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Eschew the overview

Key stage 3 espouses overview history, but with manipulation it can focus in depth. John Fines explains.

Although studies in depth are occasionally recommended in key stage 3 history, the document more typically relies on an "outline" format. Outlines tend to generate broad conceptual explanations which have two problems, one for the children, one for history. Generalised concepts are hard to understand, and they usually represent outmoded types of historical explanation. Real history is about finding your own ideas and explanations for yourself, and this may best be done in studies in depth. Thus key stage 3 will need some manipulation.

In terms of time, I would see no problem in doing two units a year, although I would not give equal status to each unit. There is no problem in teaching the British units in sequence, but we should note that units 5 and 6 ("An era or turning point in European history before 1914" and "A past non-European society") can come any place. The stress on local history is worth observing, as is the commitment to some Scottish, Welsh and Irish history.

The key elements contain unexceptional advice on the kind of teaching required - history is not just the story of dead, white Englishmen; children need to use a full range of sources; they also need to elaborate their own questions and to be given sufficient time to compile and present their answers.

So what might the programme be? I would start with unit 6, and I would do indigenous people of North America. When we did this at Midhurst Intermediate School with Year 7 pupils it was just right - lots of stories, lots of problems to think about, lots of issues that required looking at from two different points of view.

I would go on to unit 1, Medieval Realms, and here I would slip in the local history, with a study of an entry in Domesday Book for the locality. Again, when we did this we found the children not just studying documents but also environments, because we went to see the village we were learning about.

Also here I would do something on Wales - Gerald of Wales would make a good topic, or Owain Glyn Dwr. I would do a site visit - a castle perhaps, and study Crusades, Magna Carta and the Black Death. Quite enough and almost too much.

Then on to unit 2 where I would do the Reformation (visit a cathedral or parish church) the Civil War (we are just doing this through the eyes of the Verney family and the children are going great guns), the Jacobites (lots of materials in this anniversary year, and it is undeniably Scottish), 17th-century women (all from Antonia Fraser's best book) and Plague and Fire if there is time.

Next unit 3. I would do the slave trade and steam power - two knock-out subjects. But then I would pause and do unit 5 - the French Revolution. We did it using a simulation which worked wonderfully well. Then back to Britain to look at Chartists, Ireland and votes for women.

This, I guess would spill over into Year 9, but leave a good amount of time for an intensive study of unit 4. We did some splendid work on women at war and not a peep from any boy. We had a superb visit to the Imperial War Museum (the fact that they were choosing options for GCSE would of course have been close to the front of our thinking).

Finally, I would do studies of the founding of the Welfare State and of the United Nations, and why these went wrong. History must be seen as fully relevant to the present day.

o Most of the suggestions listed above have been taught and resourced by the Nuffield Primary History Project. If you are interested in getting details at a small charge, please write to Marion Turner, Nuffield Primary History Project, The Shrubbery, Upper Bognor Road, Bognor Regis, West Sussex, PO21 1HR.

John Fines is president of the Historical Association and co-director of the Nuffield Primary History Project which is due to begin publication next year. This article is the abstract of a lecture given at the Birmingham Education Show.

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