Category Archives: history

History Cheat Sheets – the complete set

A little under a year ago, I set out on a project to provide helpful ‘cheat sheets’ for Key Stage 2 teachers faced with tackling a completely unfamiliar curriculum. I had no idea quite how complex the task would be. I was (and indeed remain) no expert in areas such as 10th Century Islamic Civilizations, or the pre-Roman period of British History.

Thankfully, through the wonder of Twitter, I was able to enlist the generous help and support of a number of willing volunteers, and finally I am delighted to have published a full set of 12 support sheets for each of the statutory and optional areas of the KS2 curriculum.

Credit for their various efforts must go to those who went to the effort of researching, preparing and compiling the sheets for their various strands – it is no mean feat:

Ilona Aronovksy @aron_ovsky

Kim Biddulph @schprehistory

Dr Richard Farrow @FarrowMr

Alison Leach @StoneAgeKS2

Jo Pearson @JoPearson3

Tim Taylor @imagineinquiry

I am eternally grateful for their help, and I know that that will be echoed by many in schools up and down the country. The whole project feels like a testament to the profession, and I couldn’t be more proud!

The final booklet can be downloaded from this link, and can also be found on the Free Resources page along with various other bits and pieces.

I hope folk find them useful.

History ‘Cheat Sheets’

Download the full booklet of 'cheat sheets'

Download the full booklet of ‘cheat sheets (8MB)’

1. Stone Age to Iron Age

1. Stone Age to Iron Age

2. Roman Britain

2. Roman Britain

3. Anglo-Saxons & Scots

3. Anglo-Saxons & Scots

4. Anglo-Saxons & Vikings

5. Ancient Greece

6. Ancient Sumer

6. Ancient Sumer

7. Indus Valley

7. Indus Valley

8. Ancient Egypt

8. Ancient Egypt

9. Shang Dynasty of China

9. Shang Dynasty of China

10. Early Islamic Civilisation

10. Early Islamic Civilisation

11. Mayan Civilisation

11. Mayan Civilisation

12. Benin, West Africa

12. Benin, West Africa



Whose History curriculum is it anyway?

After months of secrecy – for no clear reason – at the DfE, I got surprising response to my FOI request this month. I had expected to be told that the names of the people whose advice was sought about the re-drafting of the curriculum would be withheld, so it was quite a shock to see them set out before me.

Since the list was published, others have taken a great interest in it, and our enquiries are now greatly supported by the efforts of Marina Robb (@MarinaRobb) who has taken the time to try to find out some brief details about each of the panel members. The work below is all hers (save for the formatting):

