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The DfE is conducting a review of the primary and secondary National Curriculum.
This site contains the statutory programmes of study for National Curriculum subjects which maintained schools must follow until a new curriculum is in place.

History key stage 3 – programme of study

Statutory content

Programme of study for key stage 3

See related downloads and key actions

Download the full programme of study [pdf 1mb]

The programme of study is made up of:

Importance of History key stage 3

History fires pupils' curiosity and imagination, moving and inspiring them with the dilemmas, choices and beliefs of people in the past. It helps pupils develop their own identities through an understanding of history at personal, local, national and international levels. It helps them to ask and answer questions of the present by engaging with the past.

Pupils find out about the history of their community, Britain, Europe and the world. They develop a chronological overview that enables them to make connections within and across different periods and societies. They investigate Britain's relationships with the wider world, and relate past events to the present day.

As they develop their understanding of the nature of historical study, pupils ask and answer important questions, evaluate evidence, identify and analyse different interpretations of the past, and learn to substantiate any arguments and judgements they make. They appreciate why they are learning what they are learning and can debate its significance.

History prepares pupils for the future, equipping them with knowledge and skills that are prized in adult life, enhancing employability and developing an ability to take part in a democratic society. It encourages mutual understanding of the historic origins of our ethnic and cultural diversity, and helps pupils become confident and questioning individuals.

Key concepts of History key stage 3

There are a number of key concepts that underpin the study of history. Pupils need to understand these concepts in order to deepen and broaden their knowledge, skills and understanding.

1.1 Chronological understanding

  1. Understanding and using appropriately dates, vocabulary and conventions that describe historical periods and the passing of time.

  2. Developing a sense of period through describing and analysing the relationships between the characteristic features of periods and societies.

  3. Building a chronological framework of periods and using this to place new knowledge in its historical context.

1.2 Cultural, ethnic and religious diversity

  1. Understanding the diverse experiences and ideas, beliefs and attitudes of men, women and children in past societies and how these have shaped the world.

1.3 Change and continuity

  1. Identifying and explaining change and continuity within and across periods of history.

1.4 Cause and consequence

  1. Analysing and explaining the reasons for, and results of, historical events, situations and changes.

1.5 Significance

  1. Considering the significance of events, people and developments in their historical context and in the present day.

1.6 Interpretation

  1. Understanding how historians and others form interpretations.

  2. Understanding why historians and others have interpreted events, people and situations in different ways through a range of media.

  3. Evaluating a range of interpretations of the past to assess their validity.

Explanatory text

Chronological understanding: This is essential in constructing historical narratives and explanations. It involves using precise dates to establish sequences of events in an enquiry, using chronological terms and vocabulary (eg century, decade, BC and AD) and knowing the names and key features of periods studied. Understanding of periods should develop into a chronological framework describing the characteristic features of past societies and periods. Pupils should identify changes within and across periods, making links between them.

Cultural, ethnic and religious diversity: Pupils should explore cultural, ethnic and religious diversity and racial equality. Diversity exists within and between groups due to cultural, ethnic, regional, linguistic, social, economic, technological, political and religious differences. Cultural understanding should be developed through the range of groups and individuals investigated, for example minorities and majorities, European and non-European. People and societies involved in the same historical event may have different experiences and views and may develop a variety of stories, versions, opinions and interpretations of that event.

Change and continuity: Understanding of change and continuity is closely linked to a sense of period and an understanding of overarching themes and issues. Pupils should analyse the extent and pace of change, whether the change amounted to progress and if so for whom.

Cause and consequence: This includes identifying and assessing the relative importance of different factors and making explanatory links between causes and effects, considering the relationship between causal arguments, evidence and interpretations.

Significance: This includes: considering why judgements about the significance of historical events, issues and people have changed over time; identifying the criteria and values used to attribute significance; and assessing how these have been used in past and present descriptions and explanations. Statements about significance are interpretations that may be based on contestable judgements about events, issues and people, and are often related to the value systems of the period in which the interpretation was produced.

Interpretation: People represent and interpret the past in many different ways, including in pictures, plays, films, reconstructions, museum displays, and fictional and non-fiction accounts. Interpretations reflect the circumstances in which they are made, the available evidence, and the intentions of those who make them (eg writers, archaeologists, historians and film-makers).

