Challenging the status quo – hierarchy

After watching the presentation from Mary Myatt and John Thomsett at ResearchEd this year it got me thinking about hierarchy, especially in primary schools. Their talk was about their new book ‘Huh’, conversations with subject leaders from a secondary perspective.

One of the things that came through in every one of the conversations in the book was the passion and love for their subject that the subject leaders had. In secondary schools, a subject leader is a subject expert, often having studied the subject to an incredibly high level. In primary, however, this is not always the case and very often not possible. This is a problem that seems to have been around forever with primary schools and one that has perhaps been more evident since the new framework and increased focus on the curriculum. Whilst we could argue that there are elements where it appears to be a framework geared more towards secondary than primary, the challenge of primary subject leadership runs deeper in my opinion.

So what is the problem and what could we do about it? In primary, there are so many hierarchies, whether they be perceived or real. Two of these hierarchies are incredibly damaging to primary schools and particularly primary subject leadership and I want to look at each in turn and suggest some potential solutions.

The hierarchy of subjects

In primary schools, there is definitely a perceived hierarchy of subjects when we consider their importance. If you don’t believe me, test it out. Ask a primary colleague to name the subjects they teach (without checking them). If I were a betting man, I would predict the order be somewhere close to this:

  • English
  • Maths
  • Science
  • History
  • Geography
  • PE
  • Art
  • DT
  • PSHE
  • Music
  • Computing
  • RE
  • MFL

Now there might be some variation, but I think it goes without saying that core subjects will always come first. Science will usually follow as some will see it as a core subject, but even if not, there are more units to cover than some other subjects. Humanities tend to follow, and then the arts and so on. I appreciate that this has no study behind it to support my claim, but I would be surprised if it were much different. Why is this and what are the implications?

As soon as you create a list like the one above, you are subconsciously making one subject more important than another. Therefore, when it comes down to it, there will be decisions made that fit this hierarchy. In many cases, the budget allocations may follow a similar trend to the subjects, with those at the top of the list receiving more than those at the bottom. There may also be a tendency to focus on those subjects at the top of the list than those at the bottom. More time and more money given to one subject over another creates an example of The Matthew Effect. Therefore, subjects like science or history (at the top of my list) are reinforced and grow as part of curriculum development whereas subjects nearer the bottom are left to potentially stay still – and therefore, potentially go backwards.

As a subject leader in primary, you need to face these battles. The perception of other teachers about your subject will undoubtedly throw up challenges. If a subject nearer the bottom of the list is one that may get a little squeezed in the timetable, how can you support leading it forward, especially as your colleagues are all likely to be subject leaders too and so may lead a subject higher up the perceived hierarchy. It’s not that they don’t value it, but the pressure to cover everything and move everything on has the potential for casualties.

The hierarchy of leadership

In primary schools, certainly in my experience, there is a hierarchy of leadership. There seems to be a largely generic route mapped out if you want to progress to senior leadership in primary schools. I’m not saying that this is the case in all circumstances, but just my observations.

When you start in a school as an NQT/ECT, depending on the size, you might get a year where you don’t lead a subject at primary. After that, you are likely to be given a subject to lead (or more if you are in a smaller primary school). This subject may be a subject you are interested in, or have experience in, but it is equally, if not more, likely that it will be a subject that has been vacated by someone. And so begins the hierarchy. Let’s assume that this NQT/ECT has a career aspirations to be a senior leader at some point. How do they get there?

In primary schools, the route seems to be broken down into a few key parts, You start of as a leader of a subject slightly lower down the hierarchy referenced above. Depending on your ambition, you may do this for a few years, working hard to drive the subject forward and develop an understanding of strategic leadership. However, you know that if you want to progress, you need to stop leading computing and take on a ‘bigger’ subject, like science. Through your appraisal, this has been identified and, fortunately, there is now an opportunity to lead science, so you are ‘promoted’ to lead science. You do this for a few years but feel like the only way you can move towards the SLT is to lead a ‘core’ subject. So, again, after a few years of leading science where you have developed the subject through your leadership, you take on leading English and so are again ‘promoted’. The leadership of English gives you the perfect platform to move into SLT in the next few years and so your journey to leadership is complete.

What this story doesn’t cover, is that this fictional teacher started off leading DT, a subject which they studied to A-level (unlike science or English), took an additional study in it at university as part of their degree and also have a personal interest in as a hobby. The teacher left leading a subject they were knowledgable and passionate about because leading that subject did not have enough professional opportunities.

While this teacher had developed their leadership ability and they would move both science and English forward as a result of this, what happened to DT once it was vacated? It is likely that this was then given to the next new teacher to learn about subject leadership. Once again, we are feeding the Matthew Effect and poor DT stays in a state of flux where its progression is rarely sustained.

The way forward

One of the biggest challenges in primary is that we have to cover so many subjects – you could say we are ‘Jacks of all trades, but masters of none’. We therefore need to do everything we can to support our teachers to teach subjects where they are less expert. To do this really well, I think we need to ditch the hierarchies of subjects and leadership. It is a bit silly that we could have a DT expert in the school not leading DT, purely because they feel that the only way to progress is to lead a core subject.

I am also in no way playing down the importance of English and maths. There is no doubt that they are important for our children, but developing all of the subjects in the curriculum will have benefits for English and maths too. We also need to recognise that children will have untapped potential in other subjects which if we do not uncover, may lay dormant. When we prepare to send children to secondary school, we should be looking to send them on ready in every subject, not just those recognised by SATs.

Value all subjects equally

If we are to see the end of subject hierarchy, there needs to be a conscious effort to value all subjects equally. We need for teachers and children to see that developing knowledge and skill in one subject is just as important as another. We need to make sure we timetable effectively so that no one subject is ever pushed due to lack of time.

Recognise your experts

The first thing I think we need to do more of is to recognise our subject experts. If we want sustained improvement in a subject, it may benefit from sustained and continuous leadership from an expert (if you are fortunate enough to have one). We need to do more to make it attractive to stay in post because of the subject and make it clear that it will not affect any progression, perceived or otherwise.

Rethink leadership progression

We need to make it clear that the progression to leadership (for those that want it) is not dependent on the subjects that you lead, but more by the leadership of the subject you lead. A leader of DT (sorry to keep with the same analogy!) should be able to move directly to senior leadership if through their leadership they have gained the skills, knowledge and expertise which will enable them to be a successful senior leader.

Share expertise

This is perhaps a trickier one to realise, and it only came about through random thoughts at ResearchEd. It is very possible that, in a school, there isn’t a specialist in a subject area. With subject knowledge so important not just for children, but for teachers too, how does a subject without a subject expert make that sustained change? I think this is where we could look at how we share our expertise. If we recognise our experts, and make it attractive to lead every subject regardless of its position on the perceived hierarchy, they is there any reason that a subject leader has to be in the school? There may be another school who has more than one expert in a subject area. Although this could mean that the subject is really well developed in one school, could that expertise be shared to support a school without an expert? I think, with good communication and a clear understanding of the strategic development needed to lead a subject forward, there is no reason that this couldn’t work successfully. I appreciate that this may be easier in a MAT where there is already that shared understanding, but sometimes, thinking differently can solve a problem.

If you always do …

… what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. This hierarchy seems to have always been the same, despite the change of frameworks and renewed focus on curriculum. As Dylan William says, sometimes the only way to improve is to stop doing good things to allow yourself to do even better things. Perhaps it’s time we changed our mindsets about the primary subjects.

Challenging the Status Quo – Curriculum Timetabling

Following on from by blog last week on timetables, it makes sense to move on to curriculum timetabling. It may seem that this is much the same as the previous one, but there are subtle differences. In the blog on timetables, I tried to unpick the way we currently set up our weekly timetables – specifically around the arbitrary times we allocate to subjects. In this blog, I want to look at the more medium and long term planning elements to see if we can, again, challenge the status quo. As I mentioned in the first blog, ‘if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got’, and now is as good a time as any to change.

When we sit down and plan our medium and long term approaches to the curriculum, in my experience, we tend to work it around the half terms. So we sit and either draw out on paper, or map out on a table in Word, the number of half terms (for long term plans) and the number of weeks in a half term (for medium term plans). With the increased focus on sequencing of curriculum, this may now be mapped out in terms of order but if not, this can be a long job to do. There is then the considerations over which subjects may go better together and maybe even how to divide up resources so that different year groups may access them.

This again raises the question of ‘why’. Not whether or not we should plan in the medium and long term, but why we do it in this particular way. Have you ever wondered why every unit in every foundation subject lasts six weeks? This is where the short term timetabling issues and the medium/long term issues are aligned. We are so preoccupied with making sure that our units fit nicely into the boxes of half terms that we are not necessarily fully focused on whether this is the right amount of time needed to cover the learning and knowledge that we want our children to acquire.