1. Scott Baker:  Head of History at the Robert Clack School in Dagenham and History rep Academic Steering Group of The Prince’s Teaching Institute(Secondary Education)
2. Lord Bew: Professor of Irish Politics (Higher Education) [Politics/Stance:NeoCon Henry Jackson Society]
3. Professor Jeremy Black:  Professor of History at the University of Exeter (Higher Education) [Politics/Stance: Conservative]
4. Professor Arthur Burns: Professor of History at KCL and  Vice President of Royal Historical Society – specialist in the History of the Church of England (Higher Education/History Advocacy)
5. Jamie Byrom: Schools History Project (Schools Consultant/History Advocacy)[Politics/Stance: Thematic Enquiry Based Learning]
6. Daisy Christoudolou: Briefly an English Teacher now an Education consultant (Secondary Background: English) [Politics/Stance: Traditional Knowledge Curriculum]
7. Christine Counsell: Senior Lecturer PGCE History Cambridge, former Secondary School teacher (Higher Education/Secondary Education)
8. Jackie Eales: Professor of early modern history at Canterbury Christ Church University and president of the Historical Association (Higher Education/History Advocacy)
9. Rebecca Fraser (?): Author “A People’s History of Britain” (History Author/Writer) [Politics/Stance: Conservative]
10. Dr. David Green (?): Head of Civitas [Politics/Stance: Right of Centre)
11. Elizabeth Hutchinson: Former head of history, Parkstone Grammar School, Poole Contracted by DofE to draw up GCSE History subject content (Secondary Background)
12. Matthew Inniss: Subject Leader for History and an Economics Teacher at Paddington Academy in Westminster. (Secondary Education)
13. Dr Seán Lang: Senior Lecturer in History, specialising in the history of the British Empire, Chair of the Better History Group (Higher Education/History Advocacy) [Politics/Stance: Traditional Knowledge Curriculum]
14: Jennifer Livesey (?): Primary Teach First (Primary Education)
15: Chris McGovern: Campaign for Real Education, former History teacher, Prep School Head (Secondary Background/Education Advocacy)  [Politics/Stance: Traditional Knowledge Curriculum]
16: Dr Michael Maddison: Ofsted Lead Inspector for History (Schools Consultant/History Advocacy)
17. Andrew Payne:  Head of Education & Outreach at The National Archives
18: Robert Peal: Former Secondary School History Teacher (2 years), then Research Fellow at right=of-centre Civitas (Secondary Background/Education Consultant) [Politics/Stance: Traditional Knowledge Curriculum]
19: Katherine Rowley Conwy: Head of Sixth Form Highbury Fields School (Secondary Education) [Politics/Stance: Seems to be British History focus]
20: Rebecca Sullivan: Chief Executive at The Historical Association previously Senior Humanities Publisher at Pearson Education (History Advocacy/Education Consultancy)
21: Professor Robert Tombs: History fellow at St John’s College, Cambridge and Politeia (Higher Education/Political Think Tank) [Politics/Stance: Right of Centre]
22. Jonny Walker: Teach First Primary
23: Dr Nick Winterbotham: Chairman, Group for Education in Museums (GEM) and runs Winterbotham and Associates Leadership advice, marketing and entrepreneurship, etc. (Education
Consultant) (Education Consultant)

Answers from the department (that raise more questions)

By complete chance (one presumes), today I received two responses from the Department for Education on entirely unrelated matters.

Firstly, to the matter of the Curriculum Cock-Ups I mentioned last month.

It turns out, the inclusion of the 900-1300 dates in the Benin listing in the new National Curriculum wasn’t so much a cock-up as a bodge job! The department passed on a comment from “the chair of an expert group” set up to examine the first draft, and suggest improvements. This stated that the reason for the inclusion of Benin at all was “to show schools that already study Benin that they can continue to do so”. The reason, though, for the selection of the (frankly quite dull and hard-to-teach) early 900-1300 period was an attempt “to preserve the chronological structure of the programmes of study”

In essence, it wasn’t a mistake… it was just a bad compromise. Just what we need for a statutory curriculum for our nation’s schools.

The response also points out that schools are free to teach beyond 1300, which rather emphasises the nonsense of specifying the period in the first place.

So now we know.

In another matter, it seems that further evidence of ill-thought-through legislation has left a bit of an unclear area in expectations for school websites. From this month schools have been required to publish the curriculum for every year group online. It has never been clear what form or what level of detail is required, but also the documentation was unclear whether this related only to National Curriculum year groups, or whether it would need to include the Reception/Early Years phase.

My second response from the DfE indicates that they hadn’t really thought it through themselves. The response from the DfE lawyers states that “there is nothing in the drafting to indicate that this is restricted by age or year group” and that therefore they “think the requirement under Regulation 10 would also apply to that Reception year” (my emphasis)

Of course, this fails to take into account that the regulations actually specify that what should be published is “the content of the curriculum followed by the school for each subject” (my emphasis again). Now, aside from the fact that the Early Years curriculum is much harder to pin down than the content of the National Curriculum, it seems to overlook the fact that there aren’t officially “subjects” in the EYFS, so quite what is meant to be published isn’t clear.

What’s more, if the requirement probably extends to Reception, then should it also apply to maintained nurseries? Does it also extend to sixth forms?

Or had the department not really thought it through before announcing that it would happen?

Curriculum Cock-Ups?

Teachers, school leaders and experts across the land have been only to keen to point out that the latest changes to the National Curriculum seem rushed. Only this week we saw the ATL survey showing that eight of ten teachers don’t feel they’ve had enough time to prepare for it.

