Old ruins, new world
Lest we remember
Editor Simon Denison
Education, Education, Archaeology
A number of innovative projects have revealed archaeology’s broad educational potential. Government should take note if it is serious about education, writes George Lambrick
The main agenda for New Labour's second term is to deliver, deliver, deliver on education and health. Both Tessa Jowell, the new Culture Secretary, and Lady Blackstone, the minister responsible for heritage, have significant experience in education and they would do well to look hard at what the historic environment can contribute to people's quality of life through education and participation.
Over 95 per cent of people think the heritage is important for educating children and adults about the past, according to mori, but in England the history curriculum for children over 14 focuses almost exclusively on the last 300-400 years. This does little to promote an appreciation of the multi-cultural richness of our history, and bodes ill for the future of medieval studies. The cba campaigns for more archaeology in the curriculum, both to redress this weakness and to enrich other areas of learning, recognising that archaeology offers more fundamental educational benefits than just learning about the past.
People's abiding fascination in archaeology often stems from how it draws on so many academic disciplines and combines both physical and intellectual skills. These are characteristics that offer great scope for personal development at all ages through formal and informal education and active participation. Many subjects can be taught through archaeology, and in the process it can contribute to basic numeracy and literacy, analytical and observational skills, physical dexterity and team-working. Managed well, archaeology is an enjoyable way for people to discover what they are good at, equipping them with a multitude of transferable skills.
This has been demonstrated time and again, often in projects linked to urban or rural conservation issues. Such projects contribute to teaching the principles of citizenship and sustainability, and encourage community participation.
For example, the Sustainable Environmental Education Network in Chester has enabled local schools to contribute to the city's sustainable development strategy. Projects include a study of the disabled access and interpretation requirements of the city's famous medieval 'Rows', and several urban regeneration projects involving historic sites. Their findings have been presented directly to the city's planners.
In the Reticulum project at Newcastle University's Museum of Antiquities, a group of primary schools are helping to promote greater understanding of Roman life in northern England by using information technology to produce a CD-ROM, accompanying book and website. The project won high praise in an Ofsted report on one school whose performance in history had hugely benefited from its involvement.
The York Archaeological Trust won the plaudits of the Department of Education for an archaeological after-school club targeted at some of the more socially deprived parts of York. Through a wide range of enjoyable archaeological activities, pupils showed marked improvements in numeracy and literacy as well as other skills.
The Northumberland National Park, supported by Lottery and European funds, has provided every Key Stage 2 school in Northumberland with a literacy hour multi-media pack based on the landscape archaeology of an area around Yeavering Bell over 4,500 years, using archaeological data and including extracts from Bede and Beowulf.
At Castell Henllys, the reconstructed Iron Age hillfort recently seen in the BBC1 series Surviving the Iron Age, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and York University have developed a rich programme of research, education and interpretation. Apart from a visitor centre and exhibition, every year there is a schools programme for up to 7,000 children from 200 schools across Wales, over 80 events and activities, and a research and training dig for students and volunteers.
In Scotland, the Council for Scottish Archaeology supported by Historic Scotland has been developing the Shorewatch project, which is enabling volunteers - both groups and individuals, adults and children - to participate in assessing and monitoring the state of coastal archaeological remains threatened by coastal erosion and deposition.
Although numerous, varied and hugely valued locally, such schemes are nothing like common enough. In national government, departmental divisions between culture, education, environment and now planning tend to inhibit proper recognition and active promotion of such well joined-up initiatives. This is an issue for national panels on Education for Sustainable Development (the Welsh one is newly established). But it also needs political recognition. One of the challenges for DCMS, and heritage departments elsewhere in the UK, is to become real champions for the historic environment - not just within their own sphere of activity but across government - to help deliver some of the fundamental objectives of the Government's second term.
George Lambrick is Director of the CBA
CBA web:Jan/Feb 2005