Learning to trust the heritage

3rd May 1996 at 01:00
Willis Pickard on how the 514 programme gives a focus to the National Trust for Scotland's educational work. The 514 programme has given a focus to the educational work of the National Trust for Scotland as it has to other organisations working in heritage and the arts. The curriculum is the starting point, and the practice now is for a trust education officer, together with teachers, to examine what a historic house, garden or nature reserve can offer by way of meeting targets within the 514 guidelines, especially those in environmental studies and the expressive arts.

The NTS has reorganised its education and interpretation department, with its senior official, Margaret Cameron, being promoted to the post of head of education. In order to underline the importance of education (for all age groups) to the work of the trust, a policy statement and five-year plan have been drawn up for the next council meeting.

Teachers can see the increased sophistication of materials provided to support visits. Traipsing through a seventeenth-century house like Gladstone's Land in Edinburgh or a working watermill like the one at East Linton is of limited value unless the outing forms part of a coherent study which needs preparation and follow-up.

That is why Rachel Woods, the trust's education development officer, spends most of her time working with teachers. It is also why rangers based at properties as different as Culzean in Ayrshire and the Grey Mare's Tail in Dumfriesshire have to understand education as well as ecology. The trust's interpretative staff, led by Myra Lawson, also have a key role in making places come alive. For some properties in the Lothians and Borders, study boxes are now available for schools. A pilot scheme having been successful, and the idea is now being extended to take in properties in the former Tayside, such as the Angus Folk Museum and the recently opened House of Dun, where teachers from nearby Montrose Academy have been working with Woods.

Sponsorship by the Chevron oil company has allowed education materials to be developed in Grampian and has given the opportunity for the trust properly to evaluate the views of teachers about resources on offer. Chevron is now keen to extend its involvement outside Grampian. For example, information about Bannockburn is being updated and extended because the film Braveheart has brought a wave of interest. Another focus is on the "A9 properties" whose individual names belie that utilitarian grouping: Killiecrankie, Linn of Tummel, the Hermitage woodlands.

Criss-crossing Scotland as she regularly does, Cameron claims to know more about the individual properties than any of the other Edinburgh-based officials. She is the link between what is on offer and what educational visitors are looking for. She has the advantage of an uncommonly wide experience of teaching. Even her degree is unusual - a combination of geography and history from Glasgow University. She taught in Broxburn Academy before staying with her geologist husband for 10 years in Northern Ireland, where as a mother of young children she was involved in running playgroups.

Back in Scotland, Cameron held temporary teaching posts before spending a decade in special education at Lugton School, Dalkeith. She has also done a bit of adult education lecturing. So there is no temptation to interpret her remit narrowly.

The Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum is encouraging greater use of Scottish resources in schools. The national heritage, built and natural, is an obvious resource but one which needs interpretation.

A pupil guide to Gladstone's Land in Edinburgh's Royal Mile shows one way of carrying out that mission. It asks: "Did you see the pig outside the house? In the early seventeenth century pigs kept on the High Street ate up scraps of food which were thrown out of the shuttered windows. Look for these shuttered windows upstairs... Can you see a rat watching you in the kitchen?"

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