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Quality of history education continues to improve but inconsistency between schools remains

Ofsted has today published a subject report looking at how history is being taught in England’s schools. The report draws on evidence from subject visits to a sample of primary and secondary schools. 

Inspectors found that the position of history in schools is much more secure than it was 12 years ago when we last published a report on history education. The trend towards erosion of history as a distinct subject appears to have been reversed. Most schools have worked to develop a broad and ambitious curriculum in history, and the gaps in the quality of provision between primary and secondary schools have closed. In the schools providing a high-quality history education, leaders understand how curriculum, teaching and assessment could help pupils develop depth and breadth of historical knowledge. 

However, the report notes that there are significant differences in the quality of history education between schools. In the best schools, pupils’ knowledge of the past is wide-ranging and connected as teachers go beyond the most well-known aspects of historical periods to explore how people lived in the past in more detail. In other schools, pupils’ knowledge is less secure because they are not taught to make these connections between different historical periods or events. The report also highlights areas for improvement, including the need for more ambitious curriculum plans when teaching pupils about how historians study the past. 

His Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, said: 

“A good history education is fundamental to children’s understanding of the world. The study of history immerses pupils in unfamiliar worlds and, at the same time, helps them to make sense of their own experiences.

“It is great to see that history remains a core part of the school curriculum as the quality of history education continues to improve. I hope our report helps schools provide an excellent history education for all pupils.”

The report makes a number of recommendations for how schools can ensure that all pupils receive a high-quality history education, including:

  • Ensuring that teachers understand how pupils’ knowledge of past societies and recurring themes can help them to learn about other topics more easily. 
  • Making sure that teaching builds on the historical knowledge that pupils already have, helping pupils to connect information about past societies.  
  • Using assessment to identify any gaps or misconceptions in pupils’ historical knowledge, and make sure these are addressed. 
  • Focusing support for pupils with SEND on pupils’ ability to access the full breadth and depth of the intended history curriculum, rather than their ability to complete the immediate task.
  • Providing a curriculum that gives pupils a broad and complex understanding of the past, enabling pupils to develop knowledge about how historians study the past. 
  • Carefully assessing the quality of what pupils learn and remember over time. This should include the connectedness and complexity of pupils’ knowledge of the past, and their knowledge of how historians study the past.

All subject visits were carried out between July 2022 and April 2023.

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