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What Are All The Different Types Of Knowledge? (part 2)

In the first part of this blog series, we looked at several terms used in Ofsted's subject reviews - terms which have been used elsewhere in relation to curriculum development and teaching. In part two of this series, we will look at some further types of knowledge referenced in Ofsted's documentation.

Several of OfSTED's reviews refer to core knowledge; here I've paired that with its natural partner, hinterland knowledge, and a term which refers to both:

Core Knowledge

Core knowledge cannot be properly defined other than by saying it is the knowledge which has been chosen as the focus of a curriculum, scheme of work or lesson. The writers of the OfSTED History review explain this well: "Content that is prioritised is often referred to as ‘core knowledge’. Core knowledge is the knowledge that, within a particular lesson or topic, curriculum designers and teachers deem most important for pupils to secure in their long-term memory. No particular content is innately or always ‘core’. ‘Core’ is merely a status conferred on content by curriculum designers and teachers."

Any type of knowledge can be core knowledge - its core-ness is defined by the fact it has been chosen to be taught.

Hinterland Knowledge (see also Background or Contextual)

OfSTED's History review defines this as the "contextual or background material" which is necessary "in order to make sense of, and learn, core knowledge", as it continues to reference the work of Christine Counsell. It goes on to show how hinterland knowledge, such as historical examples, can help children to understand complex and abstract ideas which have been selected as core knowledge.

Most of the time, hinterland knowledge will be used as means of ensuring that core knowledge is understood - it may be the case that pupils don't remember all of the hinterland knowledge in the long term, but will have needed it in order to learn the core knowledge initially. To fully understand this term, head over to Christine Counsell's blog post 'Senior Curriculum Leadership 1: The indirect manifestation of knowledge: (A) curriculum as narrative' where she explains it using lots of great examples.

Component Knowledge

Component knowledge is a term used simply to mean "individual pieces of knowledge" (from OfSTED's Geography review). Pieces of substantive knowledge are pieces of component knowledge, as are pieces of disciplinary, procedural, declarative, core, and hinterland knowledge, and so on.

Tacit Knowledge

As well as using the terms procedural and declarative knowledge, Ofsted's Music review introduces another term, which is not found in any of the other reviews:

"Tacit knowledge refers to the knowledge gained through experience that is often difficult to put into words."

From OfSTED's Research Review Series: Music (

In their 1993 book ‘Surpassing Ourselves’, Bereiter and Scardamalia outline three categories of knowledge which come under the banner of the ‘hidden knowledge of experts’, all of which tie in with this idea of 'tacit' knowledge:

Informal Knowledge

In the Ambition School Leadership article 'The Hidden Knowledge of Experts', which focuses on school leaders as experts, this kind of knowledge is defined as "Informal knowledge [which] can be thought of as ‘expert common sense’ – the type of knowledge that those with high levels of expertise often take for granted and may find hard to identify or explain."

We often ask children to explain how they know something, to which we get the response, complete with a shrug, 'I don't know, I just know it'. They have perhaps learned something informally, internalised it, and are struggling to verbalise what they know or how they know it. This can often be the case with children working at greater depth in a particular subject.

Impressionistic Knowledge

The article goes on to describe impressionistic knowledge as "the feelings associated with knowledge that allow us to form opinions or impressions of people and things."

It's not unusual for teachers to expect (sometimes very young) children to give an opionion or impression of something - the KS2 reading test requires this - what we have to know and remember is that this could be seen as a kind of knowledge and is something that might come easily to an expert, but not to one whose knowledge base is incomplete - we form opinions and impressions based on what we know.

Self-regulatory Knowledge

The writer of the Ambition School Leadership article describes self-regulatory knowledge as “not knowing how to do the job but knowing how to manage yourself to do the job that way.”

There are links to procedural knowledge here, but this kind of knowledge goes beyond carrying out a specific procedure that has been learned to become a metacognitive, problem-solving process: a child displaying self-regulatory knowledge might not know how to do something but uses their knowledge base to work it out, employing their powers or resilience and perseverance as they do.

These three types of knowledge, which can all be hidden in an expert, are examples of tacit knowledge which is "gained through experience that is often difficult to put into words."

Conditional Knowledge

OfSTED's maths review also introduces some other new language which isn't used in any of the other reviews:

"Conditional knowledge gives pupils the ability to reason and solve problems. Useful combinations of declarative and procedural knowledge are transformed into strategies when pupils learn to match the problem types that they can be used for. All content in this category can be prefaced by the sentence stem ‘I know when’."

Conditional knowledge could be seen as similar to self-regulatory knowledge in that it goes beyond procedural knowledge and is concerned with knowing and employing strategies where there is missing information (such as information about how to do something).

From OfSTED's Research Review Series: Mathematics (

In the next part of this blog series we will look at other types of knowledge that are used regularly in discourse around curriculum and that are found in Ofsted's subject reviews.

If you would like Aidan to work with you on the development and delivery of your curriculum in your school, academy, trust or local authority, you can get in touch via or using the contact details on this page.

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