Ofsted subject conference report 2004/5: history

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What the resource is
The document is a report of a conference convened by Ofsted to gather the views of a range of delegates on the effectiveness of the current history curriculum in schools and their thoughts on how the curriculum might be improved ‘to make it more relevant to pupils, students and adults’. The delegates were principally practising history teachers but also included the lead Ofsted subject advisor for history, and representatives from QCA, the Historical Association, Higher Education and other interested parties.

The aims of the resource
The conference took place against the backdrop of pending curriculum reform and the report is intended to  disseminate ‘current thinking’ about the purposes and practice of school history so that there is conceptual clarity about the purposes of school history and the overarching principles underpinning good practice in the teaching of history in schools.

The quality, authority and credibility of the resource from a subject perspective and in relation to ITE
The report is well written and refreshingly clear and succinct (a mere two and a half pages). Although the scale of the conference was small, with just 21 practising teachers attending, the delegates were selected as teachers with ‘known success in history’. Other delegates were figures commanding wide respect in the history teaching community (including Chris Culpin, Sean Lang, Jerome Freeman). In terms of ‘authority’, the report also includes the views of the current Ofsted subject advisor for history.

The implications for ITE tutors/mentors
Half the report is given over to an address by Paul Armitage HMI, the Ofsted subject advisor for history, on his views for the criteria which should underpin a revised curriculum for history. This takes the form of 10 key points, clearly and succinctly explained, with a paragraph on how these points might be addressed in the formulation and delivery of a revised history curriculum. There was broad agreement over these points from other delegates.

Given that all ITE providers are subject to Ofsted inspection of their courses, this page of the report in particular is an invaluable insight into ‘official’ or ‘establishment’ thinking about the history curriculum, and might provide an important warrant for policy and practice. It would be politic for ITE tutors to at least be aware of the current thinking of Ofsted and influential others in respect to the underpinning principles of history in schools. Given that it only takes a few minutes to read the report, it represents a very time effective resource, given its importance vis a vis the time required to digest it.

My views on the document are perhaps influenced by the fact that I wholeheartedly agree with the points which Armitage makes, i.e. that the curriculum should focus on ‘the knowledge, understanding and skills that are most relevant to all pupils in 2005’ and the need for a curriculum ‘that pupils understand, so that they know why they are studying history and why it is useful in understanding contemporary life’.

It would be helpful for all curriculum tutors and ITE history trainees to be aware of or familiar with this document.

One reservation would that it can be argued that some of the ‘10 commandments’ are more important than others and this would be a good discussion point with trainees. I will certainly use this resource in my first session with trainees, which is always on the purposes of school history.

The relevance to ITE students
The report is invaluable in that it focuses on the purposes of school history and gives clear insight into current thinking.  One of the main causes of poor history teaching is that teachers and trainee teachers have not always thought through clearly why they are inflicting morsels of the past on small children. Furthermore, recent research suggests that although most pupils enjoy history and think that it is useful, the vast majority of them have undeveloped and naïve ideas about why it is useful which bear little relation to the ‘official’ justifications for school history (see references below). 

Keeping up to date with current thinking and current developments on one’s subject is an important part of trainees’ subject knowledge, and this document makes an important contribution in this area. This document is an important resource for trainees to be informed of current thinking and developments in subject knowledge.

Further information
Some related resources which would help to develop some of the points arising from this document:

QCA (2005) History: 2004/5 annual report on curriculum and assessment, London, QCA.
This report presents a more detailed update (approximately 30 pages) on current thinking and developments in school history. As with this resource, it is succinct and well written and reading/awareness of it would make an important contribution to one strand of  tutors’ and trainees’ subject knowledge. Pages 13-15 provide a brief summary of pupils’ views on why they do history in school, and the limits of their understanding in this area.

See also:
Adey, K. and Biddulph, M. (2001) The influence of pupil perceptions on subject choice at 14+  in  geography and history, Educational Studies, Vol. 27, No. 4: 439-47.

Barton, K., McCully, A. and Marks, M. (2004)  Reflecting on elementary children’s understanding of history and social studies, Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 55, No. 1: 70-90.

Biddulph, M. and Adey, K. (2001)  Pupil perceptions of effective teaching and subject relevance in history and geography at Key Stage 3, Research in Education, Vol. 71, No. 1.

Biddulph, M. and Adey, K. (2003)  Perceptions v. reality: pupils’ experiences of learning in history and geography at Key Stage 4, The Curriculum Journal, Vol. 14, No. 3, 292-303.

Reviewed by:
Terry Haydn