I was really prompted to think about this after listening to the Dynamic Deputies podcast episode with Andrew Percival. At the end of the podcast, he explains his school’s approach to languages. They have decided to teach Latin and he outlines the excellent rationale behind this in the podcast. It wasn’t this, however that peaked my interest. What I found particularly interesting is that languages is only taught in Years 5&6. The National Curriculum (with the exception of English, maths and science) doesn’t outline the specifics to be taught in different year groups. Instead, it has the end of Key Stage outcomes. So with the example of Latin/languages, as long as the National Curriculum is covered by the end of KS2, then how and when it is taught is left to school discretion.

What does this mean for curriculum timetabling and planning in the medium and long term? It should mean that we take the opportunity to relook at what we teach and how long is needed to teach it. I think it is important to preface this with saying that I am not particularly saying that it is wrong to plan things to fit in with half terms. What I am saying is that we need to re-evaluate the units of work that we teach to make sure that we are maximising the time that we have available to us.

If we were to look at a unit of science for example. In the year 5 programme of study, two of the ‘units’ are Animals including humans and Properties and changes of materials. There is nothing magical about this, but looking at the NC in terms of what ‘pupils should be taught to’, there is one objective under the Animals unit, but 6 under the Properties unit. This is a crude look at these units, but I would imagine that in most cases, we would allocate the same amount of time to both units without spending much time unpicking whether 6 weeks was needed to cover both.

The example is to highlight the point that we do need to start thinking deeply about how we structure our curriculum. We know that time is short and that there is a lot to cover. From speaking to colleagues and from reading various posts on Twitter, being time poor during the day, week and term is a common theme. If this is the case (and it certainly is in my experience both as a teacher and as a leader) then we need to do something about it. With so much work around curriculum being undertaken, we have an opportunity to look not only at the what we cover and when we cover it (curriculum sequencing and coherence) but also the ‘how long’ we cover it for. If we really spend time looking at the actual content we need and want to cover, we can focus our efforts onto that which we deem most important for the children and potentially free up some time to ensure that other areas of the curriculum do not become narrowed.

As is always the way with the status quo, moving away from something that we are so used to is not likely to be easy. However, if we don’t currently have enough time in our curriculum, then doing the same again will not magically create more time. The only way we can find that time to cover things in more depth, or to find that extra time for something that may otherwise slip away, is to do things differently.

As the quote attributed to Einstein states ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results’. If we want different results, we need to change the game.

Challenging the Status Quo – Timetables

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”. I say this a lot but I really think it holds a huge element of truth. That isn’t to say in any way that what you’ve always done is wrong or bad, just that if you always do it, you will get, more or less, the same outcomes. This status quo has bothered me for some time. Perhaps it is the time spent reading, perhaps it is seeing how amazingly schools have navigated the pandemic, but I really think that now is the time to start thinking more deeply about not just what we do, but why we do it – in particular, why we do it ‘that way’.

Over a series of blogs, I want to try and unpick some of the ‘norms’ that I have seen in the schools I have worked in and raise the question of ‘why’. Not to criticise (as a school leader, I would be criticising myself!) but to open the door and maybe encourage looking at things through a different lens.

After a conversation on Twitter a week or so ago, I want to start with a look at timetables. The question raised was a valid one – ‘How much time are people allocating on the timetable for English?’. I’ve been there. I remember having discussions with subject leaders as we tried to divide the timetable up to make sure we had enough time for everything. I also remember having the conversation with the senior leadership team at the time that we had a very English/literacy heavy curriculum and whether or not this was balanced correctly.

I totally understand the dilemma. We have so many subjects to fit in – English (possibly divided into reading, writing, spelling, handwriting, phonics), maths, science, history, geography, RE, art, DT, PE, PSHE, music, computing  and languages. We then need to fit that into a three hour morning (with a break) and a 2 hour afternoon (crudely speaking). It’s hard. But are we making it harder than it needs to be or even should be.

If I were to think about the schools I have worked in, the timetables have all been much the same. All mornings followed a pretty similar pattern:

9:00-9:30 – Guided reading

9:30-10:30 – English

10:30 – 10:45 – Break

10:45 – 11:45 – Maths

11:45 – 12:15 – Spelling/handwriting

I’d imagine this is pretty common. The afternoons were then either blocked for content (so two whole weeks on science to cover the unit) or split out with different subjects on different days. To give an anecodatal example of how this seems to revert to type, I once ran a ‘free pass week’ at school which allowed all staff to teach what they wanted, when the wanted and in the way that they wanted. The idea was for staff to realise that through taking risks and changing the norms, we could achieve more. The week was great, well received by staff and children, but the week after, the very large majority reverted to the same timetable as before.

But is this the right way to look at things? The literacy and numeracy hour were introduced in the mid 90s, but their legacy remains. We still broadly teach maths and English in hour long blocks, regardless of what we are teaching. They tend to be in the morning (children think better in the morning or more support in the morning or other reasons) and tend to follow the same patterns.

I love the analogy that I first read in Daisy Christodoulou’s ‘Making Good Progress’ where she talks about marathons. You don’t get better at running marathons by running lots of marathons. Instead, you break the component parts down and practice those – stretching, endurance, sprinting, nutrition, recovery, mindset etc – before eventually piecing them back together for a marathon. I think this is so true for learning and something that needs more exploring, but fundamentally, we can apply that to our curriculum subjects. Children aren’t going to get better at writing by doing lots of writing. Ofsted have also taken this on recently and refer to components – the building blocks and composites – requiring several components together.

So what does this mean for timetabling? A lot comes down to the way we’ve always done things. We tend to plan English lessons that last an hour. This can be the case whether or not we need an hour to cover the content in the lesson that we wished to be learned. This immediately throws up two things. Firstly, if we do only focus on one thing in the lesson, are we dragging it out to reach an hour with lots of activities that don’t necessarily support the learning of the concept. Secondly, and perhaps a more pressing concern, do we dilute the content by adding in two or three concepts in a lesson in order to ‘fill the time’ that has been allocated. Not only will this significantly add to the cognitive load we put on children, it may also mean that instead of looking deeply at one component and working on it towards mastery, we scratch the surface of a few components without drawing together the necessary links – or worse before the children have the prior knowledge to make the links in the first place.

This is where we need to think about a change. Why aren’t we looking at the component parts that need teaching, planning our instruction, modelling and practice around that and working out how long we would need to teach that component? For example (and I know it is a bit topical at the moment), if I were to be introducing children to fronted adverbials for the first time, what would I need to do? As it is the first time, I would want to ensure that I had planned my explanation to be really clear, taking note of the prior knowledge (adverbs/adverbial phrases etc) that the children had. I would want my modelling to show clearly the process. I would then plan some modelled examples with some scaffolding (maybe the sentence stem to which the adverbial was to be added) so that the children could work on moving towards a deeper understanding of fronted adverbials. Looking at this, I do not think that it would take an hour. I would possibly allow 30-40mins for the lesson. If that is the case, we should stop there and then once the lesson has been completed. We need to avoid the temptation to include ‘filler’ activities or even bits of writing if they do not further benefit the original intention of the lesson. It is worth adding here that when I last taught fronted adverbials, I did not do it this way as my understanding was not as strong as it is now.  

I use this example as one that could and, I believe, should be applied to every lesson in every subject. Don’t plan your lessons to fill the time on the timetable. Flip it on its head and plan your timetable around how long your lessons will take. By doing this, I think you could maximise learning time by keeping your focus on the component parts of whatever ‘marathon’ you are running. It should help to reduce children’s extraneous load as they will not have to be juggling various, possibly unrelated or not yet mastered, components in their heads. But mainly, it will mean that your timetable is formed around your planning and teaching rather than the arbitrary times allocated to subjects.

I appreciate that this may not be easy to do. If your timetable is prescribed to you, then having this flexibility may not be a luxury you have. However, I do think it is important to ask ‘why’. In a polite and professional manner, I think it is fair to challenge a timetable. If the answer coming back is something along the lines of ‘we’ve always done it like this’ then I’m not sure it can continue to stand up. We need to be thinking more about how we can get the very best out of the time we have and we need to challenge things that are seemingly written in stone.

Ofsted Research Review of History – A Summary


Teaching supports pupil progress by embedding frameworks of content and concepts that enable pupils to access future material. Abstract concepts are best learned through meaningful examples and repeated encounters in different contexts.

Curriculum decisions occur at different levels

  • Curriculum decisions in history occur on many levels. Schools choose broad topics to teach in their history curriculum. Within these broad topics, teachers must select content from an extraordinary range of possible material to create ‘planned routes’ through particular topics.
  • ‘Live’ decision-making by individual teachers is likely to be better judged and managed when underlying rationales for content selection are fully understood and when teachers have had opportunities to regularly discuss content selection and its purposes, as well as the marriage of disciplinary and substantive content.