What is becoming increasingly evident is just what an impact such a rush has. I present just three examples of what I consider to be cock-ups that should have been ironed out before the curriculum documentation reached its final stage.

Exhibit A

The first is my particular favourite. At first glance, the spelling requirements for Y5/6 English don’t seem too ridiculous, until you look more closely at the fifth and sixth bullet points:

dictionariesI have yet to find anyone who can rationally explain to me the difference between these two requirements. Clearly, the wording is different, but is it only me that feels that this is just an error where someone forgot to delete one example?

Exhibit B

Now, I’m no history expert, so I’ve been trying to pull together some history ‘Cheat Sheets’ to help both me and others with the new strands of the curriculum. The area which has presented most challenge has been the new Non-European Study section. By far the most popular option has been the study of the Mayan Civilization, but some schools – particularly those with many West African students, or with some expertise in the area – would reasonably opt for Benin. A quick glance at the Wikipedia article for the kingdom suggests that it was at its most significant from 1440, yet for some reason the National Curriculum proposes that we study an alternative period:


This seems all the more strange when you consider that, as the Historical Association says: “Benin didn’t really exist in 900 AD” and that the most famous of historical artefacts from Benin – the Benin Bronzes – date from the twelfth century onwards, with the most significant falling in the fifteenth century, well outside the proposed period.

So what was the rationale behind the very precisely defined 900-1300 period? Just another cock-up?

Exhibit C

Given that the new curriculum is meant to be “the best which has been thought and said“, you’d think that plenty of experts would have been involved in the development of the programmes of study. And given the great interest in the content of the History curriculum, perhaps none moreso than in this subject. Yet it was here that I found a further error. Again, to the untrained eye nothing seems amiss with the third British History unit:


However, the most precursory research into that second bullet point – about the Scots invasions – suggests that perhaps too few experts were involved. For some time now, there has been much doubt about the idea that the Scots ever “invaded” at all. In fact, it seems more likely that the Gaels on the Scottish west coast were part of the same group as those in Northern Ireland; there is no archaeological evidence for an invasion. It is, at best, a contested issue.

Interestingly, when I raised the point with Scottish historian, Mark Jardine, he described it as a classic “myth history in chronicles vs. history” debate, and “way, way too complex” for lower KS2!

Of course, it could be argued that these mistakes are not errors at all, just… unusual choices. But given the very short time period allowed for drafting, redrafting and publishing the curriculum, is it any surprise that errors slipped through? Doubtless there may be more in the Secondary subjects which I haven’t even begun to look at.

Can they seriously argue that this wasn’t rushed?

KS2 History ‘cheat sheet’ resources

This is an old blog post. The full History Cheat Sheet Resource set can now be downloaded from the Free Resources page.

Download the Prehistory example

Download the Prehistory example

With the significant changes coming into the primary history curriculum from September, I am aware that I have several gaps in my own subject knowledge and know of many colleagues who feel similarly. Having been pondering this for a while, I set out to try to create a sort of “cheat sheet” of key facts about some of the historical periods.

I created a sample A4 page of information about the prehistory period to see what people thought, and it was widely welcomed. Since that time, a few other kindly folk on Twitter offered up their time to work on other periods, such that we hope to produce 12 such spreads.

Thanks to the excellent work of Kim Biddulph of @schprehistory, Tim Taylor (@imagineinquiry), Rich Farrow (@farrowmr), Ilona Aronovsky (@aron_ovsky) and Jo Pearson (@jopearson3)many of these have now been completed, and so I’ve provided them here. Hopefully further examples will appear over the coming weeks. Eventually, we hope to complete a full set of 12 spreads about each of the statutory and optional units.

British History (all statutory)

Unit 1 – Prehistory
with thanks to Kim Biddulph of

Unit 2 – Roman Britain
with thanks to Tim Taylor of

Unit 3 – Anglo-Saxons & Scots

Unit 4 – Anglo-Saxons & Vikings

Ancient Civilizations (schools must teach Greece and one other)

Unit 5 – Ancient Greece

Unit 6 – Ancient Sumer

Unit 7 – Indus Valley
with thanks to Ilona Aronovsky of

Unit 8 – Ancient Egypt

Unit 9 – Shang Dynasty of Ancient China
with thanks to Kim Biddulph of

World Civilizations (schools must teach one)

Unit 10 – Early Islamic Civilisation (Baghdad)
with thanks to Rich Farrow

Unit 11 – Mayan Civilisation
with thanks to Rich Farrow

The over-simplification of History teaching (& learning!)

