Railway challenge

23rd June 2006 at 01:00
Janet Carter takes children through the arrival of the train in Victorian Britain

The arrival of the railways completely changed the face of Victorian Britain but, for people who were directly affected by the changes, the consequences were not always positive. I delivered a lesson about the coming of the railways for a formal observation as part of our annual performance management procedures. The focus was on links between foundation subjects and literacy, and the lesson challenges children to understand the impact of the railways on different groups, while encouraging speaking and listening and debate.

The school makes implicit its commitment to the child (as expounded in the Every Child Matters Green Paper) in the acronym SHAPE (safety, health, achievement, positive contribution, and economic wellbeing). Economic wellbeing focuses on encouraging children to speak, listen and make a positive contribution to the debate.

The lesson objectives were to describe the attitudes of different people to the building of a railway in their locality and to communicate their understanding of the benefits and disadvantages of railways.

The children spent 15 minutes in groups discussing the coming of the railways from a particular perspective - farmers, blacksmiths, railway investors, construction workers, canal workers, shopkeepers, innkeepers and delivery men (see right). They were then divided into three mixed groups, with all sections of the community represented. Each group elected a spokesperson and then spent 30 minutes in group discussion. I was fortunate to be able to make use of an adjacent shared area and a cloakroom, so the debates could be conducted with some degree of privacy.

I made work packs and found images to support the children's work. Each pack contained a card with one of the groups and images of the people pupils would be representing. There were also instructions on how to discuss ways in which certain consequences of the development of the railways would affect their particular group, then have a debate with the other parties to decide whether the railways would have a good or bad effect on their lives.

Conclusions and disagreements were elicited at the plenary. The children, in their roles, became really animated in the debate and I was thrilled to see the less able debating on a par with the more able. The farmers and railway investors had the most heated arguments, with the farmers aggrieved on two fronts: loss of revenue from their monopoly on the market for their crops and animals, and pressure to give up their land. The group whose arguments lacked conviction were the innkeepers and delivery men as they felt their services would be needed whatever the outcome. We ended with an explanation of how this experience would feed into the next lesson - the children would be asked to write a letter to a newspaper to express their views about the coming of the railways. The class were enthusiastic and I will certainly consider adapting the idea in the future.

Janet Carter teaches at Wilberfoss Primary School, York

YOU ARE A GROUP OF FARMERS

Consider how the following points will affect your life:

* You will be able to trade via the railway.

* Some of your land may be taken for building tracks, stations and railway buildings.

* Will your livestock be affected by the noise of the trains?

* Will your farm workers look to the railways for better pay and conditions?

YOU ARE A GROUP OF BLACKSMITHS

Consider how the following points will affect your life:

* The railway will bring materials to your area at a smaller cost.

* Will as many people use horses, which means fewer horseshoes for you?

* Will the railway bring more metal-working opportunities?

* Will young people still have the patience to learn a high skilled trade?

YOU ARE A GROUP OF RAILWAY INVESTORS

Consider how the following points will affect your life:

* You have the potential to make a lot of money.

* If the railway fails, you could lose all of your money.

* Will buying the land that you need be prohibitive?

* Can coal supplies last on long journeys?

YOU ARE A GROUP OF CONSTRUCTION WORKERS

Consider how the following points will affect your life:

* You have the potential to make a lot of money.

* Are you prepared to work in dangerous conditions, for example in tunnels?

* How will you bring building materials to the site?

* Will you have to live away from home?

YOU ARE A GROUP OF SHOPKEEPERS

Consider how the following points will affect your life:

* Will you get more or less trade?

* Will you be able to sell a wider range of goods?

* Will you be able to transport your goods more easily?

* Will people still shop locally, or will they go to larger towns and cities?

YOU ARE A GROUP OF CANAL WORKERS

Consider how the following points will affect your life:

* Will you still have as much work?

* Can you compete with the speed of the railways?

* Will the canals still be maintained if they become unpopular?

* Will the railway crush the canal trade in the winter months when the canals are frozen and the railway can still run?

YOU ARE A GROUP OF INNKEEPERS AND DELIVERY MEN

Consider how the following points will affect your life:

* Will you lose casual trade?

* Will you be able to provide services to the railway workers?

* Will there be delivery work generated from the railways?

* Will the railways bring better supplies?

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