History education is in the news again. This time leading historian, Sir David Cannadine, has argued that history should be studied as a core subject at school until the age of 16.
It’s all appearing rather doom and gloom, with his assertion that the UK are falling behind the rest of Europe as history is only compulsory until 14. However, unlike England, Wales is seeing an increase in pupils opting for the subject at GCSE level and South Wales has a thriving historical scene.
With this in mind, how is South Wales encouraging the younger generation to take an interest in history, be it in or out of the classroom? And perhaps more importantly, how successful is this?
Jo Bowers was a primary school teacher for 20 years and is now senior lecturer in education at UWIC. She said, “It’s essential that history in school excites, engages and stimulates children. The important thing for us as teachers is to ignite that interest in research and in finding out.”
While Jo concedes there is no official research to back this up, from her experience of training teachers, the two factors she says her students attribute to making history interesting for them at school was the teacher and the trips – the going out and seeing places.
Below are some thoughts on history from students
A primary school pupil enjoys dressing up in Victorian costume
A teacher makes a subject
They say a teacher can make a subject, and for a memorable teacher look no further than David Perkins, Head of History at Duffryn High School in Newport. David hit the headlines back in October for his rather unique way of engaging his pupils in history – by making YouTube videos of himself dressed as various historical characters. So far ASDA wigs, pipe cleaners and other such make-dos have seen him take on the role of Martin Luther, the 1066 contenders to the throne and a corrupt friar.
According to David, the videos took shape when his friend downloaded a movie making app on his iPhone. So does he think this use of social media has helped to engage his pupils? “You can see they’re enjoying it because it’s something different. In history we’re really lucky we’ve got the opportunity to do that in every lesson we teach, because that’s the type of subject it is. I’m not really sure how you would do it in maths, unless you pretend to be Pythagoras or something,” he laughs.
David admits it’s not always easy getting pupils interested in history but that’s when you bring the creative element in to find a way of inspiring them. Today for example, the classroom floor is scattered with coloured shiny wrappers as Year 7 are learning about the feudal system. David explains he chose a boy whose birthday is coming up and gave him a box of roses – instantly getting the attention of the whole class. The boy needs to pick five friends to share the chocolate with, but then there are still too many chocolates so he has to pick another five. A tasty way of demonstrating how William the Conqueror divided up the land of England. “Next time I see them I can ask them what the feudal system was and they’ll be able to tell me,” he says.
Outside of the classroom
South Wales appears to be brimming with historical attractions. Jo explains, “I know for teachers in this area it’s very rich in opportunity for out of school learning, from the Roman Legion Museum to the Big Pit and Tredegar House. You can’t access it all really, there’s just so much.” St Fagans is probably one of the best places you can go to access the whole range of history from the Celtic Village to the Victorian school house,” she continues.
In fact, for Jo it was working on an exhibition at the National Museum of Wales, dressed up as a 12th century nun to run workshops for children, that made her realise she wanted to teach.
One place committed to increasing accessibility for young people is the Glamorgan Archives.Archivist Heather Mountjoy explained they have a lot of school visits, particularly primary schools, where the children are very enthusiastic and inquisitive. They study the Victorians covering the rich lords to the working family, considering what it was like for children at their age. Heather said, “I think if children can relate to other children in the past, it really makes the history come alive for them.”
Below is an interview with archivist, Heather Mountjoy
The Glamorgan Archives actively encourage children to visit and take a tour
Children also experience a behind the scenes tour to read the temperatures in the strongrooms, and visit the conservation studio to see how documents
And it’s not just the school kids that think the archives are cool. Only this year a group of media students from Glamorgan University teamed up with the archives and Mount Stuart Primary School in Butetown to produce a film about the history of Cardiff Bay; part of a parliamentary outreach project.
The Cardiff Story Museum, which opened in April, is the latest historical offering to grace Cardiff and the first to tell the history of the city. The museum is full of exhibitions and interactive activities to really stimulate students of all ages. From dressing up as an evacuee to the interactive rationing challenge, there is a vast quantity of material to engage with.
Learning co-ordinator, Rachel Carney, explained it’s not just about children paying a visit to the museum but developing skills to perhaps work on their
Children can dress up as Victorians or evacuees at The Cardiff Story Museum
The Cardiff Story Museum also offers a wide range of interactive activities
So is seems South Wales is pulling out all the stops to ensure history stays firmly in the present.