Castles call on white knights

6th July 2007 at 01:00
BUILT ON a bluff, brooding over the river Clyde, Bothwell Castle boasts a long and bloody past, with invasions and sieges, death and intrigue dating back to the 13th century.

Begun in the 1200s, it was intended to be the most beautiful building in Christendom, but then history got in the way and it became one of the most fortified unfinished buildings in Christendom instead.

With past inhabitants such as the Black Douglases and Archibald the Grim, there is plenty here to bring history alive for a rabble of pupils of almost any age. Because of this, and because of its location 30 minutes from Glasgow, Bothwell is one of the most popular Historic Scotland destinations for schools. Yet until recently its educational element has been limited.

With a finite budget and only five education officers, two of whom are allocated to particular castles, Historic Scotland has struggled to develop. But it believes it has found a solution part-time local learning officers recruited from the ranks of part-time, supply or retired teachers.

Calum Price, a former history teacher turned heritage educator, was the first local learning officer to join the government agency. For one day a week he will focus solely on the education provision at Bothwell. "I've been in post since April and have been meeting teachers to discuss what resources they would find useful," he says.

As part of his brief, he will also promote continuing professional development for teachers, so that they can learn about the castle before bringing students, allowing them a degree of independence on their visits. "They won't have to rely on stewards or education officers, and there will be no cost."

Three other properties and one area Melrose Abbey, St Andrews Castle and Cathedral, Arbroath Abbey and Stornoway in Lewis will have learning officers who will work with schools to develop resources and events of their own. They will also be encouraged to adopt activities developed for other properties, such as Attackers and Defenders spawned at Stirling Castle, where children learn how to besiege and defend a castle, then finish by making miniature mangonels, once used to catapult stone shot at castle walls.

"We are working on ways to make it easier for schools to bring pupils to our properties, such as providing schools with hazard information sheets to help with risk assessment," says Sue Mitchell, education manager of Historic Scotland. "Appointing teachers as learning officers is our way of ensuring what we have to offer is suitable and sustainable."

Historic Scotland is determined to find as many ways as possible to engage with schools. The learning officers are one strand. Ms Mitchell and her team have been exploring how to deliver on more than the historical part of the curriculum.

Already some schools are taking their travel and tourism students to Edinburgh Castle to find out how one of the most-visited sites in Scotland is managed and developed. The castle is able to address citizenship through its Prisoners of War exhibition, which covers human rights, crime and punishment, and the media. "For instance, during the War of American Independence, American and Irish prisoners were given fewer rations than others because they were considered traitors. There is lots of opportunity to discuss issues such as this, relating to war and the treatment of others," says Ms Mitchell.

Linlithgow Primary has enter-prise and citizenship covered through its programme of P7 guides for Linlithgow Palace. The pupils are available on request to show other schools around the property, and in the process are developing their local knowledge as well as social and communication skills. Doune Castle and Claypotts Castle primaries have introduced similar programmes.

Historic Scotland is also developing Stanley Mills, a cotton mill in Perthshire where there will be opportunities to study water power, hydro electricity and renewable energy, and the industrial revolution. Another new direction will be the Skills for Work programme that was sampled earlier this year in Historic Scotland's roadshow, held at a series of sites. Pupils were given the opportunity to meet the craftsmen who maintain the properties, and were able try crafts themselves, including masonry, lead work, slating, and bricklaying with hand-made bricks and joinery.

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