused on pupils being able to achieve the curriculum goals rather than to make immediate tasks more accessible.

  • Assessment should enable teachers and leaders to make valid and meaningful judgements about the range and security of pupils’ knowledge. It should focus on whether pupils are secure in their knowledge and allow teachers to identify and then close gaps.

  • Teachers need to design assessment tasks carefully because of the difficulty in assessing composite knowledge.

  • When KS3 assessment is purely preparatory for GCSEs, it is unlikely to support high-quality teaching or assessment.

  • Leaders must ensure teachers have enough time to teach a broad and ambitious history curriculum. Leaders should also ensure that school policies are appropriately and sufficiently flexible to be adapted to the distinctive nature of history education.

  • Teachers need to have secure subject knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge to teach the curriculum effectively. Schools should support teachers in developing this.

  • Teachers who have responsibility for constructing the curriculum need to have strong knowledge of historical content and of the work of published historians, history educators and researchers.

✨ Recommendations from the Report

  • Teachers and leaders should understand that knowledge in history has generative power: the content pupils learn and the interaction between the components of this knowledge make it easier to learn new topics.

  • The curriculum should identify the most important content and concepts that support pupils with their future learning. This enables teachers to emphasise this content during lessons – both in terms of advance planning and responsive teaching.

  • Teachers should be confident in selecting appropriate pedagogical activities which emphasise key content in a meaningful way. This content should be emphasised and revisited to ensure pupils develop secure knowledge.

  • Effective pedagogy includes building on prior knowledge, using well-considered stories and examples which make abstract ideas more meaningful, and using explanations that help pupils connect facts, ideas and concepts.

  • Teachers should use assessment as a means to identify important gaps and misconceptions so they can make sure these are addressed. Such issues include any missing or incorrect knowledge which might significantly impact the learning of new material.

  • Support for children with SEND should focus on their ability to access the breadth and depth of the curriculum rather than on completion of immediate tasks. Pupils with SEND should be secure in the content and knowledge they need to make sense of the later curriculum.

  • The curriculum should be contain a wealth of different encounters with the past through a diverse range of times, people, places, societies, groups and experiences. The curriculum should provide different lenses for this study: political, social, economic and cultural.

  • The curriculum should enable pupils to develop meaningful and increasingly intricate knowledge of how historians study the past and how historical accounts are constructed. Reductive and misleading representations should be avoided.

  • Leaders should be systematic in their plans to develop teachers’ knowledge of both the content they teach, and of effective history teaching and learning.

  • The quality of the curriculum should be assured by leaders’ meaningful assessment of what pupils have learned and remembered over time.

  • ITT providers should ensure training enables new and ECT teachers how to develop pupils’ substantive and disciplinary understanding.


 

🤔 Primary


CURRICULUM

Planning for Knowledge

  • Curricula are more successful when prior knowledge is built upon and existing understanding is developed by the new content. Increasingly complex understanding is developed over time.

  • History is mainly taught as a separate topic with some schools more recently moving away from a ‘topic’ approach.

  • The typical amount of time for teaching history is between 60-90 minutes per fortnight. Actual teaching per week varies according to individual school timetables.

  • Many schools have invested significant time in developing the history curriculum.

  • A main weakness is when leaders’ ambitions are not sufficiently specific and are therefore too broad. For example, goals such as “I can ask historical questions” lack the specificity and clarity required for curriculum design, teaching and assessment.

  • Another is a lack of specificity in the detail of substantive and disciplinary knowledge that pupils should learn. It is important to plan for how broader aims from the curriculum would be met.


Securing Knowledge of Recurring Themes and Concepts

  • In the best cases, leaders plan carefully so that the curriculum emphasises key concepts and themes. This means that leaders have moved beyond a thematic approach and have actually considered how understanding within each theme should deepen and progress. This often occurs through using considered and meaningful examples.

  • Sometimes themes are selected but without the sufficient intentionality to be helpful for pupils with their later learning.

  • There needs to be sufficient breadth of themes within a curriculum. In some schools, this is too narrow and it limits what pupils can learn in the future.

  • There is a difference between schools where themes are taught with a dictionary definition compared to those where pupils develop rich and detailed mental models.


Chronology

  • Chronology is usually well-developed in schools. Sometimes, it can be overemphasised at the expense of other important aspects.

  • Reception and KS1 teachers are usually very effective at scaffolding the mathematical understanding required for pupils to understand concepts of chronology. This is usually achieved through simplifying representations to help children make progress with their concept of time.