Progress in History

  • Existing knowledge is what allows pupils to understand and learn new material. Some knowledge is likely to be particularly important to future learning. Pupils are likely to benefit when curriculum design, teaching and assessment prioritise this knowledge.
  • Knowledge of the past must be shaped by disciplinary approaches in order to become historical knowledge. Similarly, acquiring disciplinary knowledge is made purposeful and meaningful to pupils when it is related to particular historical problems where pupils have sufficient knowledge of the period, setting and topic to reason, to make inferences and to grasp the terms that others are using in any debate.

Prioritising content in the curriculum

Generative knowledge and content emphasis

  • Core knowledge is the knowledge that, within a particular lesson or topic, curriculum designers and teachers deem most important for pupils to secure in their long-term memory. No particular content is innately or always ‘core’. ‘Core’ is merely a status conferred on content by curriculum designers and teachers.
  • High-quality curriculum design is likely to be characterised by a strong and sophisticated rationale for emphasising particular content.

Progress through substantive concepts

Substantive concepts occur frequently

  • Many of these concepts feature regularly throughout the study of history in a range of contexts. As a result, they are particularly important to pupils’ understanding of new material. A pupil might come across the terms ‘invasion’, ‘monarch’ or ‘tax’ in every year of school history. They will then be able to draw on their secure knowledge of these concepts repeatedly in a number of different contexts.

Substantive concepts must be put into a historic context

  • Substantive concepts are not simply ‘definitions’ of important terms. They have particular meanings in different contexts. First, they have a particular meaning when used in the context of a historical narrative or argument. Second, they often have meanings that are specific to particular periods or places.

Balancing incidental and directed learning of substantive concepts

  • Often, a lack of security in one of these concepts is a barrier to pupils’ comprehension of new material, and therefore limits the potential for further learning about both the wider context being studied and the concept itself.
  • Left unchecked, these gaps in pupils’ knowledge are amplified as this lack of enabling knowledge is compounded over time.
  • The importance of these concepts suggests that teaching should aim to explicitly develop knowledge of concepts that may be particularly important to support pupils to learn later content.
  • As pupils’ understanding of the past, and of other concepts, develops, so will their capacity to learn new concepts more readily.
    • A pupil who already knows of ‘kingdoms’ will have some of the knowledge structures in place to learn more readily about ‘empires’, for example.
  • Curriculum designers and teachers can increase these opportunities for incidental learning through selecting appropriately challenging vocabulary and texts.

Chronological knowledge

Chronological knowledge is also highly generative. Understanding the broad characteristics of historical periods gives context to what pupils learn and can increase pupils’ familiarity with new material.

Developing pupils’ mental timeline

  • Cumulatively, pupils’ knowledge of periods and events will form a network of knowledge that might be conceptualised as a ‘mental timeline’. This is an example of a complex schema.
  • A secure mental timeline makes pupils’ existing historical knowledge more secure, and therefore makes new knowledge easier to learn.
  • Understanding the broad features or characteristics of historical periods also establishes a meaningful context for what pupils will go on to learn.
  • When curriculum design does not take this chronological knowledge into consideration, pupils’ understanding of the past is likely to be disconnected or episodic.

The importance of context and repetition when learning new concepts

New knowledge is hard to learn when it is highly abstract or unfamiliar to pupils. Specific examples can make the unfamiliar elements of new material more meaningful.

Knowledge is generative

  • Curriculum content increases in range, depth and complexity as pupils move through their history curriculum.
  • Knowledge is generative: it enables further learning. Therefore, this expanding knowledge is progress, but it is also a driver of further progress.

The role of background content in developing knowledge and understanding

  • Pupils often need to encounter lots of contextual or background material (sometimes referred to as ‘hinterland’) in order to make sense of, and learn, core knowledge.
  • There are a number of reasons why teachers may choose to include such a range of background details in such a lesson, but chief among them is the fact that this extra detail is likely to help, not hinder, pupils’ learning of the core knowledge.
  • Hinterland information provides meaningful examples and secure contexts for learning
  • Hinterland information can connect and organise information into coherent narratives
    • New information is easier to comprehend and remember when organised as a story. Stories provide an organising framework for knowledge. They also give familiarity to the unfamiliar through features that are grounded in pupils’ lived experience and their knowledge from reading more widely – features such as agents, causation and conflict.
  • Hinterland information can develop familiarity or initial schemata for later learning
  • Hinterland information can broaden curriculum content and demonstrate the diversity of past experiences

Securing progress in disciplinary knowledge

Disciplinary knowledge in history

  • Disciplinary knowledge is knowledge of how historians investigate the past, and how they construct historical claims, arguments and accounts

Common misconceptions and learning disciplinary knowledge

  • A number of history teachers have highlighted significant preconceptions and misconceptions that pupils bring to their thinking about historical enquiry.
    • For example, pupils may perceive historical enquiry to be a form of ‘fact-finding’ in which historians are searching for a particular document or piece of evidence that will reveal or validate a singular truth about the past.

The interplay between substantive and disciplinary knowledge

  • Each is meaningless without the other.
  • It is through disciplinary methods, approaches and assumptions that pupils are able to construct substantive knowledge of the past. Although these disciplinary aspects may not always be explicitly taught, they underpin any knowledge of the past that is taught to pupils.
  • Substantive aspects of the past also shape these disciplinary tools, approaches and assumptions.

Some principles for developing pupils’ disciplinary knowledge

Avoiding generic approaches

  • Because the disciplinary approach is always shaped by the substantive context, it is often inaccurate or misleading to teach pupils that historical enquiry can be reduced to simple rules, tricks or heuristics.
  • Pupils will learn about historical enquiry most effectively through specific examples of how historians have approached this in particular contexts.

The importance of secure substantive knowledge

  • Pupils’ capacity to learn and use disciplinary knowledge, including in the construction of their own historical arguments and accounts, is highly dependent on the depth and security of their substantive knowledge of the period or events being analysed.

Developing disciplinary knowledge over time

  • Pupils develop their disciplinary knowledge in the same way as they build their knowledge of substantive concepts. Over time, they will develop increasingly secure and sophisticated schemata about complex disciplinary ideas such as ‘how historians construct claims from evidence’ or ‘how causal arguments are presented in narrative accounts’.

Developing disciplinary thinking through disciplinary concepts

The main second-order concepts in common use by history teachers in England, and which figure in England’s national curriculum for history, are:

  • Cause, consequence, change and continuity, similarity and difference, historical significance, sources and evidence, historical interpretations


  • Teaching pupils the art of causal reasoning and the shaping of arguments about causation relates to the way historians analyse how and why events or states of affairs occurred or emerged.
  • Teaching pupils about how historians construct causal arguments requires attention to the distinctive features of this type of historical argument.
  • In order to build effective causal arguments, pupils require secure substantive knowledge of the event or process before seeking to explain the causes of the event or process.
  • Without this, pupils’ own causal judgements will be ill-informed or might encourage misconceptions about the discipline. An effective causation enquiry is likely to develop rich and secure substantive knowledge of the specific event or process across a series of lessons.


  • For pupils to discern, summarise, characterise or classify consequences of an event or development is very challenging. This is unlikely to be worthwhile or successful unless pupils are working with broad, secure knowledge of pertinent developments in the period.

Change and continuity

  • The second-order concept of change and continuity relates to historical analysis of the pace, nature and extent of change, or characterisation of a process of change.
  • Enquiry questions are likely to be most effective when they clearly get pupils thinking and arguing about one aspect of change or continuity in a historical period.

Similarity and difference

  • The second-order concept of similarity and difference relates to historical analysis of the extent and type of difference between people, groups, experiences or places in the same historical period.
  • Learning about similarity and difference often involves detecting and analysing generalisations.

Historical significance

  • The second-order concept of historical significance focuses on how and why historical events, trends and individuals are ascribed historical significance.
  • Pupils require secure substantive knowledge in order to learn or understand disciplinary knowledge about significance. This includes knowledge about the event or period being studied and the period in which significance has been ascribed.

Sources and evidence

  • Pupils need to learn how historians use sources as evidence to construct, challenge or test claims about the past.
  • Pupils commonly hold misconceptions about sources and evidence. Effective curriculum design rests on clarity about sources and evidence and how these relate to historical enquiry and historical claims. Pupils must learn that historical sources provide evidence in relation to specific questions. One common misconception among pupils is that ‘bias’ in a source is necessarily bad and means that a source is not useful.
  • Some common approaches to teaching about sources and evidence are very likely to develop misconceptions. For example, explicitly teaching pupils to spot bias without showing the value of that bias or to make judgements about the inherent reliability of a particular source is likely to encourage these misconceptions. Any teaching approach that encourages pupils to make ‘claims greater than the evidence will bear’ is likely to encourage misconceptions about the relationship between claims and evidence.
  • Effective teaching about sources and evidence teaches pupils to use sources to establish evidence for a specific historical question. The breadth of pupils’ knowledge can be developed by encounters with a wide range of sources and source types, including objects, oral histories and artefacts, as well as written sources.

Historical interpretations

  • The study of historical interpretations relates to an understanding of how and why different accounts of the past are constructed.
  • Experience of working with a wide range of interpretations, and examining their construction, audience, purpose and form, can support pupils with other aspects of disciplinary thinking, for example by teaching them about the relationships between sources, evidence, context and interpretations.

