The concept of ‘powerful knowledge’ has become extremely influential in discussions about curriculum in England over the last ten years. However, the concept seems to have done little to revolutionise curriculum design, and in some cases it has led to curricular narrowing and a focus on an increasingly nationalistic narrative in history. Michael Young (2019, 2021) has argued that the failure of the concept of ‘powerful knowledge’ to underpin meaningful curriculum reforms has been mainly due to its misinterpretation and loose definition. This paper explores these claims and finds that key voices in education in England, and history education specifically, have misunderstood and misapplied the concept of powerful knowledge. However, it also makes the case that powerful knowledge cannot be meaningfully defined in terms of history education, and that attempts to make curricular decisions based on the concept are therefore a distraction from more meaningful curricular work.