In the last couple of weeks I have been emphatic about the need to respond to the National Curriculum consultation, in particular to make changes to the unwieldy and unhelpful History curriculum. My views are broadly in line with those of the Historical Association, The Royal Historical Society, the British Academy and History UK. But, of course, as with all such changes, there will be those whose views differ.

Yesterday, Tom Bennett (@tombennett71) posted a thought-out blog on the History proposals at . Now, I’ll confess to never having been a fan of the “behaviour guru” (a moniker which even he notes is over-the-top, so don’t hold that against him). But this blog struck me in a few ways.

Firstly, despite being a fan of integration of the humanities, I note that he is not a History teacher, but an RE/Philosophy teacher. Neither of these subjects are directly affected by the National Curriculum, and perhaps more significantly, most authorities’ Agreed Syllabuses for RE are substantially light on content than the proposed History draft. Mr Bennett proudly boasts that he can “follow a syllabus like Miles Davis follows scales” – a task Mr Davis might find harder if the score he was provided with was Beethoven’s fifth!

That all being said, it is quite possible that as a head of Humanities he is required to do some History teaching. Now, I am not a History specialist, so can claim no greater qualification to judge, but I am an experienced teacher in the primary curriculum. As such, it was comment’s about the primary curriculum that most riled me. I imagine there are swathes of secondary teachers who are not thrilled about the KS3 PoS, but I’ll stick to what I know.

Firstly, TB describes the KS1 curriculum as “brief and broad enough” and confidently advises us that “there are dozens of points where a globally minded teacher could freestyle off into the world at large”. Now, forgive me if I am wrong, but I haven’t noticed any KS1 teachers complaining that there isn’t scope to go off into other things. The matter is quite the reverse – that the expectations required of the new draft are simply inappropriate for five-year-old children.

Of course, we can over-simplify. The KS1 draft requires that by the age of seven children know and understand concepts such as civilisation, monarchy, parliament, democracy, and war and peace. Now, monarchy kids gets: Kings and Queens. Parliament and democracy we can talk about: we choose who’s in charge. War and Peace… easy. They’ve seen weapons. Of course, none of this is really teaching anything but a vague awareness of some complex vocabulary. How do you really teach a six-year-old – someone who has virtually no autonomy themselves – about the various options for governance of a nation. And civilisation!? What does that even mean? Is it just people living in a place? Are we comparing civilised communities to barbarians somewhere? The list is just a nonsense.

But my concerns about KS1 don’t come close to those of KS2. A race through more than 1700 years of history will do nothing to broaden children’s understanding of chronology or the world around them. One lesson on Clive of India – maybe two at a push – can do nothing to explain the ways in which Britain developed an empire through a combination of private enterprise. For all the superficial understanding children will gain from this type of march through history, we might as well just use clips like this:

It’s not quite historically accurate, but it covers the gist.

TB states himself that “The curriculum shouldn’t be a straitjacket”, but in the case of KS2/3 History that’s exactly what it is. He provides plenty of examples of how he sees history teachers can depart from the required curriculum, but shows no awareness at all of the time needed to cover what is already included.

Tim Taylor (@imagineinquiry) put together an excellent draft of what the curriculum might look like in KS2, which you can download from the bottom of his blogpost here: (The post itself is well worth a read too)

In his blog, TB suggests that “the Crusades (KS2) easily encompass the Middle East, the Muslim empires, the rise of Kevin Costner; the Norman Conquest (KS2) could […] touch on France, feudalism, and mainland Europe and its relationship to these islands”
Looking at Tim Taylor’s blog you can see that all this would need to be fitted into a single term – approximately 10 hours of history teaching.