Ensuring breadth of the cumulative curriculum offer

Breadth: studying a range of historical places and societies

  • In a 2016 survey of history teachers, a perceived lack of geographical breadth in schools’ history curriculums was a common concern. In history, this is likely to include the study of a wide range of historical places and societies.
  • A geographically broad curriculum explores local histories and the regional diversity of the British Isles, as well as the study of other places and societies beyond the British Isles.
  • It also allows pupils to engage with the past on different geographical scales, from local and regional to national and global perspectives.

Breadth: studying a range of historical fields of enquiry

  • The national curriculum makes it clear that pupils should learn about different fields of historical enquiry, such as political, economic and social history.
  • Political history narratives also form one common organising framework for knowledge of the past (through chronological arrangements of political or national events or through ways that periods are classified, such as ‘Elizabethan England’).
  • Social and cultural history are also likely to develop pupils’ sense of ‘period’, which assists with chronological security. Economic, religious and military history also offer unique opportunities to develop understanding of recurring terms as well as the expectation in pupils that these terms constantly shift their meaning in diverse contexts.
  • In key stage 2, pupils’ study of diverse civilisations such as the Indus Valley civilisation and the Mesopotamian civilisation allows primary teachers to lay the foundations for pupils to grasp how contrasting content and contrasting physical remains have fostered contrasting archaeological techniques and different kinds of accounts by historians.

Diversity and representativeness

  • The national curriculum highlights the importance of teaching pupils about the diversity of the past
  • Attending to diversity in curriculum design enhances pupils’ understanding of the past. It’s important that pupils learning about the richness of the past to overcome sweeping generalisations or misconceptions.
  • Pupils’ learning is likely to be most effective when these stories are connected to overview knowledge of the past. It is also important that representations of individuals or groups avoid tokenism.
  • From a qualitative research study into the experiences of Black pupils whose only experience of Black history was the transatlantic slave trade, Traille reported that these pupils experienced feelings of alienation and apathy.

Curriculum at different stages if education

Developing early historical knowledge

  • Children learn about the past throughout their education, and their understanding of new material about the past will be profoundly influenced by both their general vocabulary and their knowledge of historical concepts.
  • This suggests that an effective curriculum for younger children might develop their knowledge of a few concepts that are particularly important in their future learning in history.
  • Effective teaching at this stage can also begin to develop children’s chronological knowledge. Concepts such as ‘the past’ are highly abstract for young children. As such, knowledge of chronological concepts must be developed through repeated encounters with meaningful examples in familiar contexts.

History at KS2

  • Ultimately, the history curriculum should ensure that pupils progress towards constructing their own historical arguments and accounts. However, the extent of pupils’ prior knowledge needs to be taken into account so that disciplinary knowledge can build meaningfully on what pupils already know.
  • Teachers should carefully support pupils when they construct their own historical arguments, as doing this with limited knowledge can lead to misconceptions.

Effective Teaching in History

Pupils are more likely to retain knowledge when they have engaged analytically with the content they study.

Clear exposition that considers prior knowledge

  • Teachers’ exposition is likely to be most effective when it is clear and carefully designed to account for pupils’ existing knowledge.

Narrative and story

  • Storytelling is a powerful vehicle for learning. It is likely that historical stories are an effective way of teaching new content in history. Stories are likely to be particularly effective when teachers draw pupils’ attention to particularly important content within them.

Developing pupils’ knowledge of historical contexts

  • Pupils’ learning within a topic is heavily supported by their knowledge of the historical context.

Reading extended texts

  • Background knowledge is likely to be a major influence on pupils’ capacity to read and understand a text and so using texts effectively will depend on pupils’ knowledge.

Supporting pupils in history including SEND

  • All pupils are entitled to a broad history curriculum. Any adaptations made to support pupils’ learning in history usually should not be to the overall curriculum content but rather to how the content is taught.
  • Ensuring that all pupils otherwise encounter the same content is particularly important given the role that hinterland information has in facilitating learning in history.
  • t is likely that pupils will benefit most from support that combines extra attention to securing the most generative knowledge while ensuring that all pupils are able to learn about events and periods in a rich context and through meaningful examples.

Assessment in History

Formative Assessment

  • Given the importance of pupils’ knowledge in enabling progress, formative assessment is likely to be most effective when it prioritises assessing the range and security of pupils’ historical knowledge.
  • To be effective, formative assessment must allow teachers to draw valid inferences about pupils’ knowledge that they can act on.

Assessing disciplinary knowledge

  • Pupils’ disciplinary knowledge can also be assessed by their response to outcome tasks, such as writing an essay in response to a historical question. These tasks are a powerful learning tool: they require pupils to connect and transform knowledge to form arguments. This develops pupils’ substantive knowledge of a period but also their disciplinary knowledge of how arguments are constructed and communicated.

Systems at subject/school level

  • Adequate curriculum time is given to history to enable teachers to deliver a broad history curriculum that develops secure knowledge for pupils.
  • Senior leaders assure themselves of the quality and breadth of the history curriculum. They understand how pupils progress in history, which allows them to support and challenge decisions at a subject level.
  • Leaders are aware of and mitigate against the potential downsides of whole-school policies and their impact on the ability of teachers and departments to deliver a high-quality history education.
  • Teachers and curriculum designers have secure and wide-ranging knowledge of the past, of academic history and of how to teach history to pupils. This is likely to be supported by high-quality, subject-specific professional development.

Ofsted Research Review of Geography – A Summary

The context of geography curriculum design in English schools

  • The teaching of geography gives pupils an understanding of the world around them, its environments, places near and far and the processes that create and affect them.
  • The subject has a relatively low status, particularly in primary schools.

Primary education and the EYFS

  • Geography education journey starts in EYFS
    • ‘People, culture and communities’ and ‘natural world’ set out clearer, identifiable geography knowledge.
  • In EYFS, children acquire some geographical vocab to build on.



  • Substantive knowledge sets out content to be learned. 4 interrelated forms:
    • Locational knowledge
    • Place knowledge
    • Human and physical processes (includes ‘environmental’ geography)
    • Geographical skills
  • Disciplinary knowledge considers how geographical knowledge originates and is revised.
  • Successful geography curriculum reflects careful thought about what is taught, the rationale, the sequencing and the relationships between the forms of knowledge.

Curriculum Progression

  • Bring together content, organisation of content, teaching approaches, assessment and more.
  • Curriculum should map out knowledge that pupils learn to gain geographical expertise.
  • A clearly mapped journey starting from EYFS and developing through the curriculum is critical if pupils are to move towards becoming experts in the subject.

Organising concepts

  • ‘Concepts’ = means of categorising geographical knowledge of natural and human phenomena.
  • Concepts are a way in which to group geographical content. High level concepts include:
    • Place
    • Space
    • Scale
    • Interdependence
    • Physical and human processes
    • Environmental impact
    • Sustainable development
    • Cultural awareness
    • Cultural diversity.
  • Concepts are important as they draw out links between processes and ideas.
  • Content of curriculum needs to be broken down to component parts (chunks) that pupils can understand in their own right before combining different components.

Forms of geographical knowledge

  • Need to identify content (substantive) that is taught and the knowledge of relationships that allows pupils to understand connections between ideas (disciplinary)

Locational knowledge

  • ‘Knowing where’s where’ is a mainstay of geography.
  • Start with near and far, left and right, behind and in front – Reception year?
  • N, S, E, W in KS1 and then 8 points of compass by KS2
  • All pupils need to build extensive knowledge of different countries, regions and features.
  • Pupils should be able to pinpoint certain locations at each stage of their education and be able to associate these locations with the peculiarities that identify them.

Place knowledge

  • Place allows a pupil to ‘locate or orient oneself with respect to the larger global space and to other places.
  • Place is a physical area that can be located and that has personal meaning, attachment or distinct identity.
  • Emphasis on exploring localities and understanding similarities and differences between them. Curriculum must be structured to give pupils knowledge of what makes a place the way it is.
  • Comparisons should be made between different places but also same place over time.

Environmental, physical and human geography

  • Knowing why a phenomenon occurs and the impacts that it has.
  • Pupils need to understand how human and physical processes interact to influence and change landscapes, environments and the climate, as well as how human activity relies on the effective functioning of natural systems.
  • Pupils need to gain the knowledge needed to explore the relationships between process and their impact in different locations and at different times.

Geographical skills and fieldwork


  • Through fieldwork, pupils encounter geographical concepts first hand and connect learning in the classroom with the complexity of the real world.
  • In order to engage purposefully with fieldwork, pupils first need enough prior knowledge of the processes and techniques used and the conditions to use them.
  • Teachers need sound subject knowledge to confidently explore uncertainties and ambiguities that come from moving from classroom to real environment.
  • Can’t tightly control variables – pupils need to know enough about the limitations of procedures and how to get around them to draw valid conclusions.
  • Fieldwork needs to be more than tokenistic.