  • In the most effective cases, leaders go beyond ‘timeline knowledge’ to build a sense of ‘period’. The big stories of certain time periods are also shared.


Knowledge of Immediate Topic

  • In most schools, leaders plan for pupils to have meaningful encounters with past times and places. This is effective when knowledge is identified which helps them make sense of more complex ideas and developments.

  • Schools are typically particularly successful in developing topic knowledge in local history.

  • Sometimes, an assumption that pupils know more than they actually do can lead to misconceptions and gaps not being addressed.

  • The weakest practice occurs when pupils are asked to complete tasks for which they lack sufficient knowledge.


Going Beyond the Superficial

  • In some schools, teachers do not delve deeper beneath the most common facts about the topic: this can lead to pupils learning disconnected facts.

  • It is important for teachers to go beyond the superficial and lead pupils to understand and make connections between these facts.


Disciplinary Knowledge

  • This is a common area for development in most schools.

  • Framing topics with historically valid questions can help pupils understand how historians construct accounts of the past. It can provide the context to teach how historians use a range of techniques to answer different historical questions.

  • Sometimes enquiry questions just act as ‘titles’ for lessons and are not rooted in disciplinary thinking. This can have implications for what pupils retain – the question does not actually provide a structure or framework for the content that is studied.

  • Some questions use present-day thinking to view the past. For example, asking ‘Were Viking punishments fair?” This leads to misconceptions about the study of history.

  • Specific examples of how historians work can be very effective.

  • It is important that pupils understand the amount of knowledge that historians build in order to form interpretations of the past. Asking pupils to form their own, without providing sufficient knowledge, distorts their conception of how historians work. It also can teach and embed misconceptions about the topics being studied.

  • Significant misconceptions that are often identified include pupils perceiving primary sources as more ‘reliable’ than secondary sources as well as negatively commenting on ‘bias’.

  • In some schools, ‘historical significance’ is conflated with ‘impact’. It is important for pupils to learn what historical significance is, and how the nature of significance can change.

  • It is a mainly positive approach to focus on sources and evidence. Knowledge of how historians use sources can help pupils learn how different historians can construct different accounts and interpretations of the past.

  • Most of what pupils learn about sources focus on archaeological evidence or artefacts. This can sometimes lead to pupils forming misconceptions such as conflating historians with archaeologists.


Ensuring Breadth and Depth

  • In most schools, leaders have not considered how what is taught in Reception and KS1 can help pupils learn the content of KS2.

  • A significant number of schools consider coverage of topics as meeting the aims of the National Curriculum. Stronger schools aim for pupils to study topics in depth.


A Range of Places and Societies

  • The best provision ensures that pupils develop an interconnected understanding of different places, peoples and times. They can put developments into a wider framework.

  • In some cases, opportunities are missed due to the lack of range and examples. For example, some schools do not teach the NC requirement about the earliest civilisations, reducing this to only teaching about Ancient Egypt. This prevents children from understanding key similarities and themes.


Local History

  • Most teaching of local history is high-quality and enhance pupils’ enjoyment of history. Often, schools link local history to the wider context.

Range of Periods and Timescales

  • Most schools’ curricula match the periods outlined in the National Curriculum.

  • In the best examples, pupils learn about historical developments both broadly and in depth. When teachers aim to develop pupils’ knowledge of coherent narratives over time, it enables them to contextualise more in-depth studies.

  • In some schools, a significant amount of time is dedicated to modern history, which pupils also study in KS3. In a third of schools, this amounted to a year or more of curriculum time. This can limit the amount of content and reduce the breadth and depth of what pupils can study in the rest of the curriculum.

A Range of People, Groups and Experiences

  • Many schools have recently adapted their curricula to include new studies of individuals.

  • When teaching about the stories of individuals, it is important to provide sufficient contextual knowledge so that pupils do not develop misconceptions from over-generalising. For example, when teaching about Rosa Parks, pupils can develop misconceptions that segregation occurred everywhere in the USA, only occurred on public transport, or that Rosa Parks was the first person to challenge the policies from the time.

Fields of Enquiry

  • It is important for schools to consider the range of lenses for studying history. Political history is most commonly taught in schools and coherence is mainly achieved. However, social, cultural and economic history is rarely taught with the same coherence. This can limit the conceptualisations pupils make about the past. Leaders should pay attention to how different aspects of history can be blended together to give a more holistic understanding of the past.


