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The game of life

Martin Whittaker looks at a role-playing exercise in which pupils adopt adult roles and responsibilities

From September, sixth-formers at a school in Bristol will begin playing a game designed to prepare them for everyday life as adults. They will take on imaginary personae, apply for imaginary jobs, learn what kind of house and lifestyle they can afford with their imaginary salary, learn how to budget, and eventually find out about how their community works and the role they play in it. But while this is just a game, its potential for preparing them for the real world is being taken very seriously by the Government.

From this autumn, citizenship becomes part of the national curriculum at key stages 3 and 4. But the long-term aim is that it should not stop at the age of 16. In September 2000, an advisory group chaired by Professor Bernard Crick recommended to then education secretary David Blunkett that active citizenship education should also be offered to 16 to 19-year-olds.

This recommendation resulted in a two-year development programme funded by the Department for Education and Skills and run by the Learning and Skills Development Agency. Eleven projects are being run by partnerships of schools, colleges, community organisations and voluntary groups to identify good practice and develop ways of helping young people to become active citizens.

The piloting of the Be Real Game at Sir Bernard Lovell School will be part of one of these projects. With the help of the project's lead partner, Connexions West of England, teachers are being trained how to use the game, ready for next academic year. Phil Tapp, the school's director of post-16 education, is enthusiastic. "We had an enjoyable afternoon playing the game and even the most cynical tutor got into it. And what was nice was that at the end, people stopped behind and were saying, 'Yes, we could do this.'

All these ideas were sparking off."

The school is an 11 to 18-year-old comprehensive and a language college, serving the fringes of east Bristol. Like other schools, it already has elements in place that could come under the heading of citizenship education. It runs a "buddy scheme" where Year 12 students are trained in counselling and linked with Year 7s to offer them support. Sixth-formers have taken part in a mock trial at Bristol Crown Court, elements of citizenship are threaded into general studies, and students are encouraged to take part in voluntary activities in the community. Phil Tapp sees the Be Real Game as an excellent way of pulling it all together.

So how does it work? Students are split into groups of around five people and receive a sheet telling them who they are, if they're married or single and whether they have children. They have to look for a job appropriate to their qualifications and experience; they also have to fill in an application form, write a CV, and then take a mock interview. When they have a job they can buy a house, and they learn to budget. One of the game's strengths is that you can tailor it to your own community and at every stage bring in real people. So when pupils do their CV and job applications, the school will bring in local employers to interview them. And the houses and house prices are from local estate agents. You can even introduce pupils to NIMBY-ism, ("not in my back yard") finding out how they react when they discover that a refuse tip is to be sited in their imaginary community. "Our aim is to keep moving from the game into the real world and, say, meet a local councillor," says Phil Tapp. "So all these different things - such as work-related education, voluntary work, general studies coursework and other activities we get involved in - they all feed out from the connecting game. As teachers we get very cynicalI But this is something I have been able to grasp and say 'I like this - this is going to help me do my job better'."

The Be Real Game originated in Canada and younger versions for Years 5 and 6, and 9 and 10 have already been piloted in schools, funded by the DFES. It is also being widely used by Connexions, the advice and support service for teenagers.

Sandie Llewellin of Connexions West of England says it is one of a range of initiatives in its citizenship project. Students from schools and further education colleges have visited Bristol's council chamber to help them understand local politics. And they took part in a debate on energy at the @Bristol science centre. "We have listened to the students," she says. "They have said we don't want teachers teaching this - we want real people in real contexts to learn about the real world we're going into."

For more information on the Be Real game and citizenship education visit:The Be Real Game: www.realgame.comCitizenship Foundation: www.citfou.org.ukDFES - www.dfes.gov.ukcitizenship

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