Now, I currently teach in Y7, and we do cover the Norman conquest. It takes nearly 10 hours just to properly study the events of 1066, let alone to get on as far as the Crusades. The suggestion that we could cover the same in 10 hours in Year 4 with time to spare is nonsense. Remember that most of the children studying this will not be 11 or 12 as they are now, but barely 8!

Of course, again we can simplify: an hour on the death of Edward the Confessor and its implications, an hour on Stamford Bridge, an hour on the Battle of Hastings, an hour on the Bayeux Tapestry, an hour on feudalism… and children will miss out a swathe of historical skills and understanding.

At what I understand is TB’s own school, the Y7 History curriculum is devoted to medieval history with a start on the Tudor period. His suggestion is that this could all be covered in the half the time with children aged 3 or 4 years younger. It rather begs the question what his school is wasting its time on!

Via Twitter this morning I engaged with TB about his views, and his responses only further entrenched my view that he has a wild misunderstanding about the nature of the teaching of history. His views seem largely predicated on the premise that if content is taught in an interesting way then it will also be learned. That once it is taught, it is also learned:

No, while I’m sure JK Rowling would be flattered to have the intricacies of her plots be compared to something so extraordinarily complex as our nation’s history, I suspect that even she might raise an eyebrow. And of course, there are very few 9-year-olds who can give but the most fleeting recollection of key points in the story. Those who really know the “entire Harry Potter plot cycle” are those who have re-read and re-visited the text in different forms at different times – a process that simply isn’t allowed in the new draft curriculum.

To suggest that simply by imparting knowledge in chronological order that students will suddenly have an understanding of the full sweep of British history suggests a complete underestimation of the role and worth of teachers. If it were true that simply by exposure children could be made to know, retain and understand facts then we would have no need for education beyond the age of 8. We could simply teach children to read, and then provide them with textbooks.

I have no doubts that Mr Bennett prides himself on being an engaging teacher who selects the best approaches to bring a curriculum to life for his students in his RS and psychology lessons, building on an initial framework to draw on his own expertise and wonder to provide exciting learning opportunities. In supporting such a content-heavy curriculum for KS2 and KS3 History, he is denying his history-teaching colleagues the opportunity to do likewise.

Horrible Histories: the Gradgrind Govians

Before I begin, take a look at this video of an eight-year-old’s birthday party.

Eight-year-old children playing at egg-and-spoon races, and enjoying a child-like life is always a pleasure to watch, I think. And across England, teachers of Year 3 children, who are turning eight, are very experienced at drawing on this love of adventure and excitement to engage them in a History curriculum that meets their needs. Even the most dreary of curriculum-writers at QCA managed to make accessible units of work suitable for the age of the children.

Yet somehow, in their wisdom at the DfE (and we don’t yet know exactly whose wisdom, since we haven’t been told who actually wrote the new draft Programmes of Study), it has been decided that age-appropriate curricula are for the lily-livered. Now we must return to straightforward facts. And in a move presumably based on the wisdom of Maria von Trapp, Year 3 students must start at the very beginning.

So, out go engaging themes like Victorians – with all its accessible artefacts and resources, its meaningful inventions, and its comprehensible elements of continuity and change – and in comes the Heptarchy. (here’s the Wikipedia link, for those of you disgracefully unfamiliar with this administrative structure)

Of course, those behind the draft will presumably say that our standards are sloppy. We have fallen behind. The rest of the world is leading the way. High Performing Jurisdictions teach the Heptarchy to three-year-olds.

Except they don’t.

Gove et al seem ever in awe of the ‘High Performing Jurisdictions’ of Singapore, Massachusetts, Alberta and the like. So what say they on History for 7-8 year olds?


History isn’t a separate subject in Singapore Primary schools. It forms part of an integrated Social Studies curriculum. Even when you look at the syllabus (the equivalent of  a Programme of Study), the historical chronology doesn’t stand out. In fact, the 50-page document which covers the whole of the primary phase seems to contain far less “content” than the new draft curriculum for KS2. The remainder of the document focuses on the rationale, understanding and purpose of the curriculum. It emphasises the importance of an inquiry focus, of skills and values, and of critical thinking.

And what does it say of content for 8-year-olds?

