OFSTED SUBJECT REPORTS, 1999-2000
• There have been significant improvements in history in nearly one quarter of
schools since their last inspection.
• Achievement is satisfactory in the large majority of schools. It is good overall in
one quarter of schools in Key Stage 2, and one-fifth in Key Stage 1.
• Over half of history lessons are well taught. Characteristics of weak teaching
include dullness and the provision of low-level tasks.
• Most schools have maintained a broad and balanced curriculum in history, but in
a significant minority of schools it has deteriorated, leaving much to be done to
prepare for the revised National Curriculum.
• There have been gains for history from improved attention to literacy.
• Many schools have adopted the DfEE/ QCA schemes of work in whole or part, or
have used them to improve their own schemes. There are early indications of
Trends in history, 1999-2000
In schools where achievement in history is high, younger pupils acquire the
vocabulary of time. By the end of Key Stage 2, they are able to see a chronological
relationship between the periods they have studied and understand the conventions
by which periods of time are described and dated. In Key Stage 1 pupils gain secure
knowledge of people such as Florence Nightingale and events such as the Great
Fire of London and why it happened. By the end of Key Stage 2 pupils have
broadened their knowledge and developed their understanding: for example, pupils
know the key events and people of the Second World War and the impact of the war
on civilians. They have also acquired an understanding of cause and effect, such as
the reasons for and the results of the Roman invasion of the Britain, or the impact of
industrialisation on their local area. They have good recall and the ability to make
links between the periods they have studied in order to make comparisons. In
developing historical enquiry, pupils in Key Stage 1 use different sources including
artefacts and pictorial sources to locate information. By the end of Key Stage 2 they
have developed enquiry skills, and are able to ascribe significance to evidence in
terms of its usefulness to historians. At best, they can synthesise this information in
order to answer historical questions, with ideas backed by evidence. Writing is often
impressive but history is also communicated effectively in other ways. For example,
in one lesson:
Y5 pupils in role as senators debate the merits and dangers of the invasion of
Britain. The level of debate is high. In their arguments pupils demonstrate
very good knowledge and insights from different perspectives, such as the
potential economic benefits for Rome of a successful invasion. Pupils
question the factual accuracy of other senators’ arguments.
In a significant minority of schools pupils’ achievement is too uneven. For example,
pupils may have good recall of history and well-developed understanding of
concepts, but have weak skills in enquiry, or they may only have a narrow
experience of communication, for example through series of short responses to
questions on worksheets. In the small number of schools where achievement is
unsatisfactory, pupils’ understanding of chronology is limited, with few points of
reference to enable them to contextualise their knowledge. Recall is weak, with little
enduring knowledge from across the key stage, and pupils have not grasped key
Teaching is good in four schools in ten schools, where the teachers generally
inspire pupils’ interest and curiosity. In one lesson, for example, the teacher amazed
pupils by presenting them with the ingredients that had been available under
rationing. In another the teacher created a sense of mystery in the revelation of a
series of Egyptian artefacts; and in a third pupils were gripped by the drama of the
story of the siege of Troy. Over time, good teachers present pupils with a range of
stimuli and set them to work as historians, to explore the past and represent it, and
to reflect on what they have learned and how it builds upon what they already know.
Good teachers also use questions carefully to these ends, for example by probing
the methods of archaeologists, and what they can and cannot establish from their
finds; and by exploring the degree to which written sources such as eye-witness
accounts or text books can be relied upon. In planning the tasks that pupils
undertake, there has been an improvement in the attention given by teachers to
differentiation. This includes the use of open questions with different levels of
support, differentiated tasks which require more extended open writing by higher
attaining pupils, scaffolded tasks using writing frames, and closed and cloze
exercises for lower attainers.
Where teaching is weaker, lessons have some of these features, but fall down in
other respects. Most commonly, lessons start well in terms of content, presentation
and resources, but achievement is unsatisfactory because of the undemanding tasks
that pupils are asked to undertake. Other weaknesses include work that is too
difficult or too easy. For example, in one Y4 lesson about Tudor life:
The planning is adequate, but it lacks any sharp focus on what pupils will
learn as a result of this lesson. The teacher maintains pupils’ concentration,
although this is at the expense of allowing pupils to express their opinions.
The pace of the lesson is pedestrian. Pupils are interested and keen to learn,
but the teacher talks too much. The task set is not well explained, and pupils
work at particular aspects which interest them without developing their
knowledge and understanding of Tudor society.
A small number of lessons judged unsatisfactory are also characterised by their
dullness, their uniformity from lesson to lesson, the narrow range of resources used,
the lack of engagement by pupils and the sterility of tasks, such as pointless
colouring and copying.
