A Better Secondary School History Curriculum

There are three years of compulsory history in secondary school. That’s just nine terms. If history at primary school is about awakening the love of learning, and more advanced study is about in-depth study and the development of historiographical skills, the best way of using these three years is by ensuring that everyone who goes through them as a broad overview of the sweep of human history and how different historical events and their legacy contribute to making the world in which we live today.

There will be some who say that studying history should be about studying certain topics in depth. By all means do that with those who’ve chosen to study it in more depth, at GCSE, A-Level and beyond. But as someone who stopped history after Year 9, two of my nine terms were spent studying the French Revolution. An important part of history, certainly, and very interesting I found it at the time, but if I’d not been the sort of person to be reading outside school, how much use would this in-depth study of an arbitrary period been? That’s not to mention the amount of time spent in school on the Tudors and Stewarts and on the Second World War. It’s crazy that I could finish my formal study of history literally without even hearing the words Byazantium, Islam, British Empire or Cold War in a history class.

So below is my history syllabus for Years 7 – 9. he traditional topics aren’t excluded, but they’ve been cut down and other things added in their place. Its centre point is British and then European history – I believe it’s important for people in any country to study the history of the country and region in which they’re situated – but puts this in a global perspective, as well as highlights some of the key developments in the history of today’s major nations and the world as a whole. Most importantly, rather than isolated snippets, it attempts to convey a sense of the overall development of human history.


Year Seven – Ancient and British History

Term 1: Ancient Civilisations

  • First half term: an overview of the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Persians and Chinese
  • Second half term: in-depth study of one of Ancient Rome, Ancient Greece, Ancient China

Term 2: British History: The Dark Ages and the Mediaeval period

  • Romans, Saxons and Vikings
  • The Norman conquest and Norman England
  • The stirrings of democracy: Magna Carta, The Peasant’s Revolt and the Black Death
  • The Hundred Years War
  • The Wars of the Roses

Term 3: British History: Tudors and Stuarts

  • The Tudors (including Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, the English Reformation)
  • The Stuarts
  • The English Civil War, Cromwell and Parliamentary Democracy


Year Eight – From the Ancient World to the Modern Age

 Term 1: The World After Rome

  • The Byzantine Empire
  • The Rise of Islam
  • The founding of the Holy Roman Empire

Term 2: Religion and Nationhood

  • The Reformation, the European Wars of Religion and the Treaty of Westphalia
  • The Ottoman and Mughal Empires
  • Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite: The Enlightenment, The American and French Revolutions and the Napoleonic Wars

Term 3: The Age of Discovery

  • The great voyages – Columbus, Magellan, Vasco de Gama, Cabot
  • The colonisation of the Americas
  • The growth of global trade – focusing on the Portuguese and Dutch trading empires and the early years of the East India company.
  • The slave trade and abolition


Year Nine – Modern History

 Term 1: Industrial Revolution

  • The agricultural revolution
  • The industrial revolution and its impact on society
  • Political reform: the 1867 Reform Act, the rise of the trade unions and women’s suffrage

Term 2: Empire

  • The British in India
  • The Scramble for Africa
  • The Latin American wars of independence
  • The Opium Wars, the Boxer Rebellion and the Meiji restoration

Term 3: 20th Century History

  • The First World War
  • The Second World War
  • The Cold War (focusing on the USA, USSR and China)
  • The end of history? The fall of the Berlin Wall, Deng Xiaoping’s reforms and 9/11.

What do you think? What would you include?