Fizzing with good ideas

1st December 2000 at 00:00
KING JOHN. By Dale Banham and Ian Dawson. Student's book pound;6.99. Teacher's book pound;14.99.

RE-DISCOVERING MEDIEVAL REALMS: Britain 1066-1500. By Colin Shephard and Alan Large. Student's book pound;8.99. Teacher's book pound;16.99

BRITAIN 1815-1851. By Dave Martin. Student's book. pound;9.50 Teacher's book. pound;17.99

SOUTH AFRICA SINCE 1948. By Christopher Culpin. Student's book. pound;9.50. Teacher's book pound;18.99

THE STRUGGLE FOR PEACE IN NORTHERN IRELAND. By Ben Walsh. Student's book pound;9.50. Teacher's book pound;17.99. John Murray

The Schools History Project has been stimulating positive professional thinking and practice for almost 30 years. The books reviewed here are excellent and no history department should be without at least an awareness of what they offer.

Of the two key stage 3 texts, King John is by far the more exciting. It is terrifically ambitious and positively fizzes with ideas relating to literacy and citizenship as well as to the standard areas within knowledge skills and understanding.

The story of King John's life is told and retold from various angles. The whole builds in section one to a piece of extended writing that has been most carefully constructed. Some schools may resist eight weeks' teaching for this one topic and at times the gimmicks of the text may tend to overwhelm, but this part of the book deserves to be used.

Some pupils may find the challenge in section two of developing an overarching understanding of political history since the Middle Ages in the name of citizenship a little too much.

Re-Discovering Medieval Realms: Britain 1066-1500 is a heavily revised version of the very successful text first published in 1993. It is still a very valuable resource. Much new material has been added or re-shaped. It is attractively presented with good ideas for teaching and learning.

The new GCSE texts are up to the usual high standard of SHP material and will admirably fulfil relevant aspects of the requirements of the examination boards.

The Struggle for Peace in Northern Ireland has a very good teacher's guide that contains useful wbsites, reading lists and other resources. The classroom text poses some good questions, and does well to explain clearly the very complex and sensitive issues in a sensible, intelligent style. The section "drawing breath" is a good idea for allowing students a pause in which to think.

South Africa since 1948 is also a very valuable resource with an impressive display of historical knowledge. Students are provided with appropriate opportunities to think about the violation and celebration of human rights in dramatic circumstances affecting vividly drawn real personalities. One of the many strengths of both Northern Ireland and South Africa is the way in which the stories are brought up to date. It is to be hoped that this does not come to be seen as an obstacle as these texts age in the wake of ever changing political developments.

Both books begin with useful contextual remarks. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, basic geography and key events are highlighted in South Africa since 1948; a series of sources and issues with a very useful focus on the key questions and a newspaper activity are provided in Struggle for Peace in Northern Ireland.

The remaining eight chapters in each book (before a conclusion that challenges pupils to look to the future) are built around questions that will motivate: what made the Good Friday agreement possible? Why was apartheid collapsing by 1989? In such controversial areas there will always be room for debate, but these books provide extremely useful educational material that will help young people better understand the world today.

Britain 1815-1851 is based on sound historical know-ledge, uses challenging and significant questions and includes appropriate activities. All the GCSE texts keep largely to a chronological sequence throughout. This makes the "story" clear, but I wonder if there will be other approaches so that the key issues in history, historio-graphy and contemporary society may be approached even more directly.

Ian Davies is senior lecturer in educational studies at the University of York

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