Chris Taylor looks at how children can acquire a sense of their area's past
How can we help primary school teachers with local history when each has a different locality to study? Let's see how well this latest pack in the popular Longman Sense of History series measures up against some simple criteria:Does it give general advice, with examples, about how to put together a well-structured local investigation?
u Does it indicate the range of sources available for local history, and tell people how to get hold of them?
u Does it provide some ideas for practical activities, showing how they can be transferred and made to work, whatever the period or the region?
The eight colour posters in the pack have been produced to a high standard and should prove sufficiently robust. The teacher's guide describes each one interestingly, and suggests useful things to point out and discuss with the children. My favourites show the interior of a farm kitchen in 1834, and a view of late 18th-century Newcastle. You could squeeze these for ideas almost indefinitely, and not just when you're doing local history.
Next, the 24 A4-size colour picture cards present examples of commonplace sources, which should encourage teachers to find and use others from their own districts. They cover a wide range of periods and types, from an aerial view of Maiden Castle to a mural commemorating the closure of the colliery at South Hetton in 1983. I wish the descriptions of each were on the reverse side of the cards, but you can find them in the teacher's guide. You'll also discover quite a handy chart showing the main types of resources for local history and where you might find them.
Of less practical use is the county-by-county Directory of Local History Resources. If you live in the place, you'll know these addresses already; and there are serious omissions for those inquiring from further afield.
There are lots of suggestions in these materials for activities to give your pupils. Some are listed under various headings in the teacher's guide; some are in the form of photocopiable worksheets; and others appear in the four pupils' books, which describe and illustrate an interesting variety of people, places, events and historic sites from around the country. Many of the activities are good starting points for investigations, and you could use them very successfully at key stage 1. But most are a bit too simple and unambitious for older primary pupils, especially the more able ones. Others, particularly those in the pupils' books, although addressed to the children, actually suggest the kind of thing that teachers are much more likely to do on their behalf.
I think most teachers can afford to skip the general advice given in section one of the teacher's guide. It offers very little on the content, key elements and assessment of national curriculum history that hasn't been written many times before. The five examples it gives of local history projects from different schools are described very briefly, and they don't really amount to anything equivalent in scope and demand to other history study units. Above all, what's missing is any idea of how activities, reflecting the full range of national curriculum key elements, might be put in sequence to create a varied, well-structured and substantial local history study.
You'll find plenty of promising source material in this pack for national as well as local history, and you'll get a good feel for the range of information likely to be available for studying your locality. But many schools will regard pound;105, plus VAT, for the full set rather a high price to pay.
Chris Taylor is county adviser for humanities, Devon