Topics to spice up

4th September 1998 at 01:00
Three Centuries of Change: British Social and Economic History since 1700 By Richard Staton, Ray Ennion and Wendy MooreCollins Pounds 9.99 The Spice Girls have entered history. They appear in a newspaper source in the survey of the role of women from sweated labour to girl power. It was the Express which said that girl power was violence dressed up as equality. Plenty of scope for discussion here, if the new Assessment Objectives will allow it.

And GCSE history needs fuel for discussion, which is my only serious criticism of this efficient book in which more of the questions could have required students to build a case, deploying and evaluating knowledge as well as recalling it.

This is a book written by examiners for examinees on the standard topics constructed subtly around enquiry questions with the key ideas effectively highlighted. The half-page explosion of firedamp and the odd cartoon are rare concessions to the need to engage as well as instruct.

Perhaps the inspiration is in the teaching, and I could certainly teach well with this book. Detailed information on steel-making, legislation to improve working conditions and progress in combating disease is presented for easy memorising and material on debatable subjects such as the benefits of turnpikes and whether government should have been involved in elementary education clearly set out for set-piece responses. The sections on the long and often difficult subject of the trade unions are well-written and the judicious selection of information from the Combination Acts to the miners' strike of 1984 will help both student and teacher. The unfinished enquiry question on page 144 should read "The General Strike: Was Posh Spice a winner or a loser?".

Mark Williamson

Mark Williamson is general adviser for humanities religious education in the London borough of Hounslow

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