To the Point - Digging up the future

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Professor Cathy Nutbrown says that the downgrading of classical studies at A level could have ramifications for the early years.


A week or so ago it was confirmed that classical studies, archaeology and history of art were no longer on the A-level curriculum, and several academics expressed concern about how this would impact future recruitment of undergraduates to, for example, art history and archaeology degrees. This led me to think about how such short-sighted decisions made about what can and cannot be an A-level might, in time, have an impact on what young children experience in their pre-school settings.

Now, we rarely think about A-levels when we welcome young children into their settings. But we do think about history, culture and lives long passed. Many young children are welcomed into art galleries and museums, where they can spend time among centuries-old works of art and artefacts.

I recall a time in my own childhood when I found old pieces of china in the garden; they looked like pieces of plate, and though they seemed to have been buried for some time, they still held lovely colours and patterns in the broken pieces. Like many young children, I began to weave my own story of how the plate got broken, who it belonged to, what kind of food might a child have had on it. Bearing my treasure into the kitchen, I learned that the field where my house now stood was once the site of a visiting fairground – and the plates were part of a stall where people threw balls to smash them. So then I started thinking about what it might be like to be a child travelling with the fairground. I was fascinated by the difference of culture and lifestyle that a child at that time might have had in comparison with my own.

Young children have a fascination with things from the past, with the lives of other children, and with the stories that art and objects hold, and sometimes reveal. We hear from time to time of fascinating discoveries where archaeologists are inspired to seek answers by digging and learning. The discovery of the remains of Richard III was perhaps the most recent example of what can result from archaeology.

What worries me about decisions that some branches of knowledge count less than others is that we risk a gradual filtering down of influence in early years settings. The archaeologists, classicists and art historians of the future are in our pre-school settings; they need to be nurtured, and the opportunities for continuing to learn the stories of humanity, from scholars who specialise in the past, is important for us all.

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