A cautious redraft for the borders of history

21st February 1997 at 00:00
There was no chance of Chris Whatley and his colleagues lighting the fiery torch. Their report on the place of Scottish history in schools was always going to carry the trademark of its sponsor, the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum. So it lacks the passion which often accompanies demands for more about Bruce's spider and less about Henry VIII's wives. It is also careful not to stray too far into disputed territory: if history teachers received backing for their complaint about lack of time, where would that leave school timetables that are generally constructed along SCCC guidelines?

Balance is the trademark both of the council and of the Scottish history report. Children need to know more of their heritage but not at the expense of ditching everything furth of Scotland. Most teachers will agree that the report strikes the right note. Especially at primary level, that is as much a pedagogical conclusion as a political one. Children learn first from their immediate environment. In the case of history it is around them. There are monuments to the Industrial Revolution within a few miles of many pupils. These must mean more than pictures of, say, Ironbridge. The story has to tell of changes across Britain but can be rooted in local experience.

The case for setting history within a familiar setting is well made. But it raises problems, among them the lack of confidence many teachers feel about Scottish history. The parallel is with Scottish writing: a legacy of neglect has meant that teachers may be better grounded in Tudor England and Thomas Hardy than the pre-1603 Stuarts and Grassic Gibbon. So the report is right to call for more in-service opportunities, along with a perception of history which extends beyond a handful of well-worn themes like the Jacobites.

Materials have improved. Many of the best entries in the annual TES ScotlandSaltire Society books competition are for 5-14 or Standard grade history. But even armed with attractive books incorporating up-to-date research, one wonders how many teachers are equipped to provide the "map of the past" which the SCCC review group wants imprinted in children's minds.

Time as well as place are important, not just time in the school day but in an appreciation of where events appear in the map of times past. The films Braveheart and Rob Roy are talismans for the revived interest in Scottish history, but pupils should understand not only the Wars of Independence and the Jacobite period but also that 400 years separate them and that, for example, the Reformation came halfway between. It is a tall order, with too little teaching time to fulfil it.

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