Map skills

  • To become proficient at map skills, the curriculum needs to ensure that children have the knowledge they need (direction, scale, drawing and analysing).
  • Plans introduce pupils to different types of mapping (topological, thematic) as they progress.

Aerial photography and satellite imagery

  • Often use particular (or false) colours to represent phenomena – can be complex to read/analyse. Curriculum needs to prepare children with knowledge to decode images and interpret representations
  • Imagery can provide contextual setting which strengthens pupils’ schema.
  • Can spark curiosity leading to questions or spur interest to further knowledge.

Spatial thinking in the curriculum

  • This is nor developed purely by inviting pupils to ‘think spatially’ because to do this thinking successfully requires prior knowledge of concepts of space and tools of representation before using processes of reasoning.

A curriculum to ‘think like a geographer’: choosing, building and linking knowledge

  • Concept of building from what is known or familiar to pupils gives security in their understanding and so helps them commit knowledge to LTM.
  • Doesn’t mean exclude teaching the unfamiliar.
  • The use of real and relevant contexts is important in helping pupils relate general principles to actual locations.
  • In selecting examples, teachers ensure their choice bests demonstrates phenomenon or phenomena being studied.
  • It is important that pupils are able to consider scale and have the ability to ‘zoom in’ and ‘zoom out’ in order to view processes and their impact from local, regional, national and international perspectives.

Thematic or topic-based approaches

  • When considering curriculum as the progression model, what pupils are to know needs to be identified precisely and sequenced clearly.
  • Curriculum goals need to retain subject specificity.
  • If planning thematically, be aware of the disciplinary nature of each subject and respect them.

Selecting examples and case studies.

  • Studies should take them beyond their own experience and allow them to appreciate how their own lives are affected by the phenomena explored through examples and case studies.
  • Care needs to be taken not to limit pupils’ understanding of a particular event.
  • Case studies, data and images need to be appropriate. Older resources may portray inaccurate or outdated stereotypical representations. This can risk a ‘single story’ being presented which shows people or places as only one thing over and over again. This is what they then become in pupils’ minds.


  • Stereotypical, out-of-date or overly simplistic representations of processes or their impact in textbooks and ‘imperfections’ in teachers’ knowledge influence pupils’ thinking.
  • Teachers’ knowledge needs to be secure. Understanding misconceptions is useful in establishing how best to teach pupils to correct flawed thinking.

Curriculum structure

Components, composites and schema

  • Well-constructed curriculum sets out the substantive knowledge that pupils need to learn in a connected way.
  • The curriculum identifies the substantive knowledge in components or small chunks.
  • A well-structured geography curriculum is likely to generate curiosity, which, in turn, encourages pupils’ motivations.


  • By learning each component in an ordered way and appreciating how one component relates to another, pupils gain a composite knowledge of a geographical process or phenomenon.

How knowledge is remembered

  • Pupils need to draw on prior knowledge to learn more complex ideas.
  • Key content needs to be not just briefly understood but remembered in the long term.
  • The curriculum organises and repeats substantive and disciplinary knowledge in ways that show pupils how each component fits together and how each composite idea fits with others.
  • Curriculum helps pupils build an effective schema when they further embed previously learned knowledge in memory through recall and review, build in what pupils know and increase both the quantity and complexity of content and disciplinary appreciation.

Carrying out enquiries and making decisions

  • In undertaking enquiries, pupils process and connect knowledge. The challenge is that this can place substantial cognitive load on pupils who are relative novices. We know that novices do not have the same success with more open-ended learning tasks as experts


  • All pupils need to share the same curriculum, with the same level of ambition and expectation of the geographical knowledge that pupils should know.
  • Teachers must be alert to the specific gaps in knowledge that these pupils may have so that they can prioritise the concepts that are most fundamental to future learning.
  • Teachers can identify and break down the components of the subject curriculum into manageable chunks for pupils who find learning more difficult, particularly those with cognition and learning needs. These may be smaller ‘steps’ than those taken by other pupils.
  • In many schools, teaching assistants are deployed to support pupils with SEND.
  • Studies note that few TAs have the same geography content knowledge as the teacher.
  • TAs need to be briefed sufficiently about the content for the pupils they support. With input from the SENCo and other specialists, teachers can work with TAs to discuss their approaches.
  • Ensuring that there are adequate structures and sufficient scaffolding in place to support those who need it is crucial. Fundamentally, planning to ensure that pupils with SEND make strong progress is likely to have a positive impact on all pupils.

Pupils’ motivation and interest

  • If teachers use topical issues in the media, it is important they keep their attention tightly focused on the geography that they intend to be learned.
  • Teachers need to ensure, therefore, that pupils have learned the underpinning knowledge sufficiently well in order to have the level of understanding needed.


  • Curriculum and its assessment need to be carefully designed and implemented effectively. This should make sure that all pupils know more, remember more, and can do more, and so experience success.
  • Studies indicate that retrieval practice enhances recall, particularly when questions are drawn from recent teaching and that in the further and far past. In completing these activities, pupils can ‘over-learn’ concepts and procedures, increasing their fluency.

Culture, policies and systems

  • Fundamentally, the expertise and professional development of teaching staff have a significant impact on the curriculum and its implementation.
  • Other considerations, such as allocating sufficient curriculum time to teach geography, adequately resourcing the subject and the leadership of the subject, all contribute to a high-quality geography education.

Professional development

  • Perhaps the most critical factor in ensuring a high-quality geographical education is teachers’ subject knowledge.
  • If ‘good geographical subject knowledge is a prerequisite for good teaching’, then subject-specific training becomes critical. Teachers need to have the knowledge to successfully plan and revise the geography curriculum, as well as to consider their own teaching and the impact that it has on pupils’ learning.


  • Access to high quality and up to date resources is important to implementation.
  • The world is dynamic, physically and politically. Teachers need to know how locations and features have changed when they are teaching.
  • The learning environment can be key – maps and globes in classrooms play an important part.

Subject leadership

  • The leader must use their subject expertise and experience to ensure that those teaching geography are clear about what pupils are to learn and how it is best taught.
  • Many who lead geography, particularly in primary schools, are not specialists. This means that there is an even greater need for subject-specific support and professional networks that they can draw on.

Curriculum organisation – time allocation

  • Geography placed 10th of 12 subjects taught in KS1 and 8th in KS2 in curriculum time.
  • Considering the breath of geographical knowledge that pupils need to learn, it is important that sufficient time is allocated to allow pupils to gain the knowledge they need. Without this, it is likely that a school is narrowing the curriculum.


  • High-quality geography is underpinned by sufficiently knowledgeable teachers who have the necessary subject knowledge and appreciation of the discipline. They can construct a curriculum that respects the discipline, contains judiciously selected content, is cohesively organised and is contextualised to the school.
  • Through teachers’ careful identification of each component of geographical knowledge and thoughtful sequencing, pupils learn and remember more and more. Curriculum plans reflect the importance of each interrelated form of substantive knowledge. They consider each in a proportionate manner and reveal the connections between them. Through teachers’ curriculum planning and pedagogical approaches, pupils gain an insight into the discipline.
  • As pupils progress through their school years, they develop their knowledge from specific examples to generalisations that they can apply in different locations. Pupils will also be developing the range of geographical skills they use. Foregrounding the use of maps is critical in supporting pupils to present spatially organised data and to analyse it using their knowledge of geographical processes.

Ofsted Research Review of Science – A summary

Ambition for All

The picture for science is not an improving one for all pupils and may be deteriorating.


  • Focus on the products and practices of science.
  • Products enable pupils to explain the material world and develop excitement and curiosity about natural phenomena
  • Practices enable pupils to learn how scientific knowledge becomes established through scientific enquiry.
  • Pupils also learn about use and significance to society and own lives – history of science and its contribution.
  • Continuing importance of science – global challenges like climate change etc.

National Context

  • Starts in EYFS – understanding the world. Introduce to a wide range of vocab but do not consider EYFS just as preparation for KS1 science.
  • NC outlines the content – concern it is being squeezed out. More of a focus on Eng and Ma.
  • In 2018, 21.2% of pupils in Y6 sample testing reached Exp standard
  • Pupils experienced ‘fun activities’ without developing deep understanding of scientific concepts.

Curriculum Progression – what it means to get better at science

Expertise in science needs to forms of knowledge. Substantive (knowledge of products of science) and disciplinary (knowledge of practices of science). In high quality science curriculums, knowledge was sequenced carefully to reveal the interplay between substantive and disciplinary knowledge.

Learning science – from novice to expert

  • Experts differ from novices not only in the extent of their domain specific knowledge but also how their knowledge is organised in their memory.
  • Experts know more so knowledge is better structured making it easier to access as well as being more meaningful and flexible.
  • Pupils need a connected knowledge base – new knowledge should integrate with existing knowledge.
  • Knowledge should be organised around the most important concepts which predict and explain the largest number of phenomena.
  • Curriculum should break down complex concepts and procedures into manageable chunks.

