White, English, male...

19th April 1996 at 01:00
Getting round the distortions of the past is just one of the challenges primary teachers face, says Paul Noble. In the beginning was the word, and the word was planning, at least that is what anyone who has struggled to introduce the national curriculum, or suffered an OFSTED (only recently identified as a disease or complaint), may readily believe. Planning is the issue that Lomas et al face head on.

Approaching the national curriculum with a civil servant's obeisance and attention to detail, they analyse, dissect and probe, they leave no stone unturned. Here is post-Dearing history thoroughly and comprehensively laid bare in the cause of what the writers refer to as the "total history experience", which roughly defined, is content plus historical skills and understanding.

Insufficient schools provide this total experience apparently, for although content, and even evidence, are being dealt with satisfactorily by most primary schools, still lacking is "the process of investigation that is at the heart of history".

Approaching the subject as these writers have, results in the kind of handbook that will be particularly useful to teachers with special responsibility for history or those who are driven to follow the curriculum Order to the letter. Inevitably this is a very conformist volume. Even in the splendid last section, which contains a matrix with key questions, ideas and content, it is tightly held in check by the reins of top-down history. More than once I found myself wondering what would happen if a child or teacher asked different questions from the ones suggested?

The overarching planning framework used is the SCAA model from Planning the Curriculum at KS1 and 2 with its long-term, medium-term and short-term planning schedules. When rigidly applied under the pressure of inspection by conscientious teachers and heads, you can guess what happens.

Lomas describes short-term plans which include formal detailed fortnightly documents (resulting from co-operation between teachers) as well as daily detailed notes on such matters as the differentiated activities proposed. To this is added medium and long-term plans which, one presumes, have to be repeated for each subject. The effect this can have on creativity is dire although the audit mentality, which requires written proof before it will believe that anything is being done, is certainly satisfied - which is fine if you believe that auditors should rule the world. In my recollection (Ted Wragg excepted) no one has challenged this planning model.

Lomas does inveigh against the unhealthy over-emphasis on paperwork in schools and suggests that too much time is wasted trying to tease out the difference between policies, schemes of work and lesson plans. The idea is floated that all the documentation be gathered together in a comprehensive "History Curriculum Guidance Handbook", an idea with merit, but a Yes Minister solution if ever I saw one.

Doing the vox pop bit during their audit of the subject, Lomas et al came across a teacher who declared national curriculum history to be unsuitable for her pupils because it was "male, English and white". It is precisely this distortion of the past, whether real or imagined, that Hilary Claire addresses in her revealing and challenging approach to the history curriculum.

Plundering the past to service the issues of race, gender and class she provides some fascinating perspectives. Hadrian's Wall is described as analogous to the Berlin Wall and Roman Britain as "multicultural". I particularly enjoyed the section heading "The importance of the cloth trade in Tudor times: acknowledging class, multiculturalism and gender" which could have come straight from Lucky Jim.

One of the challenges offered to key stage 1 teachers is to find stories "which embody equal opportunities principles, which value and respect girls and women, non-European cultures and minority ethnic groups in Britain". To its credit the book provides an annotated list of resources and useful addresses and I would only take issue with the mention of the picture book Rose Blanche, which deals with concentration camps, in this context. Whatever it may look like, this powerful and remarkable book is not suitable for six-year-olds.

In attempting to redress the distortion of histories which obscure or exclude one group or another, Hilary Claire promotes an inclusive approach but her revisionist zeal sometimes pushes her to the edge of her own logic. She seems to have considerable trouble with the inclusion of Victorian explorers; heroes and saints; any male (but especially Tudor "pirates"); and is much happier with Malcolm X and Bob Marley than with Albert Schweitzer or Mother Theresa. I found the book hard to put down as much because of its eccentricities as anything else.

Hilary Cooper's revision of The Teaching of History in Primary Schools takes stock of the undoubted progress that primary history has made since the national curriculum put history on the agenda. The book is a mixture of academic argument with the concomitant research references and down to earth classroom history which plans and diagrams and examples of children's work.

Some years ago I was fortunate to observe Hilary Cooper at work as a class teacher in south London where I saw sound practice mediated by informed reflection. In the book the reflection is informed by the practice.

The book must be one of the best current summaries of the state of the subject. In it there is a telling quote from Ayi Kwei Arnah, which I am sure both Lomas and Claire would endorse, "The present is where we get lost If we forget our past and have No vision of the future".

Paul Noble is head of Blunsdon St Andrew primary school, Swindon

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