Some thoughts on the draft National Curriculum for History in Primary Schools

Key Stage 1

The KS1 Curriculum is divided into three sections:

  • Vocabulary
  • Concepts
  • History studies


The section on vocabulary seems a straightforward and reasonable list of words children should know and understand by the end of Year 2

  • Simple vocabulary relating to the passing of time such as ‘before’, ‘after’, ‘past’, ‘present’, ‘then’ and ‘now’


In contrast, many of the concepts in this section better belong in the Key Stage 2 programmes of study as they are abstract and require different examples for children to begin to understand. The key phrase is: “begin to develop an understanding”. It is not clear from the draft if this refers to the concepts or only to the “key features”. We need some clarification on this. I would suggest the following alterations to the draft:

  • Children begin to develop an understanding of the following concepts at Key Stage 1:
    • Monarchy, war and peace, nation
  • And the following (among others) at Key Stage 2
    • National history, civilisation, parliament, democracy.

History Studies

There are three history studies for teachers to plan. They are quite prescriptive – predominantly about Britain’s national history – but are also quite open to interpretation and could be enjoyable for children to study. There would seem to be enough room for teachers to plan other history subjects (such as dinosaurs) outside of the prescribed curriculum. The three history studies are:

1. The lives of significant individuals in Britain’s past who have contributed to our nation’s achievements:

  • Scientists such as Isaac Newton or Michael Faraday,
  • Reformers such as Elizabeth Fry or William Wilberforce,
  • Medical pioneers such as William Harvey or Florence Nightingale,
  • Or creative geniuses such as Isambard Kingdom Brunel or Christina Rossetti

2. Key events in the past that are significant nationally and globally, particularly those that coincide with festivals or other events that are commemorated throughout the year

3. Significant historical events, people and places in their own locality.

Some clarification over exactly what is required would be helpful on the following:

  • What does such as and or mean? It seems to read that teachers have a choice either to choose individuals from the suggested list and/or to add others who do not appear. The latter would allow more flexibility.
  • The Key Events study seems so wide open it is difficult to understand what they had in mind. Some non-prescriptive examples would be helpful. I’m struggling to think of one that fits all the criteria: “significant events nationally and globally, coinciding with festivals or other events, commemorated throughout the year.” Bonfire Night? But that’s not an international event. VE day? Not really something children would understand without studying WW2. When is that? End of KS3?

Key Stage 2

The current KS2 History curriculum is already very large, but is as nothing to this new proposed programme of study. It is shorter than Curriculum 2000, but fewer words do not mean less content or more flexibility.

Some thoughts:

  • It is incredibly prescriptive; with so much content there is very little flexibility or opportunity to study any history off the list.
  • It is very anglophile, concentrating almost entirely on English history after Year 3.
  • With so much content it is difficult to imagine teachers will have the time to teach for the depth of study required for real understanding. There is a genuine danger the history curriculum will become a ‘skim read’ for most children, especially if they are having regular ‘catch up’ sessions in phonics and numeracy.
  • Teaching the chronology of British history sequentially is a good idea, however by trying to cram everything many children will be confused.
  • There is a real concern this ‘do as much as possible’ approach will mean children will be taught history by straight-forward transmission teaching and, as a result, they will become bored and stop enjoying the subject.
  • It seems very unlikely children will have the time or opportunity to develop the critical thinking and historical inquiry skills listed in the curriculum’s Purpose of Study: “A high-quality history education equips pupils to think critically, weigh evidence, sift arguments, and develop perspective and judgement.”
  • The Key Stage 2 history curriculum seems half-baked and ill thought through. It lacks a basic understanding of either pedagogy or child learning and seems driven by ideological dogma rather than a genuine appreciation of how history should be taught. The subject aims are noble and achievable but are hamstrung by a behemoth of content.
  • With so much content to cover and with (rightly) ambitious aims there would seem little choice but for Primary Schools to turn over large amounts of their academic curriculum at KS2 to the study of history. As a consequence many will have to adopt a cross-curricular approach teaching English, Maths, Geography, Art, Design and Science through the lens of a history study. I’m not sure this is what the architects of the new curriculum hand in mind, but there are only so many hours in a week and teaching so much history content will require a great many of them.

The KS2 history curriculum can be divided into 15 distinct history studies. There is a requirement to teach of the ones that cover the chronology of British history in a sequential order. Beginning with Stone Age (c.25,000BC) in Year 3 and ending with The Glorious Revolution (1668) in the summer of Year 6.

In addition children in KS2 will also be required to study the ancient civilisations of Greece and Rome.

While studying these different periods of history the curriculum requires children should:

  • be taught the essential chronology of Britain’s history,
  • be made aware that history takes many forms, including cultural, economic, military, political, religious and social history,
  • be taught about key dates, events and significant individuals,
  • be given the opportunity to study local history,
  • be given the opportunity to study local history.

The KS2 programmes of study seem to be divided into four categories:

  • cultural studies,
  • history studies,
  • historical individuals,
  • historical events.