Substantive Knowledge – the products of science

  • Organised broadly into biology, chemistry and physics.
  • Each discipline gives unique perspective of the world around them.
  • As pupils progress, they should develop knowledge about the similarities and differences between each discipline.

Disciplinary knowledge – knowing how science establishes knowledge through scientific enquiry

  • The NC specifies the disciplinary knowledge through working scientifically section in PoS
  • 4 content areas of disciplinary knowledge
    • Knowledge of methods that scientists use to answer questions – not just fair testing!
    • Knowledge of apparatus and techniques including measurement
    • Knowledge of data analysis
    • Knowledge of how science uses evidence to develop explanations
  • These tend to classed as ‘skills’ and pupils are assumed to pick these up by ‘doing’. This assumption fails to recognise that this level of disciplinary ‘skill’ is dependent on domain specific knowledge.
  • Disciplinary knowledge is underpinned by knowledge of procedures and concepts – these need to be broken down into their component parts and taught explicitly.

Disciplinary and substantive knowledge: the importance of interplay

  • Teaching these two areas separately should be avoided.
  • 1st problematic curriculum model treats science as only a body of substantive knowledge – learn substantive facts but unaware of how it was developed and accepted – naïve understanding.
  • 2nd problematic model only focuses on working scientifically – a focus on general skills such as observing or classifying where these skills are dependent on context and substantive knowledge.
  • Solution is to organise curriculum so disciplinary knowledge is embedded within substantive content.
    • Appreciate nature of substantive knowledge by knowing evidence for it.
    • Use both to ask and answer scientific questions by carrying out scientific enquiry

High quality science – curriculum

  • Curriculum is planned to build increasingly sophisticated disciplinary and substantive knowledge
  • Disciplinary knowledge includes learning about diverse ways that science is interrogated.
  • Curriculum outlines how disciplinary knowledge advances over time
  • Disciplinary knowledge is explicitly taught and not expected to be learned as a by-product
  • Scientific processes are taught in relation to specific substantive knowledge – not generalised skill

Organising knowledge within the curriculum

Curriculum needs to identify key concepts and procedures and how these build over time. This starts in Early Years. High quality curriculums are coherent. Pupils need to know how knowledge connects.

Sequencing substantive knowledge

  • Careful curriculum design breaks down new knowledge into meaningful components and introduces them sequentially. This can support all pupils to learn scientific concepts.
  • Many science curriculums present arbitrary topics in an ad-hoc fashion. This means that knowledge is difficult to use and is easily forgotten.

Curriculum coherence: building conceptual frameworks

  • Coherence = teaching topics and the substantive content in them in a particular sequence that reflects the hierarchal structure of the scientific disciplines.
  • This all starts in Early Years – introduce a wide range of vocab and phenomena – clear correlation between young children’s general science knowledge and later science achievement.
  • New knowledge gets systematically integrated into pre-existing knowledge.
  • Strong curriculums began with teaching a few of the most fundamental topics of science.
  • Important scientific concepts are built on over time – not repetition of previously taught knowledge but created opportunity for new knowledge to become part of emerging conceptual structure.

Sequencing disciplinary knowledge within the most appropriate substantive concepts

  • Disciplinary knowledge should be articulated and sequenced in the curriculum.
  • Sequencing should take account of its hierarchal nature and the progression of substantive knowledge
  • A high quality curriculum will identify the best substantive contexts to teach specific disciplinary knowledge.
  • Once taught, disciplinary knowledge should be practised in different topics to show that it can be used in different substantive concepts.

Coherence between maths and science

  • Teachers shouldn’t assume pupils can transfer learning from maths to science – they will need to be taught how to use maths in science.
  • Science is dependent on maths but not the other way around.

High quality science – organisation of knowledge

  • EYFS introduce wide range of vocab that categorise and describe the natural world.
  • Attainment targets are broken down to component knowledge.
  • Substantive knowledge sequenced to build knowledge of important concepts.
  • Knowledge is sequenced to show the deep structure of scientific disciplines – show how it is connected.
  • Disciplinary knowledge is sequenced to take account of hierarchy and substantive context.
  • Once introduced, disciplinary knowledge should be used in a range of substantive concepts.
  • Planning progression takes account of what is taught in other subjects.

Other curricular considerations

Practice makes sure learned knowledge is accessible and not forgotten

Time in the curriculum for consolidation

  • Time for extensive practice will help pupils consolidate knowledge before moving to new content.
  • Consolidation takes time. Plan for sufficient time for knowledge to be practised and remembered.

Reading, writing, talking and representing science

  • Pupils need to learn about the ways scientists engage in their work – reading, writing, talking and representing science.
  • This is called disciplinary literacy
  • Research shows pupils are expected to pick this up implicitly
  • The aspects of disciplinary literacy which are specific to science need to be made explicit.

Misconceptions and the curriculum

  • Some substantive concepts are tricky to learn because they conflict with everyday knowledge – for example: buying plant food when plants make their own food.
  • Pupils need to know why a scientific idea is correct and why the misconception is scientifically wrong.
  • Pupils need repeated opportunities to practise activating the scientific concept.
  • When the gap between prior knowledge and new concept is too large, information may be ignored or misconceptions developed.
  • The curriculum should identify which substantive concepts might create misconceptions.

High quality science – curriculum considerations

  • Must give time to embed learning in LTM through practice.
  • Disciplinary literacy is identified and sequenced and explicitly taught.
  • Plans consider how knowledge introduced influences future learning
  • Curriculum anticipates misconceptions and explicitly addresses them.

Curriculum Materials

Quality textbooks used well can be help to create a coherent learning progression and free up teachers’ time. Resources that focus on activities rather than content don’t lead to positive science achievement.

High quality science – curriculum materials

  • If science kits are used, they need to help achieve the curriculum intent and the activities themselves must not become the curricular goal.

Practical work

Practical work is an important part of science education. High-quality practical work has a clear purpose and forms part of the wider instructional sequence and takes place only when pupils have enough prior knowledge to learn from the activity,

The purpose of practical work in relation to curriculum content

  • Practical work is fundamental to science as it connects concepts and procedures to the phenomena and methods studied.
  • Teachers often prioritise ‘wow’ moments with clear reference to any curricular goal.
  • Important first step of effective practical work is to clarify its role to specific curriculum coherent.

Practical work to help pupils learn substantive knowledge

  • Enough time before or after the practical work needs to be given for pupils to interpret and explain the observations and measurements made or about to make.

Practical work and disciplinary knowledge

  • Enough curriculum time needs to be given to teach underlying substantive and disciplinary knowledge first.
  • Carrying out scientific enquiry requires knowledge of concepts and procedures to guide what is done and why – otherwise pupils will be participating in ‘discovery learning’ not scientific enquiry.

Practical work through teachers’ use of demonstrations

  • Teacher demos allow pupils to encounter objects they are learning about while minimising the distractions associated with handling apparatus and recording data.

Practical work and objects of study

  • Teachers need to take account of the distinct and varied nature of each discipline.
    • Tend to be zoo-centric
    • Should take pupils beyond everyday experiences

Challenges of practical work

  • Children tend to remember what they saw and did, not the curriculum content.
  • Scientific ideas cannot simply emerge from carrying out a practical – dismissed on cognitive and epistemological grounds – pupils wont arrive at a scientific conception that took scientists years to develop.
  • Practical work should form part of wider instructional sequence and pupils need enough prior knowledge to learn from the activity.

High quality science – practical work

  • Disciplinary and substantive knowledge is sequenced so that practical work can be learned from.
  • Practical work forms part of wider instructional sequence.
  • Pupils aren’t expected to learn disciplinary knowledge through practical work.

Pedagogy: teaching the curriculum

Teacher explanations important in building from what pupils already know. Unguided ‘discovery’ approaches are not effective. Learning in science benefits from systematic teaching approaches that scaffold learning.

Teacher-directed instruction

  • Teacher-directed instruction involves the following
    • Teacher explains scientific ideas
    • Whole-class discussion takes place with the teacher
    • Teacher discusses the questions
    • Teacher demonstrates an idea
  • Teacher instruction is not ‘passive learning’.
  • Explanations are key – pupils said ‘explaining things well’ is most important to helping them learn.
  • Technology can play an important role in helping pupils learn abstract concepts.

Enquiry based teaching

  • Challenges for learning through exploration when you are a novice learner with little prior knowledge.
  • When solutions are left to be found, it carries heavy extraneous (irrelevant to learning) load. This is increased if apparatus is included.
  • Pupils often record measurements that conflict with the scientific idea. If they record valid data, they often lack knowledge to draw conclusions. It is also intellectually dishonest to ask pupils to ‘discover’ something when the answer is already known.

Reading, writing and talking in science lessons

  • Reading achievement is associated with science achievement.
  • Well-written scientific texts support vocab development and conceptual relations.
  • Even more effective when key vocab is explicitly taught alongside shared book reading.