Impact

  • Most pupils remember what they have been taught. There is, however, sometimes inconsistencies between what has been remembered, especially in schools where leaders do not provide guidance around the important knowledge that benefits pupils as they progress through the curriculum.

  • It is often the case that a significant amount of pupils remember superficial details about topics, knowing less about how people lived, how societies functioned and how developments occurred.

  • Where teachers regularly connect prior learning with new content during explanations, pupils are more able to develop rich and connected knowledge.

  • Around half of pupils fail to remember broader narratives beyond the details of what they have been taught. This typically happens when leaders have not identified how pupils’ knowledge should be connected across topics and year groups.

  • Teachers should emphasise and revisit the content which is important for pupils to be secure with in order to learn future knowledge.

  • Most pupils have a limited ability to communicate their ideas through writing. Sometimes this is because opportunities are limited; other times it is because of teachers’ intentional avoidance. Consequently, some older pupils are restricted when writing.

  • Across the sample of schools, there was very limited knowledge in how historians study and construct accounts of the past, leading to most pupils having significant misconceptions. Sometimes, pupils can develop a mistrust of historians due to these misconceptions.


📚 PEDAGOGY

  • In the more effective schools, teachers plan activities and explanations based on what pupils already know.

  • Pedagogical activities should focus on the content teachers want pupils to learn – in a few schools, task design is misaligned. For example, pupils build a roundhouse without learning the historical knowledge such as its features or when such a house was common.

  • Revisiting important content helps pupils to understand underlying concepts and the bigger ideas which transcend individual lessons and topics. This can be achieved through specific activities or through carefully-crafted explanations.

  • Stories are particularly effective in history – both individual stories and those with broader themes. Often, the combination of both supports conceptual development.

  • In Reception, stories are used particularly effective in teaching vocabulary and concepts.

  • In less effective lessons, teachers do not always consider what pupils need to know to make sense of the material or engage meaningfully. This can result in time-intensive activities and guesswork, which can itself lead to misconceptions and gaps in knowledge.

  • Time-intensive tasks reduce curriculum time available to teaching more content. This limits the overall potential for breadth and depth in the curriculum. This can affect what is possible in other subjects, like geography, if history is timetabled so that curriculum time is shared across the year.

  • In less effective practice, teachers rarely revisit what pupils have previously been taught. Sometimes, material is revisited but it has not been selected for its purpose, limiting the usefulness of such an exercise.

  • Pupils with SEND are generally not very well supported in terms of how gaps in their knowledge are planned for. Support is often more addressed at task completion rather than how content will be learned, and the impact of gaps on this.


📝 ASSESSMENT

  • In around half of the sample schools, pupils’ knowledge is assessed so that teachers can identify what has been learned and what gaps exist in their knowledge.

  • In the most effective schools, teachers had a shared understanding of the key content in which pupils need to be secure. Teachers in these schools regularly check for understanding of new content to identify and address gaps quickly. Sometimes, key content is returned to regularly to ensure it is retained and secure.

  • In around one third of schools, the way assessment practices have been implemented means that teachers are not supported well to identify and close gaps.

  • Assessment practices vary across schools. Commonly, assessment practices do not provide sufficiently detailed or useful information about what pupils know.

  • Oftentimes, broad labels for assessment are used without moderation or discussion between teachers about what these labels mean. Such labelling fails to take into account the explicit knowledge required by pupils to make progress.

  • Poor proxies for learning, such as presentation or engagement, can sometimes be used by teachers when making assessments.

  • Where teachers make assessments against broad and vague descriptors such as ‘being able to ask historical questions’, pupils’ knowledge is not being adequately assessed. Moreover, the impact of feedback given by teachers to pupils is often imprecise.


🏫 SCHOOL SYSTEMS AND POLICIES

  • Policies should reflect and be adapted to the distinctive nature of history.

  • It is typical to teach history for one whole afternoon per week; this is sometimes due to teachers using time-intensive pedagogies.

  • Whole-school decisions have typically improved the quality of history education – especially in creating time for building subject knowledge by reducing workload commitments elsewhere.

  • However, some decisions are less effective; where assessment procedures do not take into account the nature of history, teachers often lack the necessary flexibility to make effective assessments. For example, using broad assessment descriptors does not reflect what pupils know.

  • Superficial application of general pedagogy or curriculum design principles does not ensure that all pupils will be successful: all policies need to take the distinctive nature of history into account.

