Please note: this guide was written before the 2014 National Curriculum and some of the advice may no longer be relevant.
For more up-to-date guidance see:

Planning for teaching history involves five elements:

  • The requirements of the National Curriculum for history at KS1 and KS2
  • Planning history in relation to the rest of the curriculum over the seven years of primary school: long-term planning
  • Planning a history study unit: medium-term planning
  • Planning individual lessons: short-term planning
  • Planning for assessment.

As the primary strategy makes clear, schools and teachers can use their professional judgement in planning how and what to teach within the framework of the National Curriculum.

The Oxford historian Marjorie Reeves, in her inspiring book Why History? (Longman, 1980), famously declared that she would like pupils to be able to sit down 'in a good rich patch of history and stay there for a satisfying amount of time' (p. 53). She, like the Nuffield team, believed that children needed to study topics in depth, through activity (i.e. 'do' history) in order to understand and enjoy the subject. However, rich patches, or fat beads, of history, also need to be connected to one another.

Marjorie Reeves suggests that the patches/beads be joined by a thin historical string, with the beads strung along it to form an historical necklace. The string enables children to see how different aspects of history connect with others. Such a connecting thread provides an historical narrative, and as such it helps children to make sense of societies and how they develop and relate to others.

Ofsted has consistently criticised fragmentation in primary history teaching - stating that many teachers do not make sufficient connections between periods studied. In other words, pupils are getting Reeves' beads - or patches - but not the connecting thread.

Finding a solution

One way to address this problem is to plan a couple of lessons at the end of a year or key stage (and certainly at the end of Year 6) where you review and pull together the discrete units of history the children have studied during the past year/s.

This could take the form of a focused discussion or narrative chronological overview. The aim is conceptual coherence. A timeline is central to these sessions.

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