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CBA update

Campaigns and reports from the CBA

Improving history in schools

Last month the CBA campaigned on two educational issues: first, the lack of recognition of archaeological evidence in Key Stage 3 schemes of work (for 11-14 year olds) published by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority; and second, the lack of adequate coverage of periods before 1700 in GCSE history specifications (or syllabuses), writes Don Henson.

Schemes of work are published by the QCA as guidance on how to deliver the National Curriculum for history in England. The schemes for Key Stages 1 and 2 include the use of archaeological evidence. Those for Key Stage 3 are heavily biased towards documents and classroom-based work, in spite of the stipulation in the National Curriculum that teachers must use a wide range of evidence, including artefacts, buildings and sites. The CBA wrote a letter (co-signed by the Group for Education in Museums) making these points to the Education Secretary, David Blunkett, to the QCA and to OFSTED.

New specifications for all GCSE subjects have been approved by the QCA. Those for history include 11 separate specifications from four exam boards. In each, there are period options that students can choose from. (In practice, a teacher will chose an exam board and then one specification offered by the board. Within that specification, they then concentrate on a few of the options on offer.) There are 100 period options in all specifications. Of these, 98 per cent cover the 19th and 20th centuries, while only 16 per cent cover medieval or earlier periods.

Those that do cover medieval or earlier are restricted to the four specifications based on the Schools History Project and are all very similar; offering either health and medicine or crime and punishment through the ages. Most pupils and students by the time they get to university will have studied nothing other than modern history since they were 13, and inevitably will have done so through mostly documentary sources. Their appreciation of earlier history and of archaeological evidence will be poor.

Acting jointly with the Historical Association and English Heritage, the CBA wrote to Mr Blunkett, the QCA, OFSTED, the exam boards and others, enclosing a draft medieval history specification that includes a mix of historical and archaeological evidence.

Archaeology in Southampton

Last month the CBA played a significant role in helping to avert the abolition of Southampton's community archaeology service. The abolition had been proposed by the city council for budgetary reasons.

The CBA wrote and arranged a series of letters to MPs, councillors, the local media and elsewhere, including one from Tony Robinson, the YAC President and presenter of Time Team. Subsequently, the council revised its proposals. The community archaeology service has been saved - with only half its budget - as has the local Young Archaeologists' Club branch. 'Community Archaeology would probably not have survived without the efforts of the CBA,' said Andrew Russell, the archaeology unit manager.

Workers' housing at risk

Last month the CBA strongly objected to proposals to demolish swathes of 19th and early 20th century workers' housing in Nelson, Lancashire. The areas under threat form part of a large district which includes warehousing, churches, chapels, a school and light industrial buildings. They have been described by local conservation officers as comparable to well-known model districts built for millworkers in Saltaire near Bradford.

Parts of the district are protected within an existing conservation area, and other parts may be protected within a proposed new conservation area. However, some 400 buildings have been earmarked by Pendle District Council for replacement by new housing. Their plans are likely to go to public inquiry in the summer. English Heritage has also objected to the proposals, and has begun recording some of the buildings.

Other applications for listed building consent examined last month by the CBA include:

  • a Grade II 20th century cinema in Halifax, where radical internal alterations are proposed to convert the building into a live music venue;
  • a Grade II* barn in Essex, proposed for conversion into a home, which retains original features such as a rare oak threshing floor; and
  • a Grade II cottage in Weymouth, Dorset, listed as 18th or 19th century but thought to have originated about 1500 as a hall house. It contains original features such as a dais beam and bench. Proposals to 'restore' this cottage would arguably gut its interior.

Survey on fieldwork reports

A major survey of the way in which people actually use publications of archaeological fieldwork in Britain and Ireland, and what they expect from them, has just been completed by the CBA, writes Mike Heyworth.

The Publication User Needs Survey was commissioned by the main archaeological agencies, led by English Heritage. It involved mail questionnaires, interviews, and supporting studies. Work on the review was led by Sian Jones, supported by Ann MacSween and Stuart Jeffrey, as well as CBA staff.

The survey found widespread dissatisfaction with the structure of reports, and diversity of opinion about the purposes of writing them. It also found other concerns, such as long publication delays, poor writing styles and inadequate synthesis of information. The survey found that much fieldwork is now not even formally published, but appears as 'grey literature' and is notoriously hard to track down. Recommendations include the need to use multiple forms and media of dissemination, the need for new and better ways of tracking work in progress and summarising recent work, and the production of reports which have description and interpretation better integrated and attention given to narrative style.

The full survey report, From the ground up, is available on the CBA's website at A summary narrative, with integrated data, is likely to appear in print later in the year.