The POS seem to divide into 15 different periods of history (Note, I’ve divided the Stuart period into two different studies partly because the early and late Stuart periods are separated by the commonwealth and partly because this allows them to studied in more depth by Year 6 students over two terms, especially as the Spring Term is often distorted by SATs):

1.     Study of the ancient civilisation of Greece

 2.     Early Britons and settlers, including:

  • the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages (Cultural study 25,000BC – 43AD)
  • Celtic culture and patterns of settlement (Culture study)

3.     Roman conquest and rule, including:

  • Study of civilisation Ancient Rome (history study)
  • Caesar, Augustus, and Claudius (historical individuals)
  • Britain as part of the Roman Empire (history study)
  • the decline and fall of the Western Roman Empire (history study)

4. Anglo-Saxon and Viking settlement, including:

  • the Heptarchy (history study)
  • the spread of Christianity (culture study)
  • key developments in the reigns of Alfred, Athelstan, Cnut and Edward the Confessor (historical individuals and history study)

5. the Norman Conquest (historical event) & Norman rule (history study) , including:

  • the Domesday Book (historical event: completed 1086)
  • feudalism (cultural study)
  • Norman culture (cultural study)
  • the Crusades (history study)

6. Plantagenet rule in the 12th and 13th centuries, including:

  • key developments in the reign of Henry II, including the murder of Thomas Becket (history study & historical event 1170)
  •  Magna Carta (historical event 1219)
  • de Montfort’s Parliament (historical event 1265)

7. Relations between England, Wales, Scotland and France, (history study) including:

  • William Wallace (historical individual d.1305)
  • Robert the Bruce (historical individual d.1329)
  • Llywelyn (d.1244) and Dafydd ap Gruffydd (historical individuals d.1283)
  • the Hundred Years War (history study 1337 to 1453)

8. life in 14th-century England, (history study) including:

  • chivalry (cultural study)
  • the Black Death (history study)
  • the Peasants’ Revolt (historical event 1381)

9. the later Middle Ages and the early modern period (history study), including:

  • Chaucer and the revival of learning (historical individual d.1400)
  • Wycliffe’s Bible (historical event 1382 to 1395)
  • Caxton and the introduction of the printing press (historical event C.1473)
  • the Wars of the Roses (historical event 1455 and 1485)
  • Warwick the Kingmaker (historical individual d.1471)

10. the Tudor period, including:

  • religious strife and Reformation (history study) in the reigns of:
  • Henry VIII, (historical individual d.1547)
  • Edward VI, (historical individual d.1553)
  • and Mary (historical individual d.1558)

11. Elizabeth I’s reign and English expansion, (history study) including:

  • colonisation of the New World (historical event)
  • plantation of Ireland (historical event)
  • conflict with Spain (historical event)

12. the Renaissance in England, (history study) including:

  • the lives and works of individuals such as:
  • Shakespeare (historical individual d.1616)
  • and Marlowe (historical individual d.1593)

13. the Stuart period (i), (history study) including:

  • the Union of the Crowns (historical event 1603)
  • King versus Parliament – Charles I – (historical event 1640s)
  • Cromwell’s commonwealth, the Levellers and the Diggers (historical event 1650s)

14. the Stuart period (ii), (history study) including:

  • the restoration of the monarchy (historical event 1660)
  • the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London (historical events 1660s)
  • Samuel Pepys and the establishment of the Royal Navy (historical individual and events 1660s)

15. the Glorious Revolution (history study 1668):

  • constitutional monarchy and the Union of the Parliaments. (historical events)

Note: I don’t know if anyone at the DfE bothered to map this POS, but it looks something like this – possible curriculum map for KS2 history.


Leave a comment
  1. Paul Parslow-Williams February 10, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

    Hi Tim,

    Love the site. I have been having similar thoughts about the History curriculum over the weekend and enjoyed reading your take on the curriculum. My 2p’th worth on the matter:

    Is there any evidence to suggest that teaching children history in sequence helps with chronology? This model seems to me to be over-simplistic and at odds with a Bruner-like spiral curriculum approach. I guess I am fond of the History Association approach that recommends that we should build outwards from the child’s growing understanding of the world and emerging concepts of the past.

    It seems sad the high school history students will not be able to study any history beyond the last three centuries. Furthermore, I also feel that the Victorians and WW2 periods resonated with children in KS2 since the children in these times (of the same age as KS2) provide an ideal point of reference e.g. the evacuee in WW2 and the child labourer in Victorian times.

    I was involved to a limited extent with responding to the first draft of the science curriculum and in their original version, they had removed ‘children should ask questions’. Thankfully it had been replaced.

    Nonetheless, I do think that beneath those crusty lists there are interesting stories and dramas that can be played out in the classroom. Great teachers are experts at creative compliance. I am already imagining lots of castle dramas. The hypocrisy of Chivalry for one sounds like an excellent focus for some classroom philosophy 😉 Interestingly, ‘Mike the Knight’ on Cbeebies which my son enjoys does a great job of exploring this.

    Enjoying your Grauniad articles too.

    Best wishes,


  2. Carol February 17, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

    Can someone explain to me how chronology will work in a mixed age, sometimes cross keystage, class?

  3. Kari July 3, 2013 at 10:58 pm #

    Hi do you have a KS1 curriculum map? Like theKS2 one

    • Tim Taylor July 4, 2013 at 4:45 pm #

      Not yet, I’ll get working on one!

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