Delving into the past
Breadth and depth have been the two pillars of national curriculum history since the publication of the earliest drafts. The problem for the history teacher has been how to strike the balance. The new programme of study and the illustrative units produced by the QCA provide a clear steer towards depth. For example, the "much reduced" content of the key stage 3 unit "Britain 1066-1500" requires only that pupils study the monarchy and "characteristic features of the lives of people".
Heinemann's new History Scheme is a response to national changes and the result is a very different kind of history text from what we have become accustomed to. In Life in Medieval Times there are just four core sections - on the monarchy, life in town and country, the Church and the age of Elizabeth - preceded by an introductory skills-based unit and followed by one on the Islamic states 600-1600, which could support the world study before 1900. The unit on the medieval Church, amply illustrated by written and visual sources, explores the life of the secular clergy and the monastic communities and the beliefs which shaped people's lives. There is detailed coverage of pilgrimage, including the legacy of Chaucer and of the Jews in Britain from the Norman Conquest to their expulsion following Edward 1's law in 1290.
The companion title, The Early Modern World, offers substantial support for no less than four study units - Britain 1500-1750, Britain 1750-1900, the European study before 1914 (The French Revolution) and the world study before 1900 (Mughal India).
In-depth study opportunities abound through focused enquiries on such topics as industrialisation in Bradford, the rise of the middle classes in Bath and the causes of the Terror in France following the revolution. Sufficient information is provided to support a comparative study of Cromwell and Robespierre and, in the context of India, the use of propaganda by the British to support the position of the East India Company.
Throughout both titles there is effective use of chronological diagrams and fact files to summarise and explain the causes of key events. Questions reflect the needs of a wide ability range.
This new series is a textbook of substance. Departments should see the comparatively high cost as a long-term investment in view of the coverage offered.
John Murray's fully revised titles from the Schools History Project stable are both Foundation texts and this is reflected in the large visuals, cartoons and overall layout. The beginnings of chapters are particularly effective, with key questions and ideas communicated with exceptional clarity. Religious change in the 16th-century is illustrated by the changes at Melford church between 1548 and 1562 and the need for parliamentary reform by an engraving of sea-eroded Dunwich.
Within the chapters the interplay of text and illustration guides the pupil to the question, which may be a source analysis or an assessment of an important figure. Pupils will like the 10 foul facts on Victorian towns and teachers will welcome the high level of support for written work through vocabulary banks and writing frames such as the one provided for an assessment of Elizabeth 1.
The same publisher's Lost in Time is an innovative approach to teaching change and is intended to provide a Year 7 overview of the period covered by the KS3 programme.
Pupils will need a degree of sophistication in understanding the significance of the representative figures of different periods - Sir Geoffrey Luttrell, Samuel Pepys and Flora Thompson - and in applying the long-term chronology that is required in most of the activities.
Questions about religious change and the move to the towns are more focused than some of the material in the first part of the book and could be useful for revision and consolidation in Year 9. This is a title that could be drawn on for specific purposes rather than used in its published form.
Nelson Thorne's Quest series offers an alternative to traditional textbooks by offering a straightforward narrative of the period supported by a continuous timeline and two observer characters who pose key questions with pupil activities contained in a separate guide.
It would be difficult to improve on the crystal clarity of the text and the large scale format and detailed contents page provide a very high level of pupil support in a mixed ability classroom.
The lack of written sources in the main text is certainly unusual. The publisher's encouragement of pupils to develop a portfolio of their work is laudable, but the reality is that the success of this approach rests on the teacher's ability to manage large quantities of worksheets, however well differentiated.
Mark Williamson Mark Williamson is general adviser for humanities and religious education in the London Borough of Hounslow