Teaching History Curriculum Supplement 2014

Changes to the secondary history curriculum

By HA, published 28th March 2014

Although modifications to the content of the National Curriculum for history have not been as dramatic as once feared, the effective revocation of the previous attainment target is radical indeed. When these changes are considered alongside the fact that more than half of maintained secondary schools (all academies and free schools) now have no obligation at all to adhere to any prescribed curriculum, the revolutionary potential of current curriculum reforms is readily apparent.

The word ‘potential’ is deliberately chosen, because there is no guarantee that history departments will capitalise on these new-found freedoms to shape their own curricula and assessment policies in response to their professional understandings of their subject discipline and the needs of their pupils. Heads of history may well find their options curtailed or constrained by whole-school policies and decisions made by senior leadership teams. Powerful financial pressures will militate against the acquisition of new resources, while the looming sense of more urgent priorities imposed by A-level and GCSE reform will undoubtedly limit the amount of attention that can be devoted to Key Stage 3.

The authors of the two articles in this special supplement are well aware of these constraints, but they are also anxious that history departments should not settle for the path of least resistance. Jamie Byrom seeks to highlight what he regards as the most important strengths of the revised curriculum, as well the distinctive features to which attention needs to be paid. He also outlines and exemplifies a series of well-tested principles to underpin any new planning.

Michael Fordham reminds us that history teachers’ well-documented frustrations with the previous attainment target, and more particularly with the absurd ways in which they were required to use it, have long prompted thoughtful professional experiments with alternative approaches, supported by insights from research and an understanding of the core principles of assessment for learning.