In touch with true history

27th August 2004 at 01:00
The National Archives are giving P6-S2 pupils access to primary sources of historical material, writes Douglas Blane

Four centuries ago, the new schoolmaster at the grammar school in Linlithgow was contracted to teach the youth of the town "diligentlie and sufficientlie in their grammar and such authors as are customat to be teichit".

Other responsibilities in Robert Nairn's 1592 contract, which now resides in the National Archives of Scotland, included instructing the youngsters in "gude and civile manners", looking after the school building, reading in the kirk "at all hours and times convenient" and taking care of the town clock. For these demanding duties, Nairn was paid an annual salary of 400 merks, or pound;268.

This fascinating information is found in Scotland in the 16th Century, the first of five colourful and imaginative packs from the National Archives that are designed to give P6-S2 pupils access to some of the priceless material used by professional historians in their research. They are part of its Scottish Archives for Schools project, developed with the Scottish Executive and Learning and Teaching Scotland.

The second pack, The Jacobites, contains copies of one of Bonnie Prince Charlie's letters, a witness account of the Battle of Culloden and the last words of a loyal Jacobite on the eve of his execution.

In elegant and cultured handwriting, Sir John Dalrymple gives orders for the massacre of the MacDonalds of Glencoe, who had been several days late swearing allegiance to the crown. "We do consider it indispensable for the well of that our Kingdom to apply the necessary severities of Law: To that end Wee have given our Orders I to cut off these obstinate Rebells by all manner of hostility."

Extracts from private letters and public papers trace the tragic trajectory of the Jacobites, from the exile of James VII to the raising of the standard at Glenfinnan, the abortive march on London, the last battle on British soil and the brutal, long-lasting consequences for the Highlands.

As well as copies of historical source material, the packs give background information, translations of strange words, pupil activities, teachers'

notes and assessment guidance. The first two were sent to schools last term and the other three - Victorian Scotland, Scotland 1901-1938 and WWII: the Scottish Home Front - plus the CD-Rom for the series, with materials and recordings for all the sets, go out this term.

A North Lanarkshire teacher was seconded for 18 months to work with the National Archives on the project. "It is pupil and teacher friendly, and tailored to meet the 5-14 learning outcomes," says Marion Cuthbertson, who now returns to her New Stevenston Primary classroom. "The original remit was for levels C to F of 'People in the Past', but our selection of documents and the CD-Rom means older pupils can also use the resource for research, independent learning and multimedia presentations."

A difficulty in asking children to engage directly with primary sources is language. Old Scots is unfamiliar and seemingly inaccessible when written, says Ms Cuthbertson. "But when you hear it spoken it's amazing how all of a sudden it makes sense, for me as well as the kids. So, on the CD-Rom we have recordings of actors reading selected materials.

"In Scotland in the 16th Century, for instance, we've got a declaration by Mary Queen of Scots on her marriage to Darnley, spoken by a lady using a slight French accent but speaking in old Scots. It is wonderful."

The National Archives in Edinburgh hold one of the most varied collections in Britain, with records from the 12th to 21st centuries that cover most aspects of Scottish life. An important reason for opening up the treasure-trove to children, says education officer Margaret McBryde, is that a lot of very good class resources take a distinctly English perspective.

"The Blitz didn't just happen in London. Through letters and diaries we are highlighting the Clydebank Blitz," she says.

"In the coming year, we will be making the materials in the packs available to all on the National Archives' website. We are using archive resources and modern technology to promote Scottish heritage and culture to schools and the world."

National Archives for Scotland, education officer Margaret McBryde, tel 0131 535

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