  • The effectiveness of quality assurance varies between schools. It is more effective when it focuses on the features of high-quality history education.


👩🏼‍TEACHER KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERTISE

  • In most schools, teachers have sufficient knowledge of what they are teaching. This is impressive due to the demands of subject knowledge from across a wide curriculum.

  • It is helpful for schools to provide guidance and resources to support teachers to develop subject knowledge. In more than half of schools, there is no additional time provided for this. Some teachers need to conduct extensive research to prepare themselves to teach topics.

  • Content choices in the curriculum are sometimes informed by staff subject knowledge. This can limit curriculum development.

  • Subject leads typically receive history-specific CPD; teachers rarely receive training on what it means to make progress in history.

  • Teachers typically lack sufficient expertise in how to assess pupils in history. School guidance does not always help.

  • In most schools, teachers lacked expertise in teaching disciplinary knowledge.

  • Subject leaders typically have very little additional time and support to help carry out their roles.


 


🤔 Secondary

⏳ CURRICULUM


Planning for Knowledge

  • Curricula are more successful when prior knowledge is built upon and existing understanding is developed by the new content. Increasingly complex understanding is developed over time.

  • History is mainly taught as a separate topic. Where this is not the case, such as teaching combined humanities, it limits the history content pupils are taught.

  • The typical amount of time for teaching history is between 100-150 minutes per fortnight.

  • Many schools have invested significant time in developing the history curriculum.

  • In most schools, leaders have considered the detail of both the substantive and disciplinary content they want pupils to learn. There is usually a sound rationale for this content as well as which content to emphasise. In weaker practice, this rationale is limited.

  • Some curriculum plans lack the connections which enable mental models to be developed; pupils can learn facts which appear disconnected.


Securing Knowledge of Recurring Themes and Concepts

  • In more effective practice, leaders consider the detailed knowledge which pupils will need to understand the content they are studying and future content. This sophisticated thinking also identified content which needs emphasising and should be at pupils’ fingertips.

  • When schools organise their learning around themes, it is less effective when leaders do not consider what pupils will know about each theme at particular points in their curriculum journey. Teachers with stronger subject knowledge are able to mitigate this, but those with weaker subject knowledge are less able to do so.

  • Variation in teacher subject knowledge can lead to variation in what pupils learn as they progress through the curriculum.

  • In weaker practice, concepts to be learned were treated as vocabulary items to be memorised rather than mental models to be developed.


Chronology

  • Chronology is usually well-developed in schools. Sometimes, it can be limited to ordering chronological events.

  • Leaders generally consider the big stories and developments of the curriculum. In a few cases, leaders have detailed the knowledge from different topics which can be connected to form coherent narratives about different aspects of the past.

  • In the most effective cases, leaders emphasise broader features of periods to help pupils appreciate the factors affecting people and institutions. Not doing so can leave pupils with patchy knowledge.


Knowledge of Immediate Topic

  • In most schools, leaders recognise the importance of pupils having secure knowledge of the narrative of key events they are studying. When done well, this enables pupils to secure knowledge of the topic and make sense of more challenging information.

  • In a few schools, teachers ensure that pupils have a strong grasp of the contextual factors which are related to the content they are studying.

  • The range and depth of teachers’ knowledge, and the specification on curriculum plans of what pupils need to know, are both associated with how successfully teachers secure pupils’ knowledge of contexts and narratives.

  • It is powerful for teachers to discuss the ‘fingertip’ knowledge pupils need to get the most from their teaching sequences.

  • When teachers are less secure about the connectedness of the events they are teaching and how they relate to the curriculum aims, pupils can struggle to learn new material.


Disciplinary Knowledge

  • In most schools, leaders recognise the importance of and have planned for progression in disciplinary knowledge.

  • In most schools, the scope of the intended knowledge is limited: this is due to focusing on pupils making judgements rather than the disciplinary and substantive knowledge they need to do this better over time.

  • Pupils tend to learn simplistic ‘tips and tricks’ which misrepresent the nature of historical enquiry. Pupils are taught to answer questions using heuristics such as PEEL rather than being taught meaningful knowledge to help them understand how historians use sources or communicate about the past. There is a lack of planning about what pupils will know about how historians study the past and construct accounts. This generally improves at KS5, but pupils are often poorly prepared for this.

  • Using examples of the practices of real historians does not always adequately secure pupils’ disciplinary knowledge. Such practice is useful but not sufficient.

