Ofsted History Report Take-aways

Jenner’s report has its own summary of key points as you read it through, but below is a mixture of key take-aways and my favourite quotes to focus thinking on from the Ofsted research review for History

History Ofsted Research Report – Key Quotes


High quality curriculum requires content emphasis within lessons to be ‘made live’. This is better manages when ‘rationales for content selection are fully understood and teachers have opportunities to discuss content selection’.

‘knowledge of the past must be shaped by disciplinary approaches in order to become historical knowledge’.

‘prioritise knowledge that will have the greatest impact on supporting pupils to learn more in the future’

Pupils with ‘fingertip knowledge’ are more likely to write better in History.


Substantive Concepts and Chronological knowledge

‘Abstract concepts are best learned through meaningful examples and repeated encounters in different contexts…They are not simply ‘definitions’.’

‘Pupils will have to learn many concepts incidentally without explicit teaching or emphasis’

‘Pupils have opportunities to read or hear challenging texts’

‘A secure mental timeline makes pupils existing historical knowledge more secure’

‘high quality history helps pupils to develop coherent historical narratives’.


Context and repetition with learning new concepts

‘as pupils knowledge of these concepts grows so does their capacity to understand and learn more complex material’

‘expanding knowledge is progress, but also a driver for further progress’

‘connections between historical knowledge are often complex, unseen and unpredictable’

Focus on teaching core knowledge ‘counterproductive’ in history. Pupils often need to encounter lots of background knowledge (hinterland) in order to make sense and learn core knowledge’

Hinterland information ‘provides meaningful examples…secure contexts for learning…connects and organises information into narratives..develops familiarity…broadens curriculum content…demonstrates diversity’



‘Substantive and disciplinary knowledge are meaningless without each other’

‘using the work of academic historians to inform teaching and curriculum design is likely to be an effective way of ensuring accurate representations of the discipline and avoiding misconceptions’

‘enquiry questions are a sophisticated device for shaping curriculum content’. They are good when they ‘are designed to reflect genuine academic debates in history’.


Second Order Concepts

Causation: ‘In order to build causal arguments pupils require secure substantive knowlefge of the event and process before seeking to explain’

Consequence: Enquiry on consequences ‘less common in history teachers practice than enquiry questions on causation’

Do not create enquiries to look at causation and consequence at the same time. ‘Pupils more likely to practice a type of argument effectively when they stay focused on thinking and arguing about one thing at a time’.

Change and Continuity: Need to look at change in terms of ‘extent or degree, pace or rate, nature or type and process’

Similarities and Differences: ‘can be developed through individual stories. This allows pupils to challenge generalisations’

Significance: ‘importance of pupils learning about historical silence’ as well as significance.

Sources and evidence: ‘common misconception is that ‘bias’ in a source is necessarily bad and means that a source is not useful. This needs to be countered…bias might render a source extremely useful for discerning attitudes, beliefs or assumptions.’

‘Effective teaching about sources and evidence teaches pupils to use sources to establish evidence for a specific historical question.’

‘It is important to avoid studying only snippets of sources (such as those that might appear in GCSE exams) and instead study longer extracts and whole texts.’

‘Similarly pupils need to study diverse non-textual sources such as music, oral, folksong or photography…archaeological remains’. 

‘Pupils cannot develop their knowledge about sources and evidence through activities that focus on teaching generic approaches to sources, including using GCSE style questions in KS3’

Interpretations: Show pupils ‘a wide range in interpretations by ensuring that they study diverse, real interpretations (such as specific works of scholarship, popular accounts, folk histories, museums and films’ and ‘by building lesson sequences that focus on the context, purpose and processes of construction in these real accounts’

‘Interpretations is not reaching a judgement. Such work does not meet the National curriculum’s focus on a study of interpretations.’

