History Resource Cupboard – lessons and resources for schools

History Resource Cupboard - lessons and resources for schools

Teaching Issues

6 Take Aways from Ofsted’s Report into History Teaching


On 13 July 2023 Ofsted published their first proper report into history teaching since March 2011.

Yes, I know. A 12 year gap between subject reports!?! Seems crazy doesn’t it. From 2011, to 2020 history or indeed other subjects were therefore not valued enough by Ofsted to report on them?

To save you the time I’ve just spent a few hours reading this report. Here, in no particular order of importance are my 6 takeaways.

6 take Aways

  1. Ofsted suggest that 100-150 minutes a fortnight is enough time for you to deliver a decent KS3 curriculum. I find this very surprising. That’s roughly an hour a week. How is an hour a week enough time to deliver decent substantive and disciplinary knowledge to pupils and get them to think and argue and make sense of the past? This isn’t enough time to help pupils to make progress in their historical thinking.
  2. The report states that, ‘Curriculum plans relating to disciplinary knowledge were typically not ambitious enough. The teaching of this was less effective than it could be.’ By the way, disciplinary knowledge, according to Ofsted, ‘refers to knowledge about how historians and others study the past, and how they construct historical claims, arguments and accounts. This is not a set of generic skills, but a complex body of knowledge. Pupils need to build this knowledge over time by encountering a range of meaningful examples of how historians have studied specific aspects of the past and constructed claims and accounts about them.’ There is no surprise to me that teacher understanding and the teaching of disciplinary knowledge isn’t too good. After all, for the last 5/10 years there has been an obsession with learning and retrieving content. There is more content in GCSE history than there ever was. Ofsted even define progress as, ‘knowing more’. More focus has been given to ‘the power of substantive knowledge’, than to the importance of disciplinary knowledge. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for pupils if at the start of just one lesson, there wasn’t a retrieval quiz? When it comes to teaching disciplinary knowledge, there appears to be a reliance on GCSE style thinking and questions ie a focus on GCSE interpretations questions. Essentially we need a better knowledge of what disciplinary knowledge in history is.
  3. Having stated that the teaching of disciplinary knowledge isn’t great, the report goes on to tell us that teachers need to understand, ‘the generative power of historical knowledge’. By this I think they mean that pupils need to know more over time so that their growing prior knowledge can be used to make connections with the new material being studied. This makes complete sense BUT I would like to know teaching this AND focusing on disciplinary knowledge is achievable in an hour of history a week?
  4. Assessment in history is poor (my words). According to the report, teachers are unclear about most important content and concepts pupils need to know. Some teachers are not identifying or addressing gaps in pupil knowledge. There is not enough formative assessment to check pupil knowledge and misconceptions. GSCE questions should not be used at KS3 but in half the schools visited were using them to assess work. You know my views on this.
  5. Teachers need to stop teaching to the GSCE test. Instead history teachers should be thinking more deeply about what good history is and plan their lessons based on this. There is an agreed body of knowledge about what makes good causal thinking, how we should teach evidence and interpretations. In fact there is an agreed body of knowledge about what types of thinking we should get pupils to engage in for most second order concepts. There is too much time spent practicing exam questions and not enough time spent on giving the pupils the knowledge and understanding they need to actually be able to answer the questions. So, maybe it’s time to stop ending each lesson getting to pupils answering exam questions.
  6. Enquiry Questions are a crucial curriculum planning and delivery tool. But be careful to ensure that these questions are historical rigorous. Pupils need enough substantive knowledge to be able to answer the questions set AND their needs to be a decent precise disciplinary focus too.

If you have the time why not read the report yourself? But then again, it isn’t the easiest of reads.

I spent a very difficult three hours reading it. It’s a real shame that such a report isn’t written in a simple style that would allow busy teachers to digest its worthy findings and use them to reflect on the history curriculum in their own school.

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About the author
Richard McFahn
Founder of History Resource Cupboard, Richard has worked for 20 years as a history teacher, subject and senior leader, Advanced Skills Teacher, local authority adviser and history ITE tutor.

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