High quality science – pedagogy

  • Activities are chosen to match intent
  • Teaching takes account of limited working memory
  • Pupils shouldn’t be expected to arrive at scientific explanations without sufficient prior knowledge
  • Systematic approaches alongside text are used to teach important vocab.
  • Pupils have regular opportunities to learn vocab through story, non-fiction, rhyme, song.


Pupils often learn different things from what was intended. Assessment should help prevent pupils from forgetting what they have learned and to check that pupils have reached specific goals.

Assessment for learning: formative assessment

  • Most effective when embedded within a lesson at the same time knowledge is taught.
  • Distractor-driven assessment such as multiple choice questions that present conceptions and misconceptions are especially helpful.
  • Teachers’ content knowledge influences their ability to evaluate pupils’ ideas and feedback given.

Assessment as learning: the testing effect

  • Draws on cognitive principle that pupils remember more if the practise retrieval over time.
  • Retrieval should be followed by feedback.
  • Careful attention should be given to what they are asking pupils to retrieve.

Assessment of learning: summative assessment

  • Identifies whether curricular goals have been achieved.
  • Consists of assessment of substantive and disciplinary knowledge.
  • TA at primary (KS1 and KS2) are over inflated based on 21% of children sampled reaching expected standard – could be as it is based on classroom work at time of study and not summatively.

High quality science – assessment

  • Feedback is focused on scientific content and not generic features.
  • Pupils regularly retrieve knowledge from memory – this is coupled with feedback.
  • Systems are in place to support teacher assessment in KS1 and KS2

Systems at subject and school level

Dependent on effective subject and school (trust) leadership. There must be sufficient curriculum time (research suggests this doesn’t always happen at primary school). Pupils also need access to sufficient resources.

Teachers’ knowledge and expertise

  • Science teachers often have insufficient subject knowledge.
  • Weak knowledge prevents clear explanations and develop misconceptions.
    • Research study showed that many teachers shared the same misconceptions as the children.
    • The majority in the study thought gravity increased as objects got higher.
    • One third of primary teachers thought all metals were magnetic
  • Expecting teachers to pick up knowledge through time spent teaching is misguided – high quality subject-specific CPD is needed which is focused on content and how to teach it.
  • Suggestion for primary is to have at least one teacher who specialises in teaching science.

School timetabling

  • At primary, curriculum time for science is a concern as it is being squeezed out of the curriculum.

High quality science – systems

  • High quality, subject specific CPD to develop subject knowledge aligned to the curriculum
  • Science specialist in primary and science leaders with dedicated leadership time.
  • Subject teachers engage with subject associations.
  • Timetables allocate appropriate teaching time.
  • Pupils have access to enough resources to take part in practical work.

Theory vs Practice- lockdown learning

Despite being in Tier 4 before Christmas and having some predictions about what the immediate future for schools might be, it has still been incredibly difficult to keep up with, let alone stay in front of, the decisions that have needed to be made.

Being in Kent, we were in that initial group of schools told that we would be reopening only for children of critical workers and vulnerable children for two weeks. Whilst speculation had already begun about whether this would be for two weeks or longer, planning had to begin – even if it was still the holidays.

After an impromptu meeting with my amazing team, we confirmed our strategy moving forwards. Lots was said during the first lockdown about how everyone was thrown in at the deepens with no domain specific knowledge on what to do and how to handle the situation best. However, how much had really changed?

Let’s start with those able to attend school. Much has been said about the vast increase in numbers between the lockdowns. Ours went from about 20 (although at the very start of lockdown 1 we only had 8) to over 100. Therefore, everything that we ‘knew’ from our previous experiences needed rethinking.

The other significant change was the much higher focus on remote learning. This was not only a consideration for the children not coming in to school but also for the significantly greater number in school. We had spent a long time going over the theory of how this would work. We had undergone our training on Teams, set up a dummy class to practice, discussed how we would be teaching (we decided on pre-recorded) and even had a couple of mini practice runs when some of our bubbles closed in term 2. However, theory is one thing. We were soon to realise that practice was something quite different!

At this point, it’s worth sharing what our ‘Plan A’ was. Due to the numbers in school and the need to continue with the curriculum and as a two form entry school, we split out teaching staff so that one could manage the remote learning and one the learning of those in school.

Even on the first day, we encountered problems. These ranged from children not being able to log on to Teams and login details disappearing to feedback on the content of the remote learning. It was already becoming apparent that the theory we had in place to tackle what we thought initially was going to be two weeks, had its problems. The announcement of lockdown 3 only added to those as our initial idea was based on the theory of supporting the two weeks.

Throughout the first week, and in constant communication with those at home, we monitored, evaluated and adapted our remote plans, responding to the feedback from parents and the teachers who were so brilliantly delivering it. It is here that the practical side of things was starting to take over. All the theory and planning that had been undertaken since September was unravelling because the reality of the practice was so different. I’ve reflected on this a lot. Was this because we hadn’t given enough thought to the situation? I don’t think so. Was it because we had based our theory on our perception of what it would look like? Possibly. Was it because there were so many variables that, having no domain specific knowledge, we were unaware of? This was definitely a factor.

As we entered the second week, it became even more apparent that we had to have rethink. The announcements over that weekend from Matt Hancock prompted me to ask on Twitter about children in school ( However, numbers in school continued to rise and feedback from teachers working at home was that the workload was unmanageable. So the theory that we had spent the best part of three months thinking about, discussing and preparing for had unravelled in a week and a half.

I think my point here is that there is very little substitute for practical knowledge in these situations. We didn’t intentionally set out to make mistakes or make things difficult. We did what we thought was right with the knowledge that we had available to us. Knowing what we know now has completely changed that.

So, with a new approach formulated, we could go back to using what we know to help. We communicated honestly with staff and parents, holding up our hands to apologise for the mistakes made and the changes we had employed. There were obviously some anxieties – change and new things will always bring some anxiety – but a trust that the changes have been made for the collective good of everyone involved.

One of the pieces of reading that really resonated at the time of reading and even more so now is from Matthew Evans in his book Leaders with substance. In there he talks about domain specific knowledge and it’s importance. If this pandemic has taught me anything, it is that untested theory without practical knowledge will always have variable success. That’s not to say that time, effort and preparation haven’t gone into it, but that you can’t prepare well for things that you haven’t experienced before.

As lockdown continues (and whether it continues beyond Feb half term), there are likely to be more lessons to be learned. The good news is that every day that passes, we gain that little more knowledge that can help make the theory more likely to be successful.

Lockdown Diary – a week in the life of a Headteacher

18th May

Monday morning and I was awake with the dawn chorus. After nearly a week of planning with my team, making amendments to the seemingly ever-constant changes and updates to DfE guidance, I was able to share the return to school plan with parents on Sunday afternoon. Whilst this was a weight off my shoulders as, the anxieties of how it would be received had started to creep in.

After following a four-week rota with staff, we have now switched to a two-week rota leading in to June 1st to enable us to prepare the school for more children coming in. The team in school divided into two – the first to continue to look after the key worker and vulnerable children and the second to work on turning each classroom into an environment that meets our risk assessments and planning requirements. As they have done since the beginning of lockdown, the staff continue to go above and beyond.

My day’s timetabled activities started at 9am with a Zoom meeting with Year 6 parents to discuss the plan and answer any questions they had to the best of my ability. With the exception of my Deputy, who was organising the teams in school and making contact with some of our other families who we are in regular contact with, my leadership team joined the meetings. The parents’ discussion was sensible and measured. The questions, concerns and anxieties that they had were all completely understandable. It was lovely to see their faces – after seeing them on the playground every day, it is something I had taken for granted – and they were very complimentary of the efforts of the school throughout which is always comforting to hear.

The Zoom meetings with EYFS and Year 1 parents followed much the same pattern, with sensible questions and understandable caution. It did make me think that, as much as this has put a lot of pressure on schools and leaders to prepare plans to come back, it also puts a lot of pressure on parents. On the one hand, they do not want their children to miss out, but on the other, they are concerned about sending them in to school.

By the end of the day, the corridors have all been taped up to look like the outside of supermarkets, and the classrooms deconstructed to try to support social distancing. I have to be honest – it made me feel very sad. To see a place usually so vibrant being stripped back with desks separated and tape down to mark spaces. I worry about the impact it will have on our children, and we will have to work extremely hard to support their mental health and wellbeing.

19th May

After ensuring that the parents had time to read and digest our return plan, and giving them the opportunity to discuss any questions or concerns, we sent the surveys out to parents today so that we could get a better idea of numbers. I feel terrible for putting parents in a position where they have to answer yes or no, when I know that there are assurances that I am not able to give them. Parents have been overwhelmingly positive about the approach taken and believe that we are taking as many steps as we can to keep the children safe.

