It is a good time to be thinking about transition. In a few weeks, a new cohort of pupils will arrive at secondary schools, ready to continue their history education. The word ‘continue’ is crucial here. In England, history is compulsory for only two or three years of secondary education (in contrast to nearly every other European country) and a significant component of what a pupil learns about history has to happen in primary school. Yet, as secondary school history teachers, I would wager that we rarely think much about what it is that they learned at Key Stages 1 and 2.
This matters because what we teach in secondary school needs to build on what has been learned in primary school. One cannot make sense of the Norman Conquest and its impact on England without understanding the nature of Anglo-Saxon society before it. We miss a trick if we begin teaching about the Angevin Empire and do not draw on what pupils have already learned in primary school about the different kinds of empires in the ancient world. I must admit that I would very rarely ask pupils in my history lessons to recall and draw upon knowledge they had gained from studying history in primary school, whether that was knowledge about particular periods, substantive concepts or the ways in which history works as a discipline.
In part, I think my failure to do this was because I did not have a model in my head about what ‘secondary ready’ looks like in history. What had pupils studied in primary school? What periods should they know about? What concepts had they learnt? What kinds of questions had they answered? If we want to ensure smooth progression from primary to secondary school, then these are the kinds of questions that need to be asked by secondary history teachers.
In Cambridge, a few of us have had a go at drafting a statement that sets out what we think ‘secondary ready’ looks like in history. This statement is based entirely on the 2014 National Curriculum. This means that, if a pupil has been taught the requirements of the National Curriculum well, then this is what we might expect a typical pupil to arrive with at the start of Year 7. Of course, not all primary schools follow the National Curriculum, though I do not think that any school would say what they offer is less good than the National Curriculum, and so even if your partner primaries do not follow it, I do not think you would need to make major modifications to this statement. Here it is.
‘Secondary ready’ in history
A student who is ‘secondary ready’ in history has a good knowledge of the periods of history set out in the Key Stage 2 National Curriculum and how these periods are related to one another, both chronologically and in relation to major political, social and cultural themes.
Students should be able to place the periods ‘stone age’, ‘bronze age’ and ‘iron age’ in the correct order, and describe some key features that distinguish these periods from one another. Student should be able to extend this timeline by accurately placing on it ‘Roman Britain’ and ‘Anglo-Saxon England’. They should be able to describe change that took place in Britain during the Roman period, including the military, social and cultural characteristics of Romano-British society. Students should be able to recall and narrate stories from the early religion and myths of the Anglo-Saxons and be able to describe the process by which the Anglo-Saxons became Christian. Students should also be able to describe the Viking influence on Britain in the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries, and how this changed the language, culture, society and polity of Britain.When reading or listening to accounts of these periods, pupils should be able to recognise major names of cultural figures and leaders from Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Viking Britain. They should be able to recall and use these names fluently and accurately when they construct their own descriptions, narratives or analyses. They should be able to describe, with reference to names, places, institutions and stories, the situation in England on the eve of 1066.
Students should be able to describe the contexts in which ancient civilisations arose and be able to relate these broader ideas to some of the key features of one ancient civilisation (Ancient Sumer, the Indus Valley, Ancient Egypt or the Shang Dynasty of Ancient China) They should be able to describe important features of this civilisation, including its chronological distance from the present. They should be able to describe some important developments that took place in ancient Greek society and how ideas that developed in this period went on to affect subsequent periods of history. They are can also compare ancient and early medieval British society with a non-European region taken from the National Curriculum.
Students must arrive in secondary school with fluent mastery over several substantive concepts. These substantive concepts include those which carry meaning across periods such as, ‘civilisation’, ‘king’, ‘queen’, ‘peasant’, ‘empire/emperor’, ‘invasion/invader’, ‘settlement/settler’, ‘council’, and those peculiar to or gaining origin in particular periods, such as ‘legion’ and ‘consul’.They need to be able to illustrate their understanding of these concepts by giving appropriate, historical examples of their usage in periods of history they have studied.
A secondary-ready student will know that historians use sources as evidence to find out about the past. They will use the terms ‘source’ and ‘evidence’ in ways which show that they know the difference between those two terms in the context of historical study. They will also know that the past can be interpreted, subsequently, in different ways. They will be able to give examples of the ongoing process of interpretation of the periods that they have studied, such as the fact that historians and archaeologists have established new interpretations of Viking settlements from examining new types of sources. Students should know that historians ask particular types of questions about causes, consequences, change, continuity, similarity, difference and significance and they should have some knowledge of how they might approach answering these kinds of historical question. They will demonstrate that knowledge by being able to structure their own writing in a way that is appropriate to different kinds of historical questions, such as questions about cause, consequence, change and continuity.