History a part of the future

1st December 2006 at 00:00
To make learning more meaningful to pupils, teachers of different subjects, such as English and modern studies, should collaborate. By Fiona MacLeod children should study Bohemia, Brittany, Norway and Portugal to help them understand how Scotland's history evolved, a former academic has suggested.

Christopher Mason, speaking at the autumn conference of the Scottish Association of History Teachers, said learning how these places had become what they are today, could contextualise Scotland's history over the past 600 years for pupils of the subject.

Stressing their similarities, he said: "If you took a look through European history, at about 1400 AD, you would find Scotland, Bohemia, Brittany, Norway and Portugal all with distinct political identities."

Dr Mason, who gained his PhD in history from Cambridge University and taught international relations for 27 years at Glasgow University, praised the association's proposals for how history should feature in the new curriculum.

The proposals emerged after misreported comments from former Education Minister Peter Peacock made at a TESS seminar last October were taken to suggest that he wanted to make history "a thing of the past".

Dr Mason, who is the leader of the Liberal Democrats on Glasgow City Council, urged teachers to go beyond the Sath proposals (which recommend a chronological approach to teaching history through primary and secondary) and engage in a heated debate about what should be in the history curriculum.

"I like this paper very much but I think we need to have an unholy row about it," he said.

Dr Mason was one of a panel of political party representatives at the conference who reassured history teachers their subject was safe.

"History should be a core subject in the curriculum, not just in S1 and S2 but up to S4, bringing us into line with our European counterparts," said SNP MSP Adam Ingram.

Labour MSP Kenneth Macintosh was keen to stress it had never been the intention of the Scottish Executive to downgrade history. The reforms were an opportunity for history to permeate the curriculum to a much greater extent.

Barbara Thomson, from Learning and Teaching Scotland, also told the conference that "history has a big contribution to make". She urged history teachers and others to seize the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues in other subjects to see how they could work together.

English and modern studies teachers, for example, could be asked if and how they are using topics such as the Holocaust, which would make learning "really meaningful".

Ms Thomson said the idea was not to ask teachers of other subjects to teach history and added: "A Curriculum for Excellence offers history the chance to play a stronger role than it has before."

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