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To be taken once a week before lunch;Reviews;Television, Set plays and web sites

HISTORY FILE: MEDICINE THROUGH TIME. BBC2, Tuesdays 11.35-12.00 midday. Age range: 14-16

This term's History File series (on video and with resource pack) from the BBC is sure to become regarded as an essential purchase by schools teaching the GCSE topic, Medicine through Time.

The subject has a vast content and concept-base. Pupils have to understand the medical practices and beliefs of a string of civilisations, the development through time of the component strands (anatomy, public health and so on) as well as the many causal factors - including religion, science, the government and war.

The BBC Medicine through Time materials do not offer a coherent pathway through this complex subject-matter - indeed, the different elements seem oddly unconnected to each other. Instead, the materials are designed to help pupils consider key elements specified in the GCSE course at key periods of medical development.

So the television programmes, such as "Medicine and Religion", do not analyse issues which the programme titles lead one to expect. Rather, each programme studies a period of time from a particular slant. Thus "Medicine and Religion" looks at ancient medicine, but in such a way as to encourage class discussion on the influence of religion when Hippocrates and Galen were alive. "Medicine and Science" studies the medical Renaissance but lends itself to the question: what part did scientific method play in these advances?

The programmes are all informative, but I was especially impressed by "Medicine and Government" - a powerful study of how 19th-century developments in public health affected a street in Manchester. "Medicine and War" concentrates on the First World War, while "Medicine and Surgery" is an up-to-the-present account of the development and ethos of surgery in the 19th and 20th centuries (some gruesome pictures; but see if your pupils spot the continuity-error).

The accompanying resource pack contains explicitly revision materials. It does not try to teach content, but considers "matters arising" from the course. Even so, it includes enough ideas to fill two terms' work and as such is phenomenally good value at pound;19.99.

There are several contributors to the pack. Christopher Culpin, for instance, is responsible for a timechart, 127 date cards, and half-a-dozen insightful ways of using these with the pupils to help them revise. Other contributors develop and extend the content of the television programmes. There are also information sheets, writing frames and a card game.

Amazingly, none of the contributors makes explicit use of the television programmes, so the first thing teachers will have to do is devise worksheets and discussions on the facts and issues contained in the programmes themselves.

Here, nevertheless, is a series of fascinating programmes offering a chronological narrative of key periods in the development of medicine, and allowing limited discussion of causal factors. Accompanying them is a huge resource, with many good ideas, from which you can pick useful activities - some of which you will want to use as you teach the course, while others will allow you to extend and illustrate your programme of revision.

The History File: Medicine through Time videos cost pound;25; The Medicine through Time Resource Pack is pound;19.99. Both are available from BBC Educational Publishing, Freepost LS2811, Wetherby, West Yorkshire LS23 6YY

John D Clare is head of history at Greenfield Comprehensive School in Durham

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