Read and watch the Historical Associations ‘what’s the wisdom on series’


Breadth of curriculum and diversity

‘Each period of historical time might contribute something unique to pupils understanding of the past’

‘pupils also need thoroughness in curriculum content over time if they are to be given the best chance to understand new and more complex material’

‘the national curriculum refers not only to diverse past but the importance in developing pupils identities. In modern multicultural Britain, pupils’ communities past are diverse and blended and complex’

‘a geographical broad curriculum explores local histories and the regional diversity of the British Isles as well as the study of other places and societies beyond the British Isles’

‘Cultural history might be particularly powerful in overcoming common misconceptions about the past’

‘individual stories, case studies and family and local histories enable pupils to identify, challenge and move beyond generalisations’

‘Curriculum content should be designed so that pupils ‘see themselves’ in their history curriculum’. 


Primary – Developing early historical knowledge in early years

‘an effective curriculum for younger children might develop their knowledge of a few concepts that are particularly important in their future learning’

‘it us likely that connecting new concepts to a familiar context (such as family or local history) will support children’s early development of conceptual knowledge’

‘as in later stages, individual stories and rich hinterland content may establish a more meaningful context for children to learn new material…this might include fictional stories’

‘develop knowledge of some chronological markers’


Key Stage 2 &3

‘younger pupils will benefit from specific examples of how historians investigate the past and construct accounts’

‘where primary school pupils have a thematic or topic based structure, it is important that history specific curriculum goals are given appropriate emphasis within this…pupils need opportunities to learn about the past through the lens of the discipline’

‘it is likely that pupils will be best prepared for the demands of GCSE and A level study by beginning these courses with wide ranging and secure knowledge of the past…this is likely to be more effective than narrow or direct preparation for the exam requirements in earlier stages’

‘focusing too much on exam preparation is likely to narrow a school’s curriculum’


Effective History Teaching

‘in history terms this would seem to suggest…recalling previously taught content (retrieval) and revising content is lessons (spaced practice) have also shown to be effective in securing pupils knowledge over time’

‘the importance of…general efforts to reduce the use of vocabulary and concepts that are unfamiliar with pupils…must be balanced by an awareness of the particular role of background material in history and the need to provide opportunities for incidental learning of concepts’

‘storytelling is a powerful vehicle for learning…particularly effective when teachers draw pupils attention to particular important content within this’

‘extended texts are likely to be a common feature of history lessons…a number of history teachers have demonstrated ways in which their own secondary pupils have benefited from regular opportunities to read the work of historians’



‘any adaptions made to support pupils learning in History usually should not be to the overall curriculum content but rather to how the content is taught’

‘ensuring all pupils otherwise encounter the same content is particularly important given the role of hinterland information.’



‘Prioritise assessing the range and security of pupils historical knowledgde’

‘as well as knowledge tests, assessment approaches might include assessing pupils knowledge of important concpets or chronological knowledge’

‘external exams such as GCSE’s do not provide a good model for formative assessment’

‘it is likely that an undue focus on preparation for GCSE examinations in Key Stage 3 will result in a lower-quality curriculum’

‘writing an essay in response to a historical question. These tasks are a powerful learning tool…however if these tasks are used as a form of assessment, then it must be recognised that they are a very complex composite – that is they draw directly or indirectly on pupils knowledge of a wide range of components…as a result, these assessments might be most effective when balanced with a range of other assessment approaches.’


School level issues

‘greater autonomy for subject leaders to design or adapt these (curriculum and subject specific approaches) is likely to support a higher quality of education’.

‘Both the quality and quantity of professional development are likely tohave significant impact on the quality of education, particularly when professional development pays attention to subject distinctiveness and develops both content and content pedagogical knowledge’

‘high quality resources, such as detailed curriculum plans, teaching resources or text books, may support the quality of education. These may be particularly important to subject teachers who have gaps in their subject knwoledge’


Published by jennynicholls1

Part time OAT Lead for Humanities. T&L Curriculum enthusiast. Passionate about CPD from ITT to Developing Leaders, Coaching and Educational Research

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