I have just finished my analysis of all OFSTED’s primary history monitoring reports for the last 2 years. There has been a perceptible shift in the nature of the comments made and the areas they are expecting schools to address. At times, these come in the form of positive comments, picking up where a school has clearly grasped the new challenges. More often, they are highlighted as areas of neglect or inadequate attention. I thought I would alert you to what they are, adding a few of my opinions along the way, as you’d expect.

The issues

1. Chronology

Chronology features regularly with comments referring to use of timelines and the sequencing of the topics in chronological orderWhere timelines were criticised it was because too much time was spent in some schools simply creating them, rather than using them to deepen awareness of the past. The thorny question of chronological order is relatively easy to address. I think there are very good reasons to teach the Ancient Egyptians ( or alternative ancient first then the Stone Age to Iron Age followed by The Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings followed by a contrasting non-western civilization from this time ( Maya, Islamic civilization, Benin). When it comes to Ancient Greece, local history and the post-1066 thematic unit then we have to take a different approach to chronology. I personally would teach perhaps two local studies, one in Y3 linked with geography covering the immediate surroundings of the school and the second in Y5/6 drawn from any period that is significant locally. The post-1066 thematic unit and Ancient Greece also belong at the end of KS2, the former because it needs to cover 1000 years of change which is hard, the latter because the focus of the unit is on the influence and achievements of the Ancient Greeks. Studying the Greeks in Y3 makes it almost impossible for them to see how they influenced the Romans, Tudors or Victorians, as they will know so little of them at this age and some of the political concepts are just too complex for many pupils.

2. Lack of attention to disciplinary concepts in the planning

Lack of attention to disciplinary concepts in the planning, so pupils did not make the progress they should in understanding concepts such as cause, change, interpretations and the nature of evidence. You will see that I hold great store by mapping out where key second-order disciplinary concepts will be studied in depth and where they will be given little attention. The key questions in each unit are coined in a way that shows the central concept which drives the enquiry.

3. Lack of connection between the history topics

Lack of connection between the history topics, so not enough comparison between societies at different times in the past. Some schools do not much more than compare each time period to the present rather than to each other.

In a few successful schools there is a standard approach to how topics are launched with specific reference to locating the topic in relation to all the others on the curriculum

4. Lack of clarity about what exactly pupils should know and be able to do at the end of a topic

For too long the role of learning objectives has been neglected. Schools are now encouraged to show the depth of knowledge required in answering the key question. This is an important development but it must not be the be-all-and-end-all. A crucial element of the learning objectives is the acquisition of specific historical skills and conceptual understanding

5. Lack of attention to the need to explicitly revisit first-order concepts

The ones they are fond of quoting are: parliament, democracy, empire, monarchy. I find this problematic as not all of the mentioned concepts can be easily revisited in the way OFSTED assumes. The best way to think about it is to ask yourself whether you are missing obvious opportunities to revisit rather than forcing the revisiting just for the sake of it. If is doesn’t fit naturally leave it.

6. Shortage of extended written answers to historical questions

As you know, all our topics comprise just 6 key enquiry questions, each of which provides a good context for a worthwhile answer which would demonstrate important historical thinking.

7. Asking questions which do not drive at the heart of what history is as a discipline

You will recognise the danger here. If you focus too much on questions like What was it like to live in period X’ you will not spend enough time asking questions that historians debate.

8. Pupils are not given enough time to respond to questions in depth

Pupils are not given enough time to respond to questions in depth so that too much of the written work, even in Y6, was quite superficial and fell short of constructing an informed response to an important historical question.

So why not have one really significant piece per topic with other shorter written tasks which provide a thinking framework for the final answer.

9. The rare use of history-specific criteria when assessing pupils’ work

The criticism that primary teachers tend to use literacy rather than history-specific criteria when assessing work has been levelled against them for years. The assessment part of the site has tasks with history specific outcomes.

10. Even by Y6, pupils are not given opportunities to develop an understanding of how to determine the utility and reliability of sources in the context of a specific question

The long-term thematic study called Beyond Face Value shows how to counter this criticism as the whole unit explores the idea of unreliable testimony, showing that all is not what it seems