The New National History Curriculum (1) – Chronology

For some time the new ‘programme for study’ for KS3 history has been available here.  For some time I’ve wanted to post about them – mainly as a way of improving my understanding of it. 

So, here is my uninformed ‘reckon’ (to quote Mitchell and Webb), on the changes to the History National Curriculum.  This will be an increasinly irregular series.

I thought I’d start with Chronological understanding – mainly because it’s the first in the list, but also because I’ve had a chequered relationship with Chronology in the past.  My long standing suspicion of ‘chronology’ stems from my own inability to remember dates, and the reductionist tendency that I believe it can encourage in pupils (and teachers).  Before I realised that it was draining my energy I used to spend an inordinate amount of time arguing on the TES history web board about it.

Chronological understanding:
a. Understanding and using appropriate dates, vocabulary and conventions that describe historical periods and the passing of time.
b. Developing a sense of period through describing and analysing the relationships between the characteristic features of periods and societies.
c. Building a chronological framework of periods and using this to place new knowledge in its historical context.

and from the explanatory notes:

Chronological understanding:

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


This strikes me as an interesting way to think about chronology, and a much less arid one than the old description of "Pupils should be taught to recognise and make appropriate use of dates, vocabulary and conventions that describe historical periods and the passing of time" which is in the current National Curriculum.

For a start there’s the change from a focus from teaching to learning – in the old description pupils are "taught to" whereas in the new they are ‘understanding’, ‘developing’, ‘building’.  This seems to reflect a move towards a much more active pupil.  This focus on activity is also reflected in the use to which ‘chronology’ is put, which is best illustrated by the explanatory notes.  These notes clearly show an intention of the authors to encourage pupils to use chronology in constructing ‘narratives and explanations’.  The use of chronology in enquiry, and not for it’s own sake, is at the forefront of this approach.


Secondly, there’s the idea of the development of a ‘chronological framework’, which really reminds me of something that Christine Counsel once wrote about. I don’t have the book with me (since completing my diploma – more on this soon – I don’t have access to an academic library), but as far as I remember she distinguished between the kind of ‘fingertip’ knowlegde that one picked up in the heat of an enquiry, with the broader ‘sense of place’ (my phrase here) that remained after the enquiry work was done.  Too often I think that chronology has been confined to a ‘tick box’ conception of dates in order, and has not been connected with this sense of framework.  Ian Dawson (at his excellent site) has an interesting article entitled ‘Time for Chronology‘ which introduces the idea that teaching chronology is about teaching understanding of conventions, also a sense of period, and the ability to set chronological frameworks within a "wider overview of history, both chronologically and culturally".

The big question is, I suppose, where does this get us on the ground?  Having just completed a review of our Schemes of Work, I would say that we’re starting to think in themes, within individual studies, and, as a result of this, covering longer periods of history in schemes of work that are starting to resemble enquiry based schemes.  However, what we’ve not yet managed is to play with themes across schemes in the way that Dawson suggests – developing the idea of parliament or representation for instance across the


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