History has been affected significantly by schools’ work on literacy in several
respects. Overall, the national strategies and the accompanying relaxation of the
National Curriculum requirements have reduced the time available for history. On
the other hand, there are indications that the close association of history with literacy
development has raised teachers’ expectations in terms of pupils’ ability to interpret
information texts, in the range and quality of written work, and in better attention to
speaking and listening. For example, the quality of writing for particular purposes has
improved, as in the case of Y2 pupils writing diary entries on the Great Fire of
London, or letters home from the Crimea about the work of Florence Nightingale. In
some schools the history content is used as material for literacy, with skills being
developed in the reduced time available for history in a separate afternoon session.
There is also better planning as a result of a transfer of good practice from the
National Literacy Strategy. For example, in one school:
The teacher sets clear expectations and shares targets with Y6 pupils, so they
know exactly what they have to do. Building on previous work, questioning
allows pupils to show what they have already learned. Pupils work closely
together, scanning text to locate information. The teacher continually
reinforces the essential skills of scanning and pupils respond confidently.
Pupils demonstrate high achievement in deduction and in selection of
appropriate material on aspects of twentieth century history.
Issues in history
Maintaining a rich history curriculum
In 1999-2000 schools had to adapt their curriculum in order to accommodate the
National Strategies. Overall, over nine schools in ten continue to provide a broad and
balanced history curriculum, with a satisfactory quality and range of learning
opportunities. In Key Stage 1 pupils study a very wide range of selected people and
events, and develop an understanding of time through the study of themes such as
toys, school, or homes. In Key Stage 2 schools largely interpret the Programme of
Study sensibly, and there are fewer signs of narrow focus or shallow coverage than
in the past. Thus, for example, pupils studying the Tudors undertake significant work
on the Tudor dynasty but also look at the lives of ordinary people in Tudor times.
In those schools where the curriculum is unsatisfactory, the relaxation of National
Curriculum requirements was used to defer curriculum development in history, or the
curriculum has deteriorated as a result of weak overall planning. In a few schools, for
example, no history is taught in Y6, or history is taught in only one term of each year.
This can militate against progression and continuity if teachers fail to take
opportunities to make sensible links in content and skills with pupils’ previous history
studies. Where history studies are developed narrowly, pupils studying subjects such
as life in Victorian England or during the Second World War do not learn enough
about the significant people and events of those times. In a small number of
schools, there has been a return to thematic or topic-based approaches, often
history-led. Teaching history as part of an integrated topic can be successful, but
equally it can become tokenistic, lacking clear objectives and subject rigour. In both
key stages a significant number of schools fail to give due attention to the key
elements (knowledge, understanding and skills), or to the requirement for work in
outline and depth. In considering the requirements of the revised National
Curriculum such schools need to return to first principles, and should consider
examples offered in the DfEE/ QCA schemes of work in order to address these
Using resources to bring history to life
Resources for history are satisfactory in over nine schools in ten, but are good in
only one quarter. A significant addition to most schools’ resources for history in
recent years has been the use of artefacts and replicas, which schools collect for
themselves or borrow from museums or library services. In one Y2 lesson, for
Pupils investigate how people kept warm and clean in Victorian times. The
teacher links this work to a recent museum visit. Pupils have to apply their
knowledge and understanding of home life, paying particular attention to the
roles of members of the Victorian household. The teacher demonstrates very
good subject knowledge, good planning and excellent resources. These
include ‘situation cards’ with key questions designed to develop knowledge of
domestic life and an excellent range of artefacts supported by pictures,
photographs and books. As the lesson progresses, pupils are asked to select
an artefact in order to take the role of a chimney sweep, a street lamp lighter,
a washer, or a cook. The teacher uses ‘freeze frame’ to ask pupils to
comment on their work and their attitudes, which reveal good understanding
of the hardship of domestic work.
Sometimes museum education officers take history lessons in which pupils handle
artefacts. Such lessons are usually very productive. Many schools use museums
and historic sites. Such visits are valuable in developing pupils’ sense of time and
their subject knowledge and in widening their perspectives of how we find out about
the past. Some preparatory and follow-up work is of high quality, but it remains the
case that the useful questions asked of resources inside the classroom are not
always applied in these wider contexts.
Many schools have provided no budget for history in the last year, either because of
other priorities or pending a spending review for the revised National Curriculum.
Some of these schools have compensated for lack of resources, or have fallen into
bad habits, by relying unduly on inadequate worksheets, both school-produced and
published. Although some worksheets are good, for example enabling teachers to
match work closely to pupils’ attainment, too many are weak, unstimulating and have
a narrowing effect on work in the subject.
ICT can have significant benefits for history, but is well used in only one school in
six, and is used poorly or not at all in three in ten. Where it is well used, pupils
research discriminatingly using CD-Rom or the Internet, or use software such as
word-processing to communicate their knowledge and ideas. For example, in one
school pupils researched into the Spanish Armada and, in responding to a teacher’s
presentation (using an interactive whiteboard), pupils edited, amended, checked and
saved their text. Where ICT use is weak, research strategies are laboured and the
keyboard skills insufficiently developed to support subject work.