How do we plan a history curriculum?

Benjie Groom

Subject Lead - History

Earlier this year, we explained our approach to curriculum and that we have started developing brand-new primary and secondary history curriculum plans with our partners. We also shared our history curriculum principles.

Here we will give you a behind-the-scenes look at the initial stages of development of our history curriculum, which has been created in partnership with Pearson and Future Academies.

When looking to develop their history curricula, there are a number of challenges that schools might be faced with. Here, we discuss some of these challenges and explain how the history curriculum that we and our curriculum partners are developing aims to meet some of them head-on.

Explore our new primary and secondary history curriculum plans and browse and download our free teaching resources.

What are the main challenges?

  • Ensuring the curriculum is properly representative of the diversity of the past and presents this in a non- tokenistic way, ensuring curricular coherence.
  • Ensuring the curriculum includes a wide range of world history and provides sufficient opportunities for pupils to compare, contrast and connect various world places, people and developments.
  • Ensuring the curriculum is truly knowledge-rich, utilising well-crafted, rich stories across time and geography rather than myriad isolated facts and information.
  • Ensuring the curriculum engages with the disciplinary dimension in an authentic way so as to avoid the inclusion of de-contextualised exercises. For example, this would mean pupils engage with a group of sources throughout an enquiry in order (to develop a sense of how historians interact with collections of source material in a variety of ways), rather than undertake generic ‘source evaluation’.

How is the history curriculum being developed by Oak and its partners aiming to support teachers in meeting these challenges?

Guided by our history subject specific principles, we believe that the curriculum we are developing will be well placed to support teachers to meet these challenges.

Curricular coherence across the key stages

In developing our primary and secondary history curriculum and teaching resources, we are in the perfect position to ensure curricular coherence across all key stages of our provision. This includes ensuring that both substantive and disciplinary knowledge is carefully sequenced from the beginning of key stage 1 until the end of key stage 4.

We see this approach as vital in tackling the specific challenges in history curriculum development, as it allows us to take a holistic view of where and how these issues are dealt with.


It is crucial that history curricula are diverse. Here at Oak we have been guided by two important reasons for this, helpfully summarised by Catherine Priggs:

  1. Pupils should ‘see’ themselves in the curriculum
  2. The past is itself diverse and to ignore this is not good history1

To achieve meaningful diversity in our history curriculum we have been guided by many of the questions outlined in the Historical Association’s 2019 ‘How diverse is your history curriculum?’ checklist2. This has resulted in our curriculum development focusing on some specific actions to ensure true historical diversity.

We are aiming to ensure that:

  • Pupils meet a large number of women in our curriculum. Whilst a focus on male monarchs, political leaders and military chiefs is unavoidable due to the nature of historic power structures, we are seeking to ensure that female characters present at the same time are represented in the narratives our curriculum presents.
  • Where appropriate, when we present historical narratives, the presence of black people and people of colour in British history is represented and the stories of these groups show their own agency (rather than focusing solely on oppression).
  • It is clear that history is studied at various levels, not just the global.
  • The pasts of pupils across the country are represented.
  • Our curriculum makes it clear to pupils why some past topics remain extremely emotional and sensitive to certain groups of people.

World history

With pupils often making their choices for GCSE in Year 8 or 9, some may only study history for two or three years at secondary school. With this in mind, the primary history curriculum is of vital importance in ensuring pupils develop an understanding of diverse world settings and their histories.

We are working hard to develop a primary history curriculum containing numerous in- depth studies of ancient and medieval societies around the world. Our curriculum will support pupils in comparing, connecting and contrasting the features of these societies wherever appropriate.

At key stage 3, we are seeking to avoid pupils only meeting societies and cultures around the world purely at the point of European expansion, aggression or colonisation. For example, we are carefully planning our curriculum so that pupils arrive at their study of transatlantic slavery having already encountered West African society.


One of our general curriculum principles is that curricula should be knowledge and vocabulary rich. ‘Knowledge rich’ is not necessarily the same in history as in other subjects. While we want our curriculum to contain lots of knowledge, it must be structured in such a way as to be ‘knowledge-rich’ in a historical sense.

We want to avoid the risk of overwhelming pupils with vast amounts of ungrounded, fixed, generalised information and are instead focused on crafting appropriate depth studies built around rich and captivating stories.

History as a discipline

We want disciplinary knowledge to be at the heart of our curriculum. In practice this means that the disciplinary dimension of the subject is carefully woven across the enquiries that we are planning.

As a result we have been working hard to make the features and types of historical argument centre stage in our curriculum. We have planned the curriculum around a number of carefully framed enquiry questions in order to give pupils a clear sense of the concerns of academic history and its historians.

Similarly, we have tried to ensure that our curriculum affords opportunities for pupils to interrogate collections of sources in order to establish evidence for their claims (as historians do) and include as wide a range of historical interpretations of the past as possible.

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