Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)
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History a successful subject in schools

History is being taught successfully in schools and most pupils enjoy well-planned lessons that extend their knowledge, challenge their thinking and enhance their understanding, according to an Ofsted report published yesterday. However, whole-school curriculum changes have affected the quality of teaching for 11 to 14 year olds.

The report History for all, based on evidence from inspections of history between April 2007 and March 2010 in 83 primary schools and 83 secondary schools, found history was generally a popular and successfully taught subject.

Achievement was good or outstanding in 63 of the 83 primary schools and 59 of the 83 secondary schools. In the secondary schools there was evidence of effective teaching by well-qualified and highly competent teachers, who enabled students to develop in-depth knowledge and understanding. The teaching of history was good or better in most of the primary schools visited. However, the report also highlights some weaknesses in how history is taught.

In primary schools, pupils knew about particular episodes, characters and periods but found it difficult to understand them in relation to a long-term narrative or overview. This was partly because of the primary school curriculum structure, and also because teachers did not have adequate subject knowledge beyond the specific elements of history they taught.

Inspectors found that pupils in the schools visited studied a considerable amount of British history and knew a great deal about the particular topics covered. However, the large majority of the time was spent on English history rather than wider British history.

Her Majesty’s Chief inspector, Christine Gilbert said:

'The report presents a positive picture of the standards and teaching in history in schools. History is well taught, pupils enjoy it and achieve well. However, the report also found that some primary teachers find it difficult to establish a clear picture of the past so that pupils can develop a secure understanding of chronology. More attention needs to be given to helping teachers improve their understanding of progression in historical thinking.

'Pupils need to experience history as a coherent subject which develops their knowledge, thinking and understanding, especially their chronological understanding, and I hope the current review of the National Curriculum will recognise the importance of this.

'It is important that schools use professional development to develop teachers’ subject-specific expertise. This could be done by teachers working together across schools. Better continuous professional development for primary teachers in particular should improve their confidence in teaching history and help their pupils make greater progress.'

History continues to be a popular subject at Key Stage 4 and, during the three-year period of the survey, there were more examination entries for history than for any other optional subject at GCSE level apart from design and technology. However, patterns of entry for GCSE history vary considerably between different types of schools. Only 30 per cent of students in maintained schools took history in 2010 compared with 50 per cent in independent schools. In academies, the proportion was even lower at 20 per cent.

Attainment in history in the secondary schools visited was high and has continued to rise, particularly at GCSE and A level where results compare favourably with other subjects. However whole-school curriculum changes in Key Stage 3 and reductions in the time schools allocated to history meant that, overall, achievement was weaker in Key Stage 3 than in Key Stage 4. In addition, curriculum changes have allowed some students to give up history before the age of 14.

In England, history is not compulsory for students beyond the age of 14 and those in schools offering a two-year Key Stage 3 course can stop studying history at the age of 13. England is unique in Europe in this respect. In almost all European Union countries it is compulsory to study history until at least the ages of 15 or 16. History is compulsory until the age of 14 in Northern Ireland, the Netherlands and Wales, and all pupils study history as part of their broad general education in Scotland until they are 15.

One of the characteristics of weaker provision in secondary schools was the tendency for teachers to try to cover too much content and ‘spoon-feed’ students. As a result, teachers talked too much, lessons were rushed, opportunities for debate and reflection were missed and students lost interest.

The use of ICT in teaching history was better than for the last report three years ago. Inspectors saw many examples where teachers used video and media clips effectively to build pupils’ understanding.

The report recommends that the requirements for initial teacher education and the provision of subject-specific professional development opportunities nationally should be reviewed to support primary school teachers more effectively in their work on history.

The National Curriculum review should ensure pupils in primary schools experience history as a coherent subject which develops their knowledge, thinking and understanding, especially their chronological understanding. Most importantly, all students in secondary schools should benefit from a significant amount of history to at least the age of 14.

Notes for Editors

1. The report History for all can be found on the Ofsted website at www.ofsted.gov.uk/publications/090223.

2. GCSE, AS and A-level results in history are available at www.education.gov.uk/rsgateway/DB/SFR.

3. In 2009, 55 per cent of students taking A-level history gained grades A and B, compared with 52 per cent for all subjects. Results for 2010 indicate that 56 per cent of students gained grade B and above in history compared with 52 per cent in 2007.

4. The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children's social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It assesses council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.

5. Media can contact the Ofsted Press Office through 020 7421 6899 or via Ofsted's enquiry line 0300 1231231 between 8.30am - 6.30pm Monday - Friday. Out of these hours, during evenings and weekends, the duty press officer can be reached on 07919 057359

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