Key processes of History key stage 3

These are the essential skills and processes in history that pupils need to learn to make progress.

2.1 Historical enquiry

Pupils should be able to:

  1. identify and investigate, individually and as part of a team, specific historical questions or issues, making and testing hypotheses

  2. reflect critically on historical questions or issues.

2.2 Using evidence

Pupils should be able to:

  1. identify, select and use a range of historical sources, including textual, visual and oral sources, artefacts and the historic environment

  2. evaluate the sources used in order to reach reasoned conclusions.

2.3 Communicating about the past

Pupils should be able to:

  1. present and organise accounts and explanations about the past that are coherent, structured and substantiated, using chronological conventions and historical vocabulary

  2. communicate their knowledge and understanding of history in a variety of ways, using chronological conventions and historical vocabulary.

Explanatory text

Historical enquiry: This includes structured enquiries into different kinds of historical questions and issues. Pupils should begin to devise and refine their own questions to structure an investigation, developing their own hypotheses and selecting and deploying evidence to reach and justify their own conclusions. Pupils can either use their acquired knowledge and understanding to suggest hypotheses, or can suggest hypotheses at the start of the topic based on their own assumptions and values, which they then test against the evidence.

Using evidence: Knowledge of the past is based on evidence derived from sources and depends on the questions asked and the sources available rather than making prior assumptions about the validity and reliability of the historical sources used. This includes evaluating the value and reliability of evidence by studying the provenance, purposes and language of sources.

Communicating about the past: Pupils develop writing, speaking and listening skills as they recall, select, classify and organise historical information, use historical terminology and language appropriately and accurately, and provide well-structured narratives, explanations and descriptions of the past. Pupils should use existing and emerging technologies where appropriate.

Range and content of History key stage 3

This section outlines the breadth of the subject on which teachers should draw when teaching the key concepts and key processes.

  1. The study of history should be taught through a combination of overview, thematic and depth studies.

  2. In order to give pupils a secure chronological framework, the choice of content should ensure that all pupils can identify and understand the major events, changes and developments in British, European and world history covering at least the medieval, early modern, industrial and twentieth century periods.

  3. Appropriate links should be made to some of the parallel events, changes and developments in British, European and world history.

Within these broad parameters, all pupils should be taught aspects of history, including:

British history

  1. the development of political power from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century, including changes in the relationship between rulers and ruled over time, the changing relationship between the crown and parliament, and the development of democracy

  2. the different histories and changing relationships through time of the peoples of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales

  3. the impact through time of the movement and settlement of diverse peoples to, from and within the British Isles

  4. the way in which the lives, beliefs, ideas and attitudes of people in Britain have changed over time and the factors – such as technology, economic development, war, religion and culture – that have driven these changes

  5. the development of trade, colonisation, industrialisation and technology, the British Empire and its impact on different people in Britain and overseas, pre-colonial civilisations, the nature and effects of the slave trade, and resistance and decolonisation

European and world history

  1. the impact of significant political, social, cultural, religious, technological and/or economic developments and events on past European and world societies

  2. the changing nature of conflict and cooperation between countries and peoples and its lasting impact on national, ethnic, racial, cultural or religious issues, including the nature and impact of the two world wars and the Holocaust, and the role of European and international institutions in resolving conflicts.

Explanatory text

Links should be made to some of the parallel events, changes and developments in British, European and world history: For example, a study of the political and cultural achievements of the Islamic states from 600 to 1600 could provide a contrasting overview of the medieval period in Britain; a study of the British Empire could be extended by comparing it with other empires, such as the Roman Empire; or a study of the changes in the arts, communications, science and technology in the twentieth century could focus on their effects on the lives of people in different parts of the world, including the UK.

The development of political power from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century: This includes studying power relationships and systems of government in Britain, and how and why they have changed over time. Examples should include: the changing relationship between the crown and parliament; the nature and motives of protest over time; the historical origins and development of the British constitution; and the development of democracy. This can be linked with the study in citizenship of key features of democracy and government in Britain today.

The different histories and changing relationships through time of the peoples of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales: This includes studying the histories of the different parts of the British Isles and their impact on each other, and developing an understanding of the historical origins of the UK. Pupils could explore both the separate histories and identities of Wales, Scotland, Ireland and England and their interrelationships, for example through English colonisation and/or their economic and political interdependence. This can be linked with the study in citizenship of recent constitutional changes in the UK.

