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Bordering on the best

Scotscapes. Channel 4. Tuesdays 11.45am-12.00. Rpt Fridays 10.10-10.25am. Age range: 12-16

It may be simple; you may have seen it before. But children will love a series which takes a closer look at Scotland, says Graham Hart

These five new programmes are intended forIwell, there's the first question. The transmission details tell us "environmental studies, geography and modern studies for 12 to 16-year-olds". The teacher's guide says "environmental studies 5 to 16". The latter seems the more likely, but to suggest a programme is "targeted" at a nine-year span is asking a lot. "Scattered" might be a better description. In truth, reckon on an 11-year-old geography student and work around that.

The contents focus clearly on the key issues of human geography, with Scotland as the case study. The style? Well here's the second question. It's described as "magazine". That's fair enough, but let's not imagine that Scotscapes is the video version of Smash Hits or Viz. No, magazine style means exactly the same narrative style as almost every other geography documentary for schools over the past 30 years. A smiling, engaging young person talking us through interesting topics with lots of footage of farms, factories and housing estates. This is not a criticism, merely a warning that you should not expect anything radical.

Of course, we have seen it all before, many times. But children won't have and they will be interested in this kind of simple, factual and accessible approach. From time to time the main narrator (she has a couple of field reporters) puts the ball back in our court. "Well, what do you think?

Such interjections are helpful reminders that not everything in the adult world is black and white. There are decisions to be made, and perhaps the young person's view is valid. It certainly will be a few years from now when tomorrow's policy-makers face the issues surrounding resource wastage, reforestation (or not), ill-conceived motorway construction and badly planned cities, all of which receive a thoughtful airing in the programmes.

Some of the issues are especially well covered and some good answers to everyday questions are provided. Why do we see oilseed rape everywhere? What is set aside? Why not give excess food to poorer nations? These are tackled well in "Farming". As is ostrich farming. In the narrative the practice is on the up, in reality there are a few problems. Whichever way you look at it, Sassenachs will love this piece.

The discussion of frontier fields in the North Sea, especially relevant to Scotland, is another interesting unit, this time under the resources banner. Indeed, you could list almost all the topics under the heading "another interesting unit".

For class use, there is one important point to note. Much of the key information is given on-screen. It really is a case of notebooks (or pauserewind controls) at the ready to catch all the detail. Unlike some other recent broadcast series, the teacher's guide provides only limited supplementary data. Instead it provides a useful range of extension exercises for the pupil and a brief note of aims, programme contents, learning outcomes and curriculum relevance for the teacher. In addition, the guide also gives teachers a hand with lesson preparation with advice on "before" and "after" each programme.

The programmes will find their greatest use north of the border, but not their greatest value. This should come from young viewers in the rest of the country taking a closer look at Scotland. They will discover an upbeat country tackling both similar and different problems to those faced elsewhere. Declining heavy industry and city centre blight fall into the similar category, difficult overland communications and continental shelf development (and ostrich farming) are slightly different.

Overall, there's a freshness of topic and depth of coverage that set these programmes ahead of many others. Well worth watching, everywhere.

The series is repeated in the autumn term beginning November 7 and subsequent Fridays at 11.00-11.15am. The teacher's guide is available for Pounds 4. 95, the video of five 15-minute programmes - Farming, Resources, Industry, Settlement and Communications - costs Pounds 14.99. Both from Channel 4 Schools, PO Box 100, Warwick CV34 6TZ.

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