Pupils will be able to:
• identify the people living in Singapore; and
• recognise that a common identity as well as shared experiences and values unite the people of Singapore

It draws upon examples such as national holidays and symbols, traditional costumes and games, and developing “an appreciation for the diverse communities in Singapore”. Exactly the sort of thing you might expect an eight-year-old to understand and relate to.

But perhaps Singapore is the exception to the rule on this occasion? What of the other HPJs?


At his recent speech at the SMF, Mr Gove praised the brilliance of the Massachusetts curriculum in which their “history curriculum requires students to be taught in rich factual detail about their heritage”. He goes on to say how well they do in assessments, so perhaps here is his source?

Well, before we look at that in any detail, I think it’s worth reading the opening page to the MA Curriculum Frameworks website. It contains the following statement:

Since the enactment of the Education Reform Act of 1993, a great deal of work has gone into developing the Curriculum Frameworks.

What has made the process so effective is the grassroots involvement of thousands of people statewide. The task could not have been accomplished without the commitment, energy, and dedication of teachers, administrators, associations, parents, business, students, higher education faculty, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education staff, the Board of Education, and the public.

I make no further comment on that, for none is needed. So, what of its curriculum for eight-year-olds? It is perhaps worthy of note that again this HPJ does not separate History from its broader “History and Social Science” curriculum. It too explores at length the rationale behind the curriculum itself.

Handily, the curriculum contains a pre-amble which explores the main focus of each year’s curriculum. It says the following about Grade 2:

Second graders learn world and United States history, geography, economics, and government by
studying more about who Americans are and where they came from. They explore their own family’s
history and learn about distinctive achievements, customs, events, places, or landmarks from long
ago and from around the world. The chief purpose of the grade 2 curriculum is to help students
understand that American citizenship embraces all kinds of people, regardless of race, ethnicity,
gender, religion, and national origin. American students come from all countries and continents in
the world. A history and social science curriculum should help students acquire a common under­
standing of American history, its political principles, and its system of government in order to
prepare them for responsible participation in our schools and civic life.

That all seems pretty reasonable for a eight-year-old, and far more meaningful than a study of thousand-year-old Kings! But let’s look at the detail. What specific knowledge does it require of its eight-year-olds in terms of history? Well, there are five key history objectives for Grade 2. These link to:

  1. the use of a calendar to identify days, months, seasons, etc.
  2. the use of time language (before, in the past, because, etc.)
  3. chronology… of the student’s own lifetime!
  4. Linking maps to historical stories
  5. discussing people’s achievements, based on stories they’ve heard.

And that’s the common core so loved by Mr Gove. Doesn’t seem to bear much resemblance to the new draft NC to me!

So what of other High Performing Jurisidictions? Is the new draft list of “must-knows” based on one of these:

Victoria, Australia: 

The Level 3 curriculum provides a study of identity and diversity in both a local and broader context. Moving from the heritage of their local area, students explore the historical features and diversity of their community as represented in symbols and emblems of significance, and celebrations and commemorations, both locally and in other places around the world.

New Zealand:

Students will gain knowledge, skills, and experience to understand how time and change affect people’s lives

Alberta, Canada:

Students will demonstrate an understanding and appreciation of how a community emerged.

Ottawa, Canada:

By the end of Grade 3, students will:
• describe the communities of early settlers and First Nation peoples in Upper Canada
around 1800;
• use a variety of resources and tools to gather, process, and communicate information about
interactions between new settlers and existing communities, including First Nation peoples,
and the impact of factors such as heritage, natural resources, and climate on the development
of early settler communities;
• compare aspects of life in early settler communities and present-day communities.

In fact, it seems that none of Mr Gove’s much-loved High Performing Jurisdictions offer anything like the narrow, prescriptive and fact-centred curriculum being proposed. They all recognise the abilities of eight-year-old children, and the limitations of their awareness of matters outside their own experience. They recognise the importance of  beginning with the child, and widening his experience through breadth, rather than charging through a ticklist of historical dates and events.

And so must we. Primary school teachers up and down the country need to draw on their own knowledge, experience and expertise and must respond to the government’s consultation on the new draft Programmes of Study. It’s the only way we can save primary History for primary children!