The impact through time of the movement and settlement of diverse peoples to, from and within the British Isles: This includes studying the wide cultural, social and ethnic diversity of Britain from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century and how this has helped shape Britain’s identity; and developing an understanding of the part played by internal and external migration in Britain’s development, including the experience of key individuals. Examples should help pupils reach an informed understanding of, and respect for, their own and each other’s identities. This can be linked with the study in citizenship of reasons for the recent migration to, from and within the UK.

The way in which the lives, beliefs, ideas and attitudes of people in Britain have changed over time: This includes studying the lives, beliefs, ideas and attitudes of ordinary people at various points in the past, how these have changed over time, and the factors that have brought about change and continuity in the local area and the wider world. These changes should be related to periods and events within a clear chronological framework.

The development of trade, colonisation, industrialisation and technology, the British Empire: This includes studying how the development of trade, colonisation, industrialisation and technology affected the UK. There should be a focus on the British Empire and its effect both on Britain and on the regions it colonised, as well as its legacy in the contemporary world (eg in Africa, the Middle East and India). Recognition should also be given to the cultures, beliefs and achievements of some of the societies prior to European colonisation, such as the West African kingdoms. The study of the slave trade should include resistance, the abolition of slavery and the work of people such as Olaudah Equiano and William Wilberforce. Links could be made to emancipation, segregation and the twentieth century civil rights movement in the USA.

The impact of significant political, social, cultural, religious, technological and/or economic developments and events on past European and world societies: This could include studying the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the impact of the French Revolution and Napoleonic era on Europe in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, or the rise of modern China and its impact on world history.

The changing nature of conflict and cooperation between countries and peoples and its lasting impact on national, ethnic, racial, cultural or religious issues: This includes studying the causes and consequences of various conflicts, including the two world wars, the Holocaust and other genocides. Pupils should develop an understanding of the changing nature of conflict over time and attempts to resolve conflict and develop cooperation, including through international institutions such as the United Nations and the European Union. The selection of conflicts should take into account their significance in terms of scale, characteristic and unique features, and immediate and longer-term impact, including on civilians. This can be linked with the study in citizenship of the UK’s interconnections with the world as a global community.

Curriculum opportunities of History key stage 3

During the key stage pupils should be offered the following opportunities that are integral to their learning and enhance their engagement with the concepts, processes and content of the subject.

The curriculum should provide opportunities for pupils to:

  1. explore the ways in which the past has helped shape identities, shared cultures, values and attitudes today

  2. investigate aspects of personal, family or local history and how they relate to a broader historical context

  3. appreciate and evaluate, through visits where possible, the role of museums, galleries, archives and historic sites in preserving, presenting and influencing people’s attitudes towards the past

  4. use ICT to research information about the past, process historical data, and select, categorise, organise and present their findings

  5. make links between history and other subjects and areas of the curriculum, including citizenship.

Explanatory text

Explore the ways in which the past has helped shape identities, shared cultures, values and attitudes today: This includes: exploring the relationship between the past and the present and understanding that ideas, values and beliefs stem from a process of continuous change and interaction; appreciating what people within a culture have in common as well as their diversity; and appreciating that cultures are always changing as a result of contact with other cultures. Studying the ways in which the past has helped to shape identities, shared cultures, values and attitudes today prepares pupils for life in a diverse and multi-ethnic society and in an increasingly interdependent world.

Investigate aspects of personal, family or local history and how they relate to a broader historical context: Investigating personal, family or local history provides opportunities for pupils to engage with local sources and visit historical sites. It helps them appreciate the relevance of the past to their own lives.

Appreciate and evaluate, through visits where possible, the role of museums, galleries, archives and historic sites in preserving, presenting and influencing people’s attitudes towards the past: This includes using museums, galleries, archives and historic sites to generate and answer questions about the past, and engaging pupils’ interest so they continue visiting and using them in their lives beyond school.

Use ICT to research information about the past, process historical data, and select, categorise, organise and present their findings: This includes: evaluating websites, considering the provenance of materials and assessing their value; and using ICT to process historical data and to select, categorise, organise and present information. Pupils should have opportunities to redraft and restructure their work and to reflect on this process. They should also have opportunities to use online conferencing to discuss historical questions.

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