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Probes into our personal past

A SENSE OF HISTORY :PEOPLE IN THE PAST, P1-P3 By Sallie Purkis with Gail Copland Longman Pounds 2.99 each

SAINTS OF SCOTLAND By Aileen Dunlop Scottie BooksHMSO Pounds 4.50 each

Schools all over Scotland should release some of their ever-decreasing budget on Longman's splendid resource. Then the publisher, which has taken a gamble on providing for Scotland's "niche" market, will be happy and other such quality resources will be regarded as viable.

This resource talks to Scottish teachers about Scottish education's programmes of study and attainment targets. Sallie Purkis clearly addresses the principles which underpin teaching and learning in the 5-14 guidelines. The Teachers' Guide addresses well the fact that primary staff are not history specialists. The format remains thematic and proposes to build on current practice with the addition of some clear adaptations.

In the main, these cover the need to help pupils develop a mental map of time, to learn the vocabulary specific to history, to look for detail in the detective story of piecing the past together, and to be able to come to a fuller understanding of abstract ideas. An important element of the series is the use of timelines right from the infant years. Having seen P2 and P3 working on several of the topics, it appears to work. Some sophisticated ideas are being expounded in discussion in class.

Fifteen short books, on subjects as diverse as Grandparents in Scotland, Castles, Playground Games, Working Horses and Lights and Candles, become progressively more complex but remain within the scope of most pupils at Level A. The use of excellent photographs to illustrate the short pieces of text encourages pupils to look for detail and extract information from them. This notion of "reading pictures" is reinforced by the A2 colour pictures chosen from the texts for detailed discussion. Clear guidance on questions to elicit historical understanding are given in the teacher's resource book.

Great emphasis is laid on showing relative age of people, places and objects in a variety of historical contexts. Homes shows today, 100 years ago, and ancient times. The photographs provide clear markers for the pupils to advance in knowledge and understanding in future work. This is building sure foundations.

The advice on assessment and recording is disappointingly vague in an otherwise first-class resource that ensures "People in the Past" in environmental studies can remain firmly fixed in thematic studies but with a clear focus on developing historical skills and understanding.

Another welcome addition to the ranks of Scots history books is the delightful series of Scottie Books. The latest title, Saints of Scotland, by Aileen Dunlop, explores this little-known area of Scottish religious history. How many can you name? Like others in the series it is brightly illustrated. Many of the illustrations benefit from detailed scrutiny to extract further facts and also to appreciate some humorous touches.

The use of a "saints timeline" is good and helps to show clearly the great activity in the Scots church in the 6th, 7th and 8th century. Many of the individual stories will be interesting to children - St Columba meeting sea monsters, St Moluag cutting off his finger in a temper. The density of information would suggest older juniors and senior pupils will learn most from this volume. There is some use of subject specific vocabulary that will be outwith their experience.

As a reference book this slim volume would earn its keep. If publishers continue to produce themes from Scottish history then it would not be inappropriate at Primary 5 or 6 as a text book to add to a topic on the early Christian Church.

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