A date with the past

14th March 1997 at 00:00
With the debate about Scottish history in the curriculum still rife, Allison Hillis and Jim McGonigle look at some books that offer teachers a lifeline

A SENSE OF HITORY:SCOTLAND

ANCIENT SCOTLAND; THE WARS OF INDEPENDENCE; HIGHLAND CLEARANCES; EMIGRATION from Scotland; Teachers' guide; 12 posters and 12 timelines By Sallie Purkis, with contributions from James Mason, Dorothy Morrison and Douglas Lawson Evaluation pack Pounds 55+VAT on posters and timelines; Addison Wesley, Longman (schools division)

UNDERSTANDING PEOPLE IN THE PAST

SETTLERS OF SCOTLAND By Elizabeth Curtis and Kim Davidson, Pounds 4.99 VICTORIAN SCOTLAND By Sydney Wood, Pounds 4.99 Wallcharts: First Settlers to Medieval Times; Early Modern Times; Later MODERN TIMES By Sydney Wood, Pounds 9.50, Hodder Stoughton The teaching of Scottish history in primary and secondary schools has received unprecedented comment in recent months, much of which has ignored the amount and quality of history teaching.

The debate culminated in the publication, by the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum, of a discussion paper on Scottish history and the related draft framework in the 5-14 curriculum.

The SCCC called for commercially published materials to be revised or adapted for use within the 5-14 curriculum, and in this context A Sense of History and the latest publications in the series Understanding People in the Past are very welcome contributions for the primary sector.

A Sense of History (for Primary 4-7) has four pupil books containing historical sources such as photographs of historic sites, maps, paintings, statues and written evidence. The evaluation pack also contains a teacher's guide, 12 posters and 12 timelines. All of these are of very high quality and support the recommendations in the People in the Past strand of environmental studies 5-14.

The pupil books cover topics such as the Romans, knights and castles, and the Clearances - confirming the publisher's statement that they were chosen "after extensive consultation with Scottish teachers and advisers".

The books are well presented and use clear photographic evidence to illustrate points. Three key pictures from each book are reproduced as posters for classroom display. These bring into the classroom visual resources from museums and sites in Scotland that you may not be able to visit with your class. While nothing can replace a field study to a local site such as Stirling Castle, in the rather "dry" classroom atmosphere children are more responsive to visual stimulus.

For senior management teams implementing a format of record keepingassessment, the teacher's guide is helpful and has masters to assist with planning.

The guide also provides a short summary of each book, including teaching points, cross-curricular key features, activities, worksheets and a list of further resources.

In the Understanding People in the Past series, each book claims to address the key features of the Scottish 5-14 curriculum in history - a somewhat over-ambitious aim. Despite a number of weak points, they would be worth considering for the school library.

The books contain a range of sources of historical evidence, including photos, and paintings. Most of the photos are of Scottish origin. Victorian Scotland has photos of workers in a Dundee jute mill and tenements being built behind an old house in Gorbals Street. The old house mentioned was actually a liquor vault. The old houses were much worse.

Victorian Scotland (best suited to P7, S1 and S2) explains why the Victorian period is important in Scottish history. Sections focus on Queen Victoria's Scotland (pointing out that she did not know the real Scotland), the lives of people at home, work and leisure. Closing chapters raise issues such as equality for women, and why the church split.

The period covered by Settlers of Scotland is very extensive. Unless it is being referred to for a specific classroom topic, the book requires to be used selectively. However, an understanding of time and sequence can be developed by choosing a specific period such as Roman times, and looking at preceding and succeeding chapters. There are some wonderful photographs of Skara Brae and the Callanish stone circle.

The accompanying posters are A1-size wallcharts. They are well illustrated with a timeline, but the choice of key dates, historical figures and periods is somewhat confusing. Too much information has been selected. Later Modern Times, in particular, would have been easier to understand if a specific topic such as travel or industry had been followed through.

Allison Hillis teaches at Dalreoch Primary School, Dumbarton

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