'Map of the past' begins to take shape

21st February 1997 at 00:00
The Government has promised to make more cash available for teaching Scottish history. But its curriculum advisers admit they do not yet know how much is needed.

The money, which will fund staff development and teaching materials, was promised last Friday by Raymond Robertson, the Education Minister, at the launch of a discussion paper from the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum. The council's review group was set up in 1995 as evidence mounted of alarming gaps in pupils' knowledge. A survey of 3,000 fourth-year pupils in 35 secondaries across Scotland found that 39 per cent were unconcerned that whether they were ignorant of Scottish history (TESS, December 6).

The review was concerned with the 5-18 age-group but the extra cash will be directed solely at the 5-14 programme. The group saw the study of history as crucial during those years when the subject is compulsory, after which 65 per cent vote with their feet and drop it as they move into the third year.

Mr Robertson said it was not sufficient for Scottish history to comprise only a third of the Standard grade course. But a move by the Secretary of State to ask the examination authorities to investigate the feasibility of a Standard grade in Scottish history has yet to win the council's backing.

The report's authors believe an emphasis on staff development and better teaching aids would be a more productive means of making Scottish history more attractive to pupils, Chris Whatley, who chaired the review group, told last week's launch. A "Scottish deficit" in schools, Dr Whatley said, had arisen mainly because many teachers had themselves been taught little Scottish history. A staff development strategy recommended in the report urges local authorities to co-operate with academics to ensure teacher knowledge is up to date.

Lack of suitable materials is frequently cited as a reason for schools' reluctance to embrace Scottish history, and the report's second major recommendation is that the council should mine the resources of bodies such as Historic Scotland and the National Trust and make them widely available to schools. The Education Minister said the Scottish History Resources Project being undertaken by the National Museums of Scotland would help schools. A CD-Rom on Scottish history from 1840-1940 will be available from July.

Despite its keenness to give Scottish history what Dr Whatley described as a "proper place" in the curriculum, the review group is equally anxious to avoid the charge of parochialism. This appears to place it in line with mainstream opinion among history teachers and at odds with the idea of a Standard grade in Scottish history.

Duncan Toms, principal history teacher at Bearsden Academy and one of the leading school figures of the subject, attacked such a move in a letter to The TES Scotland two weeks ago, suggesting it could "marginalise" history.

In his preface to the report Dr Whatley stated: "Scottish history should be studied in our schools not to the exclusion of other topics or areas of study but in conjunction with them - with the local, Scottish, British, European and global themes of history being held in balance. All pupils should leave school with a mental 'map of the past' and a strong sense of where Scotland fits into the overall picture. This should be the minimum entitlement for all pupils in Scottish schools."

Dr Whatley, head of modern history at Dundee University, later said that pupils should be encouraged on "a voyage of discovery not an exercise in self-delusion". As the Education Minister looked on, Dr Whatley added: "The satisfactory teaching of Scottish history would not satisfy the unionist or nationalist camps easily."

The review group admits that the time allocation for history of less than an hour a week in the first two years of secondary imposes constraints in an already crowded curriculum. But Dr Whatley said he did not believe that was the central problem. The review group did not accept that the delivery of history through environmental studies was a problem and the report is accompanied by "draft frameworks" to show how Scottish history can be incorporated in the 5-14 guidelines.

Both documents will be the subject of the next curriculum conference, to be held in May.

Comment, page 19

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