Kicking over the traces
Willis Pickard reports on a teacher's guide to historic properties in Scotland.
In the days before there was a national curriculum teachers would take classes to castles as part of a day out of school. Since the arrival of the 5-14 programme, which places history in the context of "environmental studies", visits are likely to be curriculum-linked.
Under the umbrella of environmental studies, organisations ranging from aquaria to mining museums are realising their potential as a resource for teachers, and the guardians of Scotland's monuments are no exception. Hence the launch last week of Understanding People in the Past, a teacher's guide to properties in the care of Historic Scotland, which is the agency charged with looking after the country's built heritage.
Every year there are 700,000 school visits made free to the 330 sites run by Historic Scotland. They range from the best-known tourist stop-offs like Edinburgh Castle to obscure hill forts, from a comparatively modern lighthouse to the prehistoric standing stones at Callanish in Lewis, often described as "Scotland's Stonehenge" (although in the Western Isles they like to refer to Wiltshire's monument as "England's Callanish").
The guide, by Sydney Wood, a lecturer at the Northern College of Education in Aberdeen, groups sites by their date, or what the 5-14 guidelines call "timeline", which is handy for teachers looking for a castle to fit the period they are working on.
For each site described there is a brief historical account of its significance, followed by ideas for preparing the class to make a visit and activities to pursue once there. For pupils (and teachers) puzzled by the architectural components of medieval churches, there is a drawing game attached to the description of Jedburgh Abbey. The instructions read: "You must find each part shown in the drawings by walking around. Then you have to sketch in the missing parts of each drawing."
Children love to scramble over ancient walls, and they will find the opportunity to plan an attack on Bothwell Castle in Lanarkshire, which is one of those places that the Scots prefer to ignore when in full voice at Murrayfield about sending proud Edward home to think again: after the Scots during the Wars of Independence had taken 14 months to starve out the defenders of Bothwell, Edward I's army was able to retake it in less than a month.
Marion Fry, education officer at Historic Scotland, plans 12 receptions for teachers later this spring and in the autumn. Three hundred are already booked to attend at sites across the country. Another of her ideas is "twilight visits" when, for example, primary staff can go to a site after school to see how it could be used by pupils of different ages.
Historians have been concerned that the 5-14 programme lumps their subject in with geography, science and technology under the banner of "environmental studies". Without wanting to decry the advantages of cross-curricular work, Frank Cooney, adviser in Grampian Region, said at the launch of the guide that it "places history at the heart of environmental studies" and was important for placing sites in a chronological framework.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, minister for Scottish education, whose ancestors used to own (and pillage) many a castle, took a practical view. By learning to appreciate their built heritage, pupils would be less likely to vandalise it. They would also approach modern buildings with a more critical eye.