This is a post in response to an interesting opinion piece from Michael Rosen posted today in the Guardian. In it he criticises the prescriptive nature of elements of the National Curriculum in England. Working in Scotland, with the sometimes maligned Curriculum for Excellence, I have heard some people call for greater structure, and even prescription, for schools north of the border. My advice would be ‘careful what you wish for…’!
The reason the Rosen post really caught my eye was the example he used. He discusses the relevance of Neolithic history and the inclusion and relevance of Skara Brae – situated in Scotland so probably not high up the average 6 year old, England based, pupil’s frame of reference. Remarkably, included in the National Curriculum guidance provided, there is even a suggestion that ‘Eight is the best age to teach this.’ Although quite why this is the case is not made clear!
The reason I was really interested in the Neolithic reference is because I once taught a local history topic including this subject. There was a local Neolithic burial mound very close to the school which I thought was fairly unusual. Working with the children, and consulting experts from the local museums and the local University archaeology department, I developed a scheme of learning framed within the idea of time travel (Dr Who had just regenerated so this seemed suitably topical). As the weeks progressed we (myself along with the children) learnt about how settlements have developed, reasons for trade routes and movement of people and some of the techniques and methods employed by historians, archaeologists and anthropologists. I made sure the learning was guided by children’s interests but was based around skills and concepts needed to access a greater understanding of the various areas we were covering. There was an element of factual knowledge included – but this was not necessary for the wider objectives to be achieved. As the topic progressed someone mentioned game playing through history (they had remembered a Victorian topic that had included this subject). So, although not from the Neolithic period, we investigated the Lewis chessmen – not immediately obvious to the children – but by this point they were able to make links. We investigated the craft skills required to create such objects but without modern tools or technology.
Fast forward to today, and waiting for a meeting to start this morning, I mentioned the article to some colleagues which sparked a discussion around a range of ideas and resources that could be linked, either through interdisciplinary learning, or via a context plan, to Neolithic of prehistory. They suggested looking up ‘The Boy with the Bronze Axe’ by Kathleen Fidler, and several other historical children’s texts. I now have, and realised I could have done so much more with the local history topic, inspired by a Neolithic burial site. To me this illustrates that the learning process is about enquiry and discovery, and even several years after I taught this topic I am still learning – and I hope the children are too.