Historical Concepts and Skills

To conduct meaningful historical enquiries pupils need to develop skills in the use of the following concepts.

Context and chronology

Developing an understanding of the context and chronology of events involves:

  • Considering the order in which things happened, using dates, vocabulary and chronological conventions.
  • Building up an historical overview or framework of periods and themes.
  • Developing ‘a sense of period’ through characteristic features and perspectives.
  • Placing events in their broader historical context.
  • Understanding that contexts can provide preconditions, triggers or catalysts that shape and influence, for example, when an event or outcome occurred, where it occurred and the manner in which it occurred.

Change and continuity

We evaluate change (the ideas of progress, regression / decline or continuity) by comparing points in the past with the present, or between two points in the past. Analysing and explaining the reasons for change and continuity /stability / stagnation over time involves considering:

  • the types/ diversity of change, e.g. political, economic, social; cultural, religious, technological.
  • the speed/rate of change, e.g. rapid, gradual, erratic, violent.
  • the extent, variations/ patterns of change e.g. localised, widespread, affecting certain groups more than others, in one area of life rather than many.
  • the duration of change, e.g. long-term, short-lived change.
  • key moments / key individuals and turning points that triggered change, e.g. economic events might ‘trigger’ or ‘precipitate’ change, an individual may ‘influence’ or ‘motivate’ change.
  • whether change involves progress, regression, evolution or leads to little real change (continuity).
  • the level of change and its significance, e.g. what made the most difference.
  • how people experienced, promoted, shaped or resisted change.

Cause and consequence

Analysing the causes and consequences of change requires thinking about why change did or did not happen and the relationship to the outcomes or results. For example:

  • the range of factors which combined to bring about change at any given time.
  • significant turning points, events or developments.
  • the relative significance or importance of different factors.
  • whether some events or developments were more important than others.
  • deciding how, and how far, this relationship helped to enable or determine an outcome.

The role of individuals / historical perspective / empathy

Analysing the historical perspective and role that individuals played in events involves understanding

  • context – the social, cultural, intellectual, and emotional settings that shaped people’s lives and actions
  • individual hopes, intentions, beliefs, motives and decisions which shaped their actions
  • intended and unintended consequences – outcomes that were desired or not wanted or anticipated
  • diverse perspectives, interpretation and explanations of the actions and how these interpretations are affected by hindsight
  • empathetic judgements about the person and their actions in the context of the period
  • ethical judgments clearly based on hindsight and the values and ethical issues of today


What are the event(s) and time period you are investigating?
(What did they do?)
(How did others respond to these actions and why?)
(What were the values, expectations and behaviour of the period?)
Motivation & Empathy
(Why did they act the way they did?)
(How is our analysis informed by today’s values?)

Asking probing questions

Developing historical knowledge, understanding and skills requires the ability to ask relevant and increasingly probing questions in order to make informed and reasoned judgements to;

  • identify and analyse similarities and differences between different periods of history.
  • describe characteristic features of past societies.
  • identify change and continuity within and across different periods of history.
  • recognise and describe the nature and extent of diversity, change and continuity in past societies.
  • reach conclusions about the extent and nature of diversity, change and continuity in a range of contexts.
  • construct coherent, supported, and wide-ranging arguments about causes and consequences and the diversity of change and continuity.


Progression in thinking historically moves through the following broad stages of being able to:

  • Identify and describe historical events, situations and changes.
  • Analyse causes and consequences.
  • Explain – make links between causes and consequences.
  • Assess and evaluate relative importance and significance at the time, and subsequently.