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Primary years retain rich diet

It is a relief to find that history has not been marginalised in the primary years. History in the primary school has been one of the national curriculum success stories: in a curriculum that might be considered utilitarian, history offers the primary child a rich diet embracing story, the skill of close observation, role play founded in historical reality and a welcome encouragement to curiosity.

There has clearly been some reduction in content but this is a complex area. The focus of the units is, potentially, still very broad and could give rise to superficial understanding and unimaginative teaching. The pivot to effective control of the units is use of the key elements.

These will have to be carefully considered to see how they can be covered throughout each key stage, even if it is not a requirement to include all aspects within all study units. The reduction in study units might lead to a "two-part gap": long periods in the primary room when no history is studied, and to six separate units viewed discretely. The key elements will need to provide the glue to bring both "chronology" and "range and depth" to historical study.

The old three-attainment target structure was a helpful way of supporting heavily burdened and largely non-specialist teachers in planning activities which reflected genuine historical thinking. The role of key elements in providing teachers with this support and guidance will need to be constantly stated and explored.

A further major issue is explaining the status of the new level descriptions. We have seen the old 10-level scale used - however imperfectly - for the planning of historical activities. The new level descriptions have a much more limited role centred on reporting in Years 2 and 6. To accord level descriptions too great a prominence would subvert the thrust of the new, reformed curriculum.

We recognise that history in the primary years is, arguably, more dependent on language and language development than other subjects because the past can only be interpreted and understood through language. In the primary years this will need to be an essential element in any in-service provision.

o The Historical Association's first primary conference since the new Order will take place on May 20, 1995, in Preston. For further details contact the association secretary, Historical Association, 59A Kennington Park Road, London SE11 4JH Roy Hughes is chair of the HA primary subcommittee and headteacher of St Paul's (New Windsor) primary school, Salford

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