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For hearts and minds

Gerald Haigh finds resources to build pupils' emotional skills

Strumbie Island. CD-Rom Semerc Single user pound;75. Multiple user packs from pound;115 (three users) to pound;379 (site pack) Seven-plus

As the SEAL (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) strategy and the thinking behind it spreads throughout primary schools, we're going to see more resources like Strumbie Island.

At its heart is an engaging story about a boy who finds a telescope with amazing powers. Through it, he discovers the island, populated by a group of characters, each of whom has only one defining characteristic. There is Dol, who's always in the doldrums, Mimi, who's self-centred and Brag...

well, you get the idea.

Supporting the story is a range of excellent teacher resources: for example, 10 pages of lesson plans on the theme of emotional literacy, explicitly linked to the SEAL programme.

They use the story as a way into topics such as bullying, relationships, shyness and selfishness. There are also worksheets, pages of Strumbie clip-art, and detailed curriculum links. Apart from one glaring and hackle-raising solecism - I'll soon explain - it's difficult to fault this attractive package.

The story's engaging, the graphics are good, the songs are well sung by St Joseph's Primary in Hartlepool, and teachers will appreciate the comprehensive lesson plans.

The target age range is Years 3 and 4, but teachers will find ways of using it all the way across the primary age range - something to bear in mind when deciding how much to spend on the pack.

And the problem? In the Curriculum Links PDF, the word "astrology" appears where "astronomy" is meant.

This is a surprisingly common solecism, so I shall say this once. Astronomy is a respectable science. Astrology is a farrago of triple-distilled balderdash that has no place in an educational resource.

Primary Playground Buddies Toolkit. By Laura Gilchrist and Julie. Wolstenholme. ReSolutions First pound;25

The playground can seem intimidating even in a well-ordered school. It usually doesn't take much to make children feel better - the presence of a familiar face is enough. And that is where a Playground Buddies scheme comes in. At themost basic level, a buddy is just there, and standing