  • Topics are typically structured around enquiry questions; the best examples weave together the substantive and disciplinary knowledge leaders intend pupils to learn.

  • In around half of schools, leaders have not considered the relationship between substantive and disciplinary knowledge. This can lead to pupils being asked to answer questions for which they lack sufficient knowledge.

  • Historical questions can sometimes be too narrow or ill-conceived. Narrow questions mean that some important aspects of the past are not taught, and some questions use present-day lenses to interrogate the past.

  • Sometimes, historical content is framed to strongly suggest a ‘right’ answer to enquiry questions. Teachers sometimes encourage pupils to take a particular moral or political position on contested issues.

  • Approaches which lead to a more secure disciplinary knowledge include:

  • Plans for teaching disciplinary knowledge are influenced by an understanding of how specific historians have approached particular questions.

  • Leaders carefully plan overarching enquiry questions for topics – these foreground an aspect of disciplinary knowledge, such as how historians use sources.

  • Leaders explicitly plan how pupils learn more, and more complex, disciplinary knowledge over time.

  • Leaders and teachers ensure pupils have sufficiently secure substantive knowledge of topics so that they could make sense of how historians have studied periods.


Ensuring Breadth and Depth

  • Most schools have a broad curriculum which represents the complexity of the past.

  • There is considerable variation between schools in terms of the depth of their curricula. Sometimes, leaders have not considered the depth they wanted pupils to achieve, which leads to teachers not always connecting knowledge within and between topics. This can lead to an under-developed understanding of topics with pupils recalling mainly disconnected facts.


Range of Periods and Timescales

  • Most schools’ curricula match the periods outlined in the National Curriculum.

  • Most schools dedicate much more time to 19th and 20th century history than to earlier periods. This can lead to patchy understanding of pre-19th century history. Typically, pupils learn little about the 12th, 15th and 18th centuries.

  • In a few schools, teaching leads to pupils developing overly-simplistic ideas and misconceptions about people who lived in earlier periods.

  • High-quality explanations enable teachers to help pupils appreciate how topics are connected and make sense of broader developments and contexts.


A Range of Places and Societies

  • Detailed knowledge of developments in other parts of the world complements pupils’ knowledge of British history in most schools. The best examples make connections between these different aspects.

  • In around a third of schools, pupils’ learning about topics beyond the British Isles was limited in terms of content and, consequently, making connections.


Local History

  • In most schools, pupils have regular encounters with local history, covering different periods. These are often linked with broader developments.

A Range of People, Groups and Experiences

  • There has often been careful thought about the content of the curriculum.

  • In a significant minority of schools, misconceptions develop about the experience of particular groups. Often, pupils see groups as being homogenous and assume large numbers of people share similar experiences. Sometimes, teaching can be unbalanced in terms of emphasising only the negative experiences of a particular group. This typically happens when the complexity and diversity of experiences in the past have not been accurately represented; often, this is caused by teachers’ lack of sufficient content knowledge.

  • Sometimes, enquiry questions can reflect modern values rather than exploring historical issues.

Fields of Enquiry

  • In most schools, political and social aspects of the past are taught.

  • Sometimes, connections between aspects are not made. This means opportunities are missed for pupils to consider previously learned content with a different viewpoint and hence develop their schema.

  • There tends to be significantly less taught about the cultural and economic aspects of what pupils study. When they are included, they are often isolated and not connected to broader narratives. This content is often planned for less deliberately than political and social history.

  • Pupils tend to find economic and cultural history more difficult to access due to lack the relevant conceptual knowledge. This limits what they can learn.


Impact

  • Most pupils gain a secure knowledge of aspects of the topics they have been taught. In around a third of schools, pupils’ knowledge is very secure: they know about historical topics in depth.

  • In under a third of schools, there are significant gaps between pupils in the depth and security of their knowledge. This can sometimes be caused by lower expectations for specific groups of pupils. Other times, it can be attributed to a lack of clear identification in curriculum planning or poor checking for understanding.

  • In stronger practice, pupils gain secure knowledge of recurring concepts. This is because they have learned about these concepts and phenomena in a range of contexts.

  • Sometimes, pupil knowledge is limited to superficial knowledge. Pupils remember details about some aspects but can fail to recall their relationship to the concepts that have been taught.

  • Security with content enables pupils to make sense of later learning. Pupils often struggle when knowledge from previously taught content is not secure.

  • When pupils lack broader contextual knowledge, it can make it more difficult for them to learn new material. Pupils often lack understanding of political and social issues as well as people’s values and attitudes.

  • It is common for pupils to have misconceptions about disciplinary knowledge. These are typically caused by:

    • Limited or poor curriculum planning

    • Insufficient ambition in plans for disciplinary knowledge

    • Teachers’ misrepresentations of the complexity of historical traditions and approaches, or

    • Teachers’ lack of pedagogical content knowledge about how to teach disciplinary traditions in history.

  • Many pupils have misconceptions about the work of historians, such as the archaeologist/historian conflation which persists from primary schools, and the belief that it is a historian’s job to spot ‘bias’.

  • Only in very few schools do pupils achieve a sophisticated and representative understanding of the way historians work.


📚 PEDAGOGY


  • Most teachers choose appropriate activities to teach the content they want their pupils to learn. It is most effective when these activities allow pupils to maintain an analytical focus.

  • The most effective explanations skilfully emphasise important content and draw pupils’ attention to important information so that links are made between pupils’ prior understanding and the new material.

  • Using extended texts in lessons can be very effective if pupils’ prior knowledge is taken into account. Otherwise, pupils can struggle to make sense of such texts.

  • Individual stories can be used very effectively to illuminate broader developments as well as demonstrate the diversity of experiences.

  • In many schools, teachers do not consistently make the most of opportunities to help pupils make connections. This can often be attributed to leaders and teachers prioritising pupils thinking for themselves. Often, pupils develop misconceptions and gaps when such approaches are taken.

  • In around a half of the schools, significant lesson time is used to teach pupils approaches to answering questions based on GCSE examinations. The focus is on how to answer questions rather than on building sufficient knowledge.

  • It is uncommon for teachers to regularly check for understanding before moving on. Sometimes, challenging content is moved through too quickly.

  • There is considerable variation in how schools revisit content. The most effective approach is for leaders to have a considered and sophisticated rationale for which content to revisit so that pupils are secure with such content at set points in their curriculum journey.

  • There is mixed quality of support for pupils with SEND. In the best cases, pupils are supported to understand and remember the most important content from each content. In the weakest cases, teachers do not know how to support pupils with SEND.



📝 ASSESSMENT


  • There are significant differences between schools in how they assess history and how teachers use information from assessments.

  • The best examples of assessment are when teachers identify the most important content and concepts in the curriculum and focus assessment on these. In lessons, teachers systematically check whether this content is learned during lessons and return to it often to ensure it is being retained.

  • In more than half of the schools, assessment is insufficiently focused on whether pupils have secured the most important content. This can be for several reasons:

    • A lack of clarity over the most important content and concepts;

    • A focus on broad skills rather than checking for security of underlying knowledge;

    • Formative assessment is too infrequent;

    • Teachers accept misleading sources of information about what pupils know – such as responses from a single pupil.

    • Only checking knowledge of isolated facts rather than their connection to broader knowledge of topics.

  • Assessment in around half of schools is based on GCSE-style questions.

  • In most schools, assessment of disciplinary knowledge is weak.


🏫 SCHOOL SYSTEMS AND POLICIES


  • In most schools, whole-school policies and decisions help teachers provide high-quality history education. Teachers typically find this helpful, especially when adaptations can be made to reflect the distinctive nature of history.

  • Leaders often support departments by providing significant time for developing and renewing the curriculum.

  • When teachers are required to devote significant time to marking work, this reduces the time they have available to focus on curriculum design and its impact on pupils learning. Generally, such requirements are being appropriately reduced.

  • It is less effective when leaders require teachers to use pedagogical approaches regardless of whether they are appropriate for history teaching and learning. Often, approaches to teaching and assessment are distorted due to leaders’ focus on preparation for KS4 exams.

  • Most quality assurance focuses on surface level features rather than reflecting more rigorous scrutiny and evaluation of the curriculum design, teaching and assessment.


👩🏼‍TEACHER KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERTISE


  • In the majority of schools, teachers have good subject knowledge. Although rare, there are examples in some schools of teachers working regularly with historians.

  • In a few schools, leaders take a systematic approach to developing teachers’ subject and pedagogical content knowledge over time through regular discussions and training.

  • The disparity between teachers’ knowledge of how historians work and their teaching of disciplinary knowledge suggests a dissonance between meeting the National Curriculum aims and other school priorities such as examination performance.

 



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Summary of Ofsted History Report
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