Experience before content
John D Clare's Options in History series makes welcome strides in key stage 3 history teaching. The educational experience of the child is back at the centre of things and not the demands of the national curriculum.
The first, The Twentieth Century, is a detailed programme with a teacher's book which is far more than a collection of worksheets. It provides a rationale for the whole course and a brief discussion of the nature of history teaching which would be useful Inset material for new or experienced teachers.
Each lesson begins with a starter exercise, usually based on group or class discussion of a fundamental issue, but presented in an immediate and contemporary way which should be accessible to all.
Reliability of the reports of the Amritsar Massacre is approached by discussion of how a pupil might prepare their parents for a letter home about being caught smoking. Suggestions from the class can then be categorised to introduce skills in handling evidence, such as noticing whether other people are being blamed, whether significant facts are being left out and so on. This approach can build confidence because pupils have something to contribute from the start and are not just passive recipients.
The pupil's book aims to provide sufficient material to make sense of each issue and deliberately does not attempt to give broad chronological outlines where they can be avoided. Britain in the Thirties is dealt with through a poem, the Battle of Cable Street and the Jarrow Crusade. The Second World War has an admirably brief overview and then gives the opportunity to develop skills in research and oral history.
If a devil's advocate for the letter of the law of the national curriculum Order argues that this does not give a sufficiently broad "overview", then they should be reminded that the programmes of study were not designed for the actual amount of time allowed on the school timetable. When something has to give, it should be the content, not the quality of educational experience.
The teacher's book is organised around about 50 one-hour lessons (did they really fit it all in?) each with a clear aim and rationale and advice for the lesson which always takes account of differentiation. The worksheets are clear and straightforward and the only problem is likely to be the usual one of how many you can afford.
Sue Jones Options in History: The Age of Expansion 1750-1924 has just been published. A United Kingdom 1500-1900 and The Middle Ages 1066-1500 are forthcoming.