Today has also shown me how supportive an environment school and the wider education community can be. I had a call from our new Improvement Advisor who provided a kind and compassionate listening ear and offered some sound advice. This was then immediately followed by taking part in a Coronocast, organised for Headteachers and school leaders to unpick some of the concerns and issues. Today’s was specifically about EYFS, an area that I am most worried about getting right (or wrong!), led by the brilliant Ruth Swailes and Jan Dubiel. You know it is something special when over 300 take part across the country. It gave me some further thoughts on the things that we could do, and so the planning mind took over again!

The support from staff both at home and at school has been fantastic. School continues to be transformed into what is becoming the ‘new normal’. The staff have also been working on supporting the community by organising our Lockdown Larder in partnership with Five Acre Wood School who we work very closely with. It proves that schools really are the hub of the community they serve.

20th May

Today was all about tape! Trying to work out how we organise the different bubbles and how they can safely access the school site is a challenge in itself. My school is lucky to have a big site and beautiful grounds. We have multiple entry points, and I can’t work out if this is a blessing or a curse. It has meant that we have planned to keep bubbles very separate with each year group and bubble entering the school via their own route, but it has also meant that we have more lines of tape in our school than most of the supermarkets in Kent!

On ‘hump day’, when wading through paperwork and having to overcome obstacles and challenges that five minutes earlier you hadn’t even thought of, it was brilliant to have so many pick-me-ups from our parents on Thank a Teacher Day. The school Twitter feed, my emails, and even socially distanced drop offs from parents meant that our morale in school was kept high, and I know that the staff at home who saw the messages can’t help but have been lifted by the kind words and sentiments from parents and the pictures of the children’s smiling faces.

I recently wrote about community in a blog post for the #DailyWritingChallenge and today was just another example of how we have stuck together through adversity. In many ways, our community is even tighter now as a result of the pandemic. It has shown the strength and depth of what people are willing to do for each other and highlighted the importance of listening to and understanding the needs of the community. Much has been said about the need to refocus when things return to whatever normal will look like. Throughout this, and particularly today, I have been thinking about what is really important in schools. We obviously want the best for our children and for them to be well prepared for the next stage of their education – but there is so much more. We need to remember this next time we are asked about data percentages, targets and league tables. All of the amazing work schools are doing at the moment can’t be measured by league tables, but we should not let that deter us from what we know is right.

21st May

The survey that we sent out to parents on Tuesday to ascertain numbers from EYFS, Year 1 and Year 6 closed today. With the numbers in, we began planning the bubble groups that we would need. The challenge for us is that our staffing numbers puts a limit on how many bubbles we can support and I have many parents who are currently unsure about sending their child in because of the uncertainty about what school will be like and what the science is telling us. If some of those parents on the fence choose to send their children in, it could present a problem. I don’t want to say no to a year group from the beginning, but also don’t want to have to close one once it has been opened. This is providing another headache and although the Local Authority were able to provide an answer, it doesn’t change the fact that there may be a point where I have to say no to children returning to school who are eligible.

There was some good news from the Coronacast however. Dr Matt Butler, a parent but also a Consultant Physician who volunteered to work in a COVID-19 Assessment Unit, returned and provided some very useful advice and guidance based on his great knowledge and understanding of the virus. This has certainly helped to calm some of my fears, although how we apply them all in practice is still something that needs careful thought and planning. It was also interesting to hear how different schools and authorities are approaching the different challenges that we are all facing with the reopening of schools.

After a virtual staffroom and a collaboration meeting, it has shown how important working together is. I have felt so incredibly supported by the networks around me – fellow teachers and Headteachers on Twitter, the local Headteachers in my collaboration and many others who I have never personally met before, all willing to help out, offer words of support or advice and work together to try and find solutions to these most complex of problems. I hope that this will also continue, where schools will work together increasingly more and not compete as much against each other as they have in the past.

22nd May

I started the day by reading the latest DfE released guidance – this time about statutory reporting to parents. The timing felt a little off considering all of the different things that everyone in school was already doing.

There was also a lot of speculation about the release of the SAGE scientific research. The decision making behind the process has something that has always been questioned since the announcement – by unions, teachers and even parents. It has been hard to provide an answer to this without over sharing a political viewpoint. Having skim read the report and seen many of the comments about the research, I am still not really any clearer on the reasons that opening has been seemingly given a set date, and why the guidance has been written in the way that it has. The one part that will be hard to ignore is the section that says by delaying by two weeks will halve the risk to children. Surely this is something that we need to look at carefully.

The remainder of the day was spent working through the various tasks needed to try to be ready to reopen. My deputy was working through the organisation of staffing and the timetabling of the different bubbles, while I worked through the risk assessments. In between these times, the two of us, along with some of the other staff who were in helping, created a series of videos to try and explain the new routines and new look of the classrooms so that we could share them with parents. Although it is important to help acclimatise the parents and children, I couldn’t help but feel that overwhelming sadness again that the school that we have worked so hard to build now looks and feels starkly different.

The real positive from today was that we were able to deliver or send out our Lockdown Larder food parcels. Working alongside Five Acre Wood, who have two satellite classrooms at our school, we were able to provide packages for over 150 families across both schools, as well as sending some to our local church and support some residents in our local area. The appreciation shown by all of the families was amazing.

As I completed the Celebration Assembly for the school Twitter page, as well as the last #Chatleychallenge of the week, I paused for a moment’s reflection. So much has changed in the last 9 weeks, but one thing that has remained the same is the passion and hard work of the staff. They have, and continue to, rise to every challenge and go above and beyond what is expected of them to support each other and the community we serve.

With the Bank Holiday weekend, hopefully the staff will take some much needed time off to relax, ready to continue the fight back towards a new normal.

Patience – #DailyWritingChallenge

Patience is a virtue. I can hear my mum’s words whenever I see or hear this word. Ironic really as I’m pretty sure that my lack of patience comes from her – I am definitely my mother’s son!

Patience is a value that I have learned to develop over time. It is not something that comes naturally to me, but rather something that I have had to work at and perhaps even something that has happened to me as I have got older and more experienced. I need to remind myself, and be reminded by those around me, that things will not happen immediately. I need to reign myself in and give time and space for things to take hold and sometimes I need a nudge to help me.

Patience is hard. For a long time, I would run at 100miles an hour and want, expect even, everyone to keep up. I followed the same misguided belief that the more I did, the quicker I went, the better things would be. There are so many things to do and I wanted to do them all and do them all well. I would jump from idea to idea, never letting anything settle and then wondering why it didn’t work.

Patience is key. Stepping back and waiting, even if it is hard and against my natural instincts, is worth it in the long run. Playing the long game seems to go against a lot of the ‘quick fix’ recommendations that we are flooded with. But time needs to be afforded to allow things to embed, became ingrained and develop. I have learnt that I need to remember that I am not everyone and everyone is not me. It has taken patience to help me develop this.

Everyone knows the story of the tortoise and the hare. In most things, I am the hare, or at least I try to be. But if lockdown has shown me anything, it is that we need to show a little more patience and build slowly but robustly over time. So I am definitely trying to channel my inner tortoise!

Integrity- #DailyWritingChallenge

It’s funny that I thought of this quote when I thought about integrity. It’s a quality that is so important but perhaps one that comes with experience and confidence (and finding yourself too).

I remember taking part in one of those activities on a leadership course where you had to complete a diamond 9 or some other hierarchy with values. Integrity would always be one that came up. I think everyone knew it was important but I’m not sure I, and probably they, knew the depths that integrity reached.

I was a youngish Headteacher when first appointed. Whilst I don’t think age is specifically a factor, I don’t think I had spent enough time seeing alternatives to the norm. I didn’t (or at least hope I didn’t) take the convenient path, although I was swayed by the majority. This often came in the form of guidance from the powers above such as Ofsted and the LA. It’s not that these things were necessarily wrong, but I don’t think I showed integrity in my approach to considering them.

A couple of years ago, an Improvement Advisor asked me to speak to some aspiring Headteachers about moral leadership. This prompted me to think about integrity. I focused my thoughts on my moral compass and didn’t think about what others wanted me to think.

After reading Matthew Evans’ brilliant leadership book, I was inspired and encouraged to write my first blog. It was about the phases of my leadership journey. To cut a long blog short, I feel like I’m in the third phase of my headship now and it is the first tine I feel I am truly leading with integrity. I can say that with confidence because the decisions I know make are not based on government policy, local authority expectation or whatever the latest whim is. They are based on what I think is right for my children, staff and community.

I was determined not to get political in this, but the landscape keeps me returning to it. I’ll let you reflect on the two images and make your own decision over whether Boris and the government have acted with integrity or not. What I will say is that now, more than ever, our school leaders need to. There will be pressure from the government, from the press and from parents to make decisions. We are likely to be faced with a barrage of questions or adults wielding guidance interpreted for their benefit. But we are also going to be surrounded by staff, parents and children who are full of anxiety. We have to show integrity in the decisions we make over the coming weeks and, if the situation warrants it, go against the grain. It may not be easy, but it will be the right thing to do.

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