Leading History

Leading history at key Stage 2 is far from easy. Not only do you have the difficulty of designing a new curriculum for 2014 that ensures continuity and progression, you also have the issue of teachers seeing history as ‘doing the Tudors’ rather than building up pupils’ understanding of historical concepts and processes. In this section you will find detailed advice on leading history, ranging from promulgating a vision for history and developing your colleagues, to raising attainment. As you look at each section, you need to remind yourself of what is manageable in the time you have been given to lead the subject. For that reason you might want to look particularly carefully at the section called prioritising. In addition to clarifying the difference between a ‘leader’ and a ‘manager’, you will also need to distinguish between the urgent and the important. When there is so much to do with just the ‘here and now,’ in terms of getting planning and resourcing together, it is easy to lose sight of the future. And yet planning for the future is one of the most important things a subject leader can do. With such a rapid turnover of subject leaders for history, many schools find themselves starting a new regime with a ‘cold engine’ because no-one has taken stock before and pointed out what improvements need to be effected.

So along with advice on creating an appropriate curriculum, on improving teaching and learning and on monitoring provision and standards, there are sections on staff development and on ‘safeguarding the future’. The last two are often neglected in schools, so it is often the case that no-one really knows the true health of the subject. By using the self-evaluation grids provided, you will soon get a feel for how well history is being led. I suggest that you try to colour code where you feel you are, using the four-columns provided.

In the best primary schools, leaders really lead. The curriculum is well mapped out; standards and the progress that pupils are expected to make over the primary years are clear; teachers are well supported with ideas and resources for teaching; and there is a practical assessment system in place. The leaders monitor well what is happening in their subject. Above all, the best are confident in their knowledge of history and pass this confidence on to their colleagues. A short quotation from the recent OFSTED report entitled History in the Balance (July 2007) gives a flavour of what good leaders should be doing, whatever their length of service.

“The new subject leader has made a good start in bringing clear direction for the subject in the school and developing good plans for further development. She has worked extremely hard, with the good support of other colleagues, to raise achievement and standards in history. This is beginning to impact positively on key aspects of planning and teaching. Subject self-evaluation is good. The school accurately identifies and exemplifies its many strengths and areas for development.”

OFSTED also pull no punches about the state of history at Key Stage 2, and you would do well to heed their warnings.

“An area of particular concern is Key Stage 2, where too much history teaching and learning lacks progression and rigour. This is serious because this key stage constitutes the largest single part of the National Curriculum.

In primary schools, especially at Key Stage 2, the curriculum is demanding, yet few teachers are specialists and so find it difficult to develop the subject over four years with appropriate progression. Limits to what is possible on initial teacher training (ITT) courses for post-graduates and in induction years for newly qualified teachers, together with the lack of easily accessible continuing professional development, exacerbate the problem”.

Forward planning in history at Key Stage 2

This section ties in with the others on prioritising and monitoring and the message is basically the same.  You need to be clear about:
  • What you are trying to improve, and why?
  • What specific objectives you hope to achieve, and by what date?
  • What success criteria you will...
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Prioritising your work as history leader

When there is so little non-contact time to lead history, it is crucial that you spend your time wisely. This is easier said than done, when it inevitably means that important jobs just don't get tackled as quickly as you would like.  So what should...
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Monitoring in history at Key Stage 2

You will, at some stage, need to monitor standards and the quality of learning in history.  The quality of teaching will also need to be looked at,  but how you do this will need to be discussed with the headteacher, as it is highly sensitive. ...
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Raising attainment in history at Key Stage 2

The prospect of raising attainment across the whole key stage is quite daunting, especially when you consider how little non-contact time you have to devote to history.  You can waste the little precious time you have doing 'busy' work which actually makes little impact on...
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Self-evaluation in history at Key Stage 2

With the emphasis of school improvement and OFSTED inspection now firmly placed on self-evaluation this has become one of the most important sections of the site.  What you will find are a number of development grids and a series of questions.  The grids are designed...
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Developing your staff at keystage 1

Nearly all teachers enjoy teaching history and will want to improve the quality of their own teaching so that children can make better progress.  However, the demanding task of improving colleagues' practice can be daunting, especially when you first start leading the subject.  The philosophy...
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Policy and vision in Key Stage 2 history

Having seen so many Key Stage 2 history policies that nobody on the staff ever refers to,  it seemed pretty futile to add to the list! Policies are such personal things anyway: most schools have their own unique approach, and I don't want to trespass...
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