By Nigel Swift

In these depressing days, when every aspect of public funding (except H-bombs) is being reduced and the ability of English Heritage to deliver not just a half-respectable Stonehenge setting but even the basics of heritage protection is about to be severely compromised it’s heartening that a new position of Education Director has been created by English Heritage. The new position at the public body is a result of its latest five-year Education Strategy and Sandra [Stancliffe] will be driving a strategy that aims to make the local historic environment central to the experience of every school child in England.

I, for one, wish her very well. Think of heritage vandalism, neglect, exploitation, disrespect, brandalism, apathy, commercial greed, erosion, stealing, lack of funding and permanent loss and who can fail to conclude that lack of heritage education and appreciation on the part of the wider public is the one ever-present factor every time? On that basis, hers is perhaps the most important job in the whole sector and she deserves the support of everyone that gives a damn.

As one of her sixty million target clients I’d like to submit a couple of suggestions to her, if I may.

First, it would be great if she read this: Reclaiming Prehistory  – a remarkable (IMO) article written by a Heritage Action member in 2004.  The more you look at the school syllabuses the more obvious it is that the bulk of our history is being given no more than a token nod. It’s short changing pupils and is easily remedied is it not?

Second, it would be appropriate for her to have a quiet word with her contacts in the Portable Antiquities Scheme and ask them to desist from offering teachers a dedicated website for children at Key Stage 2 incorporating a “fun” metal detecting section. It’s indefensible, as I’m sure she knows very well. If we raise another generation of people that thinks frantic personal acquisition is an acceptable part of the stewardship of our communal heritage then we’ll stay at the bottom of the world’s attitude league and on that basis maybe we’ll never find the money to treat Stonehenge as we should. Heritage illiteracy equals heritage loss, isn’t that the whole raison d’être for an English Heritage Education Director? And doesn’t that mean confronting ALL sources of heritage illiteracy, even the acutely embarrassing ones? 

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More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting

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