Civil questions

5th September 2003 at 01:00
Neil DeMarco takes a look at a pack on the times of Charles I and Cromwell

ENGLISH CIVIL WARS PACK. Royal Armouries pound;15. Tel: 0113 220 1888.

The English Civil Wars pack from the Royal Armouries comes in two parts. Part One consists of activities for key stage 3 pupils to do while visiting the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds. They are intended to complement the stand-alone activities in Part Two which make up the bulk of the material. Part Two consists of 133 photocopiable pages on glossy card of information sheets, teacher notes and pupil activities.

The teacher information sheets provide plenty of ideas on how to use the material and suggestions for cross-curricular study. For example, the information from the Leeds Parish Register on deaths during the Civil War readily lends itself to ICT and maths with the construction of graphs to represent the deaths of soldiers in proportion to other inhabitants.

The tasks related to the study of portraits are generally sound and are worth persevering with because of the insight they afford into 17thcentury spin and propaganda. I baulked at the invitation to draw King Charles based on a verbal description of a fellow pupil - a hopeless task if, like me, your artistic skills have never progressed beyond stick men. However, the activity on giving Charles a "makeover" is lively and pupils should enjoy doing it. Giving members of royalty a makeover also has a contemporary resonance, especially if they are called Charles and have similar communication problems and suffer from a lack of charisma.

"A Gentleman's War?" is an effective empathy exercise based on the likely responses of eight contemporary members of the gentry and aristocracy to key issues of Charles's reign up to 1640. It encourages pupils to develop an empathetic understanding, based on evidence such as religious changes, extra-parliamentary taxation and the war with the Scots. What makes the activity work is that it is firmly grounded in historical evidence and avoids the need to resort to imaginative guesswork.

The use of primary and secondary sources with minimal or no glossing will create problems for even the most able. The language level of the pupil material is generally appropriate but there are lapses. For example, what are pupils to make of the reference to Cromwell's justification for the act of regicide, that he believed "God had called him to exact righteous judgment"?

On a practical note, it would have been helpful if the cards had been available in a ring-binder - it is very easy to get them out of sequence.

None the less, at pound;15 for the pack this is good value for money, even if only a small proportion of the activities are used.

Neil DeMarco is head of history at a school in Buckinghamshire

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