Curriculum planning: KS2 history

Part 4 in our series of blogs to help primary school teachers plan a coherent curriculum. As with the previous blogs, it is written with the assumption you are using the English National Curriculum, though it is still really useful if you don’t.

Credit as always goes to the author of these pieces Victoria Morris @MrsSTeaches . Details for how to get Victoria to help your school with curriculum development are available in part 1.

Part 1, on geography KS1 is here.

Part 2, on geography KS2 is here.

Part 3, on history KS1 is here.

Key Stage 2 History

In contrast to KS1, the majority of the areas of study for KS2 are stated explicitly. However, there are some choices that will need to be made before you can decide on the specific content you will teach in each unit, and place them in a logical sequence.

  • Select an ancient civilisation for in depth study (one of Ancient Sumer, the Indus Valley, Ancient Egypt or the Shang Dynasty of Ancient China)
  • Select a contrasting non-European society (one of Early Islamic Civilisation c.AD900, Mayan civilisation c. AD 900, Benin West Africa AD 900 – 1300)
  • Select an aspect of local history (depth study or study of change over time)
  • Select an aspect or theme in British history that extends beyond 1066 (depth study or study of change over time)

If your school is an academy or free school, you have slightly more flexibility, so you could select two examples from one of the lists, omit an objective, select two aspects that are later than 1066, or change the focus of some of the units. If you choose to do this, make sure that you can justify why this is best for your children’s learning.

The following are the factors I would suggest you take into account when making these choices of unit:

World history

  • Your pupils’ backgrounds. This could be either to reflect their countries of origin, for example by selecting Early Islamic Civilisation in a school with a significant proportion of Muslim pupils, or to promote diversity by selecting a contrasting culture.
  • The range of continents and countries represented when you consider the units you have selected as a whole – ensure you provide your children with knowledge of the most diverse range of cultures possible (considered in conjunction with choices in KS1 & in geography too)
  • Links to the geography curriculum. For example, Ancient Egypt would provide opportunities to apply knowledge of rivers and deserts if these had already been studied in geography.
  • The opportunities each study would afford for developing understanding of key concepts. Clare has developed a list of these (for history: civilisation, culture, empire, invasion, monarchy, tyranny, rebellion, oppression, democracy, society, community, taxation, source, evidence, chronology. Some of the geography concepts are also relevant to the study of ancient civilisations: trade, settlement and resources). (Developed from the list originally mentioned in this blog

British history

  • Are any of the useful examples provided in the National Curriculum particularly relevant in your locality?
  • What are the most significant aspects of history in your locality? (places, people, events or changes over time)
  • Are any of the British pre-1066 areas of study particularly significant in your locality? If so, you may decide either that this justifies an additional depth study, or that you will select a contrasting period from post-1066 for the local study.
  • Links to the science curriculum. Did any scientists live in proximity to your school? Were any scientific discoveries made nearby? If so, a study of their life and achievements could be enriching, particularly when combined with a trip to their house or a museum.
  • Are there any major gaps in the units of study you have already selected? The aspect of British history extending beyond 1066 is an opportunity to rectify this.
  • Links to UK geography. What region of the UK have you selected for the depth study and is there a significant aspect of British history linked to this region?
  • Themes that will help children to better understand how daily life has changed over time, and that are relevant to their own lives – houses and homes, school, transport, communication, toys, technology, jobs. Are any of these under-represented in your curriculum?

The introduction to the KS2 National Curriculum for history provides a useful description of what the curriculum should look like as whole, so it’s definitely worth reading closely (even though it’s tempting to go straight to the bullet points to see exactly what you need to teach). This states that teachers should combine overview and depth studies, so it’s important to ensure that you have included both across the key stage. While the examples provided in the National Curriculum are non-statutory, it’s worth considering whether any of these would be suitable for your setting, if only because there are likely to be more resources available for these units.

In order to select a clear focus for each unit, as there are limits on the time available, you could consider the following:

  • Use both the list of key concepts and themes referred to above – which ones were significant in the period of time being studied?
  • Fully exploit local places of interest
  • Look for opportunities to build on knowledge from previous units. For example, if you taught children about farming in Anglo-Saxon Britain, include farming, crops and food in your teaching of Ancient Greek life for comparison.
  • Check the wording of each objective carefully:
Unit Focus specified in NC
Stone Age to Iron Age Changes in Britain (so must involve an overview of the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age in order to compare)
Romans Roman Empire AND its impact on Britain
Anglo-Saxons Settlement in Britain

Separate from the next objective

Anglo-Saxon and Viking struggle for England Invasion

Spans the period from approx. 790AD to 1066

Ancient Civilisations An overview of where and when the first civilisations appeared AND a depth study
Ancient Greece Greek life AND achievements AND influence on the western world



There are two different ways you could choose to sequence the units you have selected:

  1. Chronological sequencing starting with the earliest period of time in Year 3.

Advantages – could help children develop a good understanding of chronology, which is one of the aims specified in the National Curriculum.

Disadvantages – the youngest children study the periods that are furthest in the past, with the least concrete evidence available, making them the most difficult to imagine.

  • where there are links with geography and science, sticking rigidly to chronological sequencing in history can result in less than ideal sequencing in other subjects, or useful links being lost (since science units are year group specific).
  1. Place units of study in particular year groups based on cross-curricular links and the complexity of concepts taught within them.

Advantages – maximising opportunities for building on prior knowledge and integrating new knowledge into larger concepts.

Disadvantages – more difficult to develop secure chronological understanding, so the ways in which you will do this will need to be planned for. For example, you could create a school timeline including all the periods of time that are studied, start units by identifying how they relate to previous ones, and provide opportunities for children to practise ordering key people and events from all the periods they have studied so far.

Earliest suggested year group units should be included in, so that knowledge is built cumulatively (this is not essential, just how I would ideally do it):

Year group When unit could first be included:
Year 4 Achievements of ancient civilisations (after the water cycle and rivers as all of these civilisations were built around rivers)

Romans (before volcanoes so that children better understand example of Pompeii; after overview of ancient civilisations)

Year 5 Ancient Greece (after science on forces, earth and space; complex concepts more suited to UKS2; builds on Romans even though it was earlier)
Year 6 Stone Age to Iron Age (alongside or after evolution and inheritance in science so that children have a good grasp on the lengths of time involved when studying prehistory; after the Romans as Roman invasion was end of prehistory)


Additional things to take into account when sequencing:

  • If possible, it would be useful for the units on the Anglo Saxons and the Vikings to come after the Romans so that these three are in chronological order. This way, children would be following the story of Britain before 1066 from beginning to end. However, these units could be placed before the Romans if necessary.
  • Depending on your choice of local study and post-1066 British history units, these may be best placed in Year 3, where they can build on knowledge of the more recent past that children began to develop in KS1.
  • If you selected early Islamic civilisation, it will be important to sequence this after children have learnt the basics of Islam in RE, and in particular about the life of Mohammed.
  • Links to geography. For example, trade, settlements and natural resources are key geographical concepts that are particularly relevant to the study of ancient civilisations. Will you sequence these units before or after children learn about these aspects of human and physical geography?

Unit Checklist

Does the unit include:

  • A geography lesson to orientate children to the place before learning about its history?
  • Opportunities for children to identify connections, contrasts and trends over time? For example, recognising that historically people have settled near water.
  • Historical enquiry questions? For example, ‘Why was the second Roman invasion of Britain more successful than the first?’
  • Opportunities for children to revisit and build on prior learning? For example, if studying the Stone Age to Iron Age after the Romans, children should revisit what they know about the Roman invasion of Britain when they learn that this event marked the end of prehistoric Britain.
  • Opportunities for children to develop secure chronological understanding? For example, regularly ordering people or events from all the periods of time they have studied so far.
  • Links to other subjects, particularly geography, science and RE, where these links enhance children’s learning. For example, children could learn about ancient Greek discoveries relating to the earth and space, such as Aristotle proposing that the Earth was a sphere and the proposal of the heliocentric model of the universe, if they have already covered this in science when learning about ancient Greece.



Curriculum planning: KS2 history