English Heritage recently announced subsidised school travel to a selection of their sites. The list of available sites for the scheme was a subset of the National Heritage List, and very heavily skewed in favour of post-Roman sites. (The announcement itself was a little misleading as it suggested that free travel was being offered whereas the small print identified a cap of £4 per child). So we’d like to present our own list of sites to which schools can arrange visits (sadly, without the English Heritage subsidy). These are places that, rather than boring the children with facts, names, dates etc. (does anyone still remember the whole of the “Willie Willie Harry Steve, Harry Dick John Harry 3.” rhyme that was pumped into us at school?) can provide a proper education on what it was like to live in ancient times, using skills that could still prove useful today in helping to actually create something tangible. Most of these are commercial concerns rather than ‘National Heritage’ sites, but that doesn’t make them any less useful in engaging school children in our ancient heritage.
Wiltshire – The Ancient Technology Centre
The Ancient Technology Centre consists of 6 reconstructed buildings from different time periods, all built by schoolchildren and volunteers, using traditional tools and techniques. The Centre has developed a unique program of hands on learning for children of all ages.
Such is the standard of the work here that they have been awarded the English Heritage contract to reconstruct three Neolithic Houses based on excavations of house plans at Durrington Walls. Prototype building began this March at Old Sarum, and the final reconstructions will be built outside the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre in October 2013.
Hampshire – Butser Ancient Farm
Butser Ancient Farm, founded in 1970 following an idea from the Council fro British Archaeology, Consists of an Iron Age roundhouse and Roman Villa, in a farm setting. School visits are catered for, with material covering a wealth of topics including: Celts, Romans, Invaders and Settlers, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings, Houses and Homes, Discovery for Reception Age, Medicine through Time, Sustainable Technologies and Archaeology. Carefully planned activities tie in with different aspects of Key Stages 1, 2, 3 and 4 – from history and art to DT and maths.
Cambridgeshire – Flag Fen
Flag Fen archaeology park is home to a wooden causeway some 3,500 years old that is so unique it is held by experts all over the world in the same esteem as Stonehenge. There are reproduction roundhouses from the Bronze and Iron Ages on site and a small museum.
Schools are catered for with sessions covering ‘Invaders and Settlers’, ‘Dig! Hands on Archaeology’, ‘Hunting and Gathering’ and ‘Patterns in Nature’. Suitable for Key Stages 1,2,3.
Silchester – Calleva Atrebatum, A Roman Town
This Roman town, which was founded in the first century AD (nearly 2000 years ago), was built on the site of an Iron Age town, Calleva. The Roman amphitheatre and town walls are some of the best preserved in Britain. The site has been under excavation since 1997.
As this is an active and working archaeological dig site, activities for schools tend to be closely related to the archaeological activity and discoveries at Silchester rather than exclusively to a Roman theme. Activities include a children’s finds pit, a planning exercise, activity sheets, tours and talks, finds handling etc.
Pembrokeshire – Castell Henllys
Set within 30 acres of woodland and meadows, the hill fort at Castell Henllys contains four roundhouses and a granary, reconstructed on the Iron Age foundations. A wide range of education services is provided and their Schools Programme currently caters for up to 7000 children every year.
If you’re a schoolteacher or home educator who has taken children to one of these sites for educational purposes (rather than as a ‘treat’ day out), why not let us know how the trip went? Or better still, get some of the kids to tell us! We can offer an interactive CD tour of Avebury for any stories that we subsequently publish!
If you know of other, similar centres providing a service to schools, please let us know in the comments.