A Message to School History Students

Congratulations to all students who have studied History as part of their A-Level, Advanced Highers and BTEC qualifications this year. Your hard work (and your teachers’ dedication) during the pandemic has been inspiring.

The analytical skills you’ve developed by studying History are excellent preparation for further study and your future careers — whether in the charity sector, consultancy, government, heritage organisations, legal studies, teaching or so many other professions.

The recent resolution of this year’s examination results is good news. The English and devolved governments’ decision to use your teachers’ assessments, rather than a faulty algorithm, will permit many more students to benefit from Higher Education in 2020-2021 in this unprecedented time. At the same time, we know that many of you are still unsure where, or in what format, you will be able to study this autumn, and that the uncertainties of the current situation are a source of great anxiety.

There are still places available on excellent History programmes across Britain, and a key feature of UK university History teaching is that excellence is found throughout the higher education sector. How do we know this?  As the main learned society for History in Britain, the RHS believes in basing our arguments on evidence.  We work closely with departmental heads, and each year for decades, we have visited different university History programmes to learn about what they’re doing to enhance their students’ experiences.

Innovations in personal tutoring, curriculum offerings, career development and research supervision abound in UK History programmes.  Our annual Teaching and Research prizes and the annual RHS History Today and History Scotland prizes (for the best undergraduate History dissertations) can recognise only a fraction of this excellence. But we repeatedly find that innovation and quality extends across the sector as a whole.

If you are still looking for a place to study History, you can find first-rate degree programmes – with highly satisfied students – across all institutional types. History can be studied in a wide variety of high-calibre departments, each with their own character and areas of excellence; some have established expertise in distance learning, and others make substantial provision for part-time and/or evening study.

The Royal Historical Society encourages you to explore the full range of History programmes to find the best one for you.  If you miss out on your first choice, this is an opportunity to identify a new, alternative first choice from among the many programmes on offer. Don’t hesitate to contact institutions’ helplines to explore your options.

Take time to find a programme that suits your interests — whether those are in the histories of medieval women, Latin American politics, Chinese cultural revolution, the Ottoman empire, religious wars in early modern Europe, the Black Atlantic, Enlightenment thought, innovative digital methods or many more.

Wherever you choose to study History, when you start your degree you’ll be greeted warmly by enthusiastic experts who are both first-rate scholars and committed teachers.

Our very best wishes will be with you from the start.

Professor Margot Finn
Royal Historical Society


New School History Curriculum Briefing Pack

On 27 March 2018, the Society hosted a day-long event on ‘The New School History Curriculum and the Transition to Higher Education’. This conference formed part of the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Royal Historical Society, and it was organised by the Society in conjunction with the Historical Association.

Recent changes to the specifications and curricula available at both GCSE and A Level have resulted in significant alterations to the historical education that students receive in English schools from years 9 to 13 (with many schools starting GCSE tuition three years before the examinations). With the first students taking the new GCSE in summer 2018, and the first cohort through the new linear A Levels having arrived at university in autumn 2017, it was a good moment in March 2018 to take stock of these developments and their implications foir the teaching of history in Higher Education.

The conference brought together over 80 delegates representing various key constituencies: representatives from all the Examination Boards in England and Wales (the Scottish SQA had to withdraw at the last moment), HEI heads of department and admission tutors, secondary teachers and members of the museum and archives sector, plus officers and councillors from the Society and the HA.

It proved to be a very stimulating day, both in terms of the presentations and discussion, and also the contacts many of us made with experts in different constituencies, and we agreed to make the extensive briefing pack available online.

The pack contains 10 items. (1) is the programme of events and speakers; (2) – (4) gives the essential background: DfE and Ofqual 2014 Subject Requirements for A and AS Levels and GCSE plus Assessment Objectives. (5) – (8) list the syllabi of the examination boards for England and Wales, including the WJEC’s new GCSE for schools in England – edquas. (9) summarises planned changes to Higher History in Scotland. Finally, we include (10) the 2017 HA’s survey of History in schools, a valuable analysis based on responses from 287 schools. We are grateful to the various authors of these briefings and reports for permission to upload them.

Prof. Ken Fincham
Vice-President (Education)

1. Event Programme and Biographies of Speakers

2. Ofqual GCE (A and AS Level) History Subject Requirements 2014

3. DfE GCSE History Subject Requirements 2014

4. Ofqual GCSE History Assessment Objectives 2014

5. AQA syllabus at A and AS Levels and GCSE and sample questions

6. OCR syllabus at A Level, and the relative popularity of modules; and GCSE syllabus

7. Pearson syllabus at A Level and GCSE

8. WJEC A Level and GCSE syllabus and eduqas (WJEC in England) GCSE for schools in England

9. SQA planned changes to Higher History from 2018-19

10. HA Survey of History in Schools in England 2017


RHS sponsors Historical Association Quality Mark

In recognition of the excellence and high standards that the Historical Associaton’s Quality Mark (QM) can bring to a school we are delighted to announce that to help celebrate our 150th anniversary, the Royal Historical Society is to provide sponsored bursaries to ensure more schools can take part. The QM supports the development of excellent history provision by the teacher, the department and as part of the whole school offer to young people. You can read more about the scheme here.

The Royal Historical Society will be provide sponsored bursaries in 2018 for up to ten secondary schools to participate in all stages of the Quality Mark programme. Conditions of the sponsorship mean that the sponsored schools will be state funded, non-selective schools drawn from across the country. To register your interest in the the Royal Historical Society Quality Mark Bursaries, please contact Mel Jones (melanie.jones[AT] for more details, or download and complete the application form from the HA website. Applications close on July 16 2018.


History for All? Teaching Diverse Histories in British schools

Policy background

Incorporating diversity into school based curricula is not a new development. Educationalists, academics and teachers have argued for the inclusion of diversity into an array of subject areas for many years. Whether posited as a means of fostering positive self-esteem and increased engagement for minority ethnic and migrant pupils, or as enriching existing, often mono-cultural lessons for all pupils, school based material developed to focus on the multicultural diversity within society has been taught in schools since the 1980s. Legislative advances – within the Race Relations Amendment Act (2001) requiring the active promotion of race equality in schools, and the current Equality Act (2010) – have provided legal support to arguments for the teaching of a culturally inclusive curriculum for all pupils. These historical processes have themselves been accompanied by much political and popular dissent, but many teachers in schools have nevertheless drawn on a wealth of educational resources to support the teaching of diversity, and specific organisations such as the Black and Asian Studies Network and the Schools History Project provide much professional support to teaching staff with this work.

Read the report: History for All? Teaching Diverse Histories in British Schools

Return to Education Policy page



History in the Schools Survey 2014

Arthur BurnsArthur Burns writes:

2014 has been another (over?-) exciting year for History as a school subject. Hot on the heels of the reform of the national curriculum has come the publication of new History A-levels to run from September 2015 on the new linear model championed by Michael Gove while secretary of state; as I write, the awarding bodies are concluding work on their responses to the new model of GCSEs to be taught for the first time in 2016. At the same time, History’s status as a subject will also be affected by changes to school performance measures. I wrote something on these issues in the Royal Historical Society Newsletter for May 2014, and we will be organising an event to further discussion in the new year – watch this space!

In the meantime, however, this makes keeping a weather-eye on the current position of history in schools – and in the arrangements for training future teachers – all the more important. The Historical Association performs a very valuable service to the History community in the UK with its annual survey of the teaching of History in schools and the views of teachers, and its latest report has just been published.  Written by Dr Katharine Burn of the University of Oxford and Dr Richard Harris of the University of Reading, its main findings are:

  • There has been a 5% increase in the number of respondents reporting that Key Stage 3 history is crammed into only two years (23% compared with 18% last year)
  • There has been a further erosion of children’s right to learn history after the age of 13 years – 44% our respondents said some students are actively steered away from studying history for GCSE by their school if at 13 years they are judged to be unlikely to get a Grade C, even though they would have 2 years to improve and often enjoy history.
  • 50% of respondents said GCSE specifications were likely to make a significant impact on what they decide to teach at Key Stage 3.
  • Most teachers thought that the decoupling of AS from A Level would be detrimental to the future take-up of history post-16.
  • 90% of respondents agreed that all new trainee teachers should receive a guaranteed minimum entitlement to university-based elements in their training. Serious concerns were expressed regarding plans to put more trainee teachers into the classroom without any academic or specialised mentor support and training.

The full report can be downloaded from the Historical Association’s website here, and you can also access previous issues of the report here.

Return to RHS Education Policy page


Concerns over future of teacher training

The Royal Historical Society and Historical Association raise concerns over the move away from subject-centred teacher training

teacher_training_imageThe Initial Teacher Training allocations for 2015-16 announced by the National College for Teaching and Leadership present a profound threat to the quality of future history teaching.

The Facts

  • Increasing numbers of trainee teachers are entering the profession without any training.
  • Opportunities for graduates to increase subject knowledge alongside subject-based teaching practice in university centred school partnerships have been cut.
  • Our research shows that 90% of respondents agreed that all trainees should receive a guaranteed minimum entitlement to university-based elements in their training.

At a time of profound curriculum change, with significant reforms already taking place at Key Stage 3 and extensive reforms about to be implemented at both GCSE and A level, it is vital that those joining the profession have access to rich sources of historical knowledge and research-based approaches to teaching and models of pupil progression within the subject. As schools develop new schemes of work and develop or adopt new assessment structures, it is essential that those mentoring beginners have a secure knowledge of how the school subject has developed over the past few decades.

That the Department for Education recognises the strengths of such partnerships is evident in the fact that even as they are cutting the number of trainees allocated to them, members of the department working on the Carter Review of ITT are seeking the advice of university tutors and working with them in identifying the key features of strong history provision.

The Historical Association’s survey of history teachers, conducted in July 2014, shows that there is very little appetite within history departments for an expansion of school-based provision that reduces mentors’ and trainees’ links to a strong and well-rooted subject community. Nearly 80% of respondents thought that partnerships between schools and universities were the most effective way of training teachers, while over 70% feared that the subject-specific dimension of teachers’ training would suffer if the universities’ role was reduced. So highly was the universities’ role valued that 90% of respondents agreed that all trainees should receive a guaranteed minimum entitlement to university-based elements in their training, incorporated within a partnership programme. Respondents claimed that that it was not only the trainees but also the mentors and other experienced teachers working with them who benefitted through the partnership arrangements from this access to subject-specific research-based knowledge.

The Detail

The Initial Teacher Training allocations for 2015-16 recently announced by the National College for Teaching and Leadership threaten the quality of future history teaching, and risk sabotaging the achievement of the government’s own aims in strengthening the breadth and depth of all young people’s historical knowledge.

We welcome the increase in the number of training places allocated for history to meet the demands of a rising school population and the higher proportion of students continuing with the subject to GCSE. We are alarmed, however, by the distribution of these places. The policy of reducing the number of places allocated to partnerships centred on university providers not only weakens subject links between higher education and schools which the government has sought to strengthen in recent years, but also destroys the stable and well-established communities of history mentors on which high quality subject-specific, school-based, professional training depends.

Our central concern in seeking to ensure that new history teachers have access to the best research and practice-based understandings of history teaching is that their training should have a strong subject dimension. However successful school-only providers may be in delivering some aspects of training, what they can provide is inevitably focused on generic principles and teaching practices. They do not have the numbers of trainees in each subject to be able to provide rigorous, securely-grounded and well-validated subject-specific knowledge and expertise.

It is vital at a time of profound curriculum change, with significant reforms at Key Stage 3,GCSE and A level, that those joining the profession have ready access both to rich sources of historical knowledge and to research-based approaches to teaching and pupil progression within history. As academies and free schools exploit their curricular freedoms, and as all schools develop or adopt new assessment structures, it is essential that those mentoring beginners have a secure knowledge of how history as a school subject has developed over in recent decades – both so that they do not re-invent wheels and so that they avoid repeating past mistakes. Much is to be learned from analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of previous curriculum and assessment models within this country, from the cumulative knowledge of published practices of England’s history teachers and from curricula and practice beyond the UK. Individual subject mentors, working with isolated history trainees in predominantly generic programmes cannot possibly develop, sustain and renew this knowledge in the highly-developed ways that have been achieved by secure partnerships who have built outstanding expertise in teams of subject mentors over time. In stable communities of history mentors, in which those new to the role can be inducted by the experienced, new history mentors are able to learn as much from one another as the from university-based tutors whose own research and wide-ranging roles in supporting practitioner research continually serve to renew their knowledge of effective history teaching. These stable, knowledgeable communities of history mentors are models of schools-led teacher training practice at the subject level. To weaken them is to weaken school-community ownership of high standards in strong subject courses.

That the Department for Education recognises the strengths of such partnerships is evident in the fact that even as they cut the number of trainees allocated to them, members of the DfE working on the Carter Review of ITT specifically seek the advice OF university history education tutors in identifying the key features of strong history provision. In these circumstances, the decision to cut the number of places allocated to university-based providers to the point where many courses cease to be viable amounts to an own goal.

We call on the government to reconsider its actions and to find ways of securing rather than undermining the very links between the school and university subject communities that they have sought so hard to build in other ways.

* The 2014 Survey into History in English Secondary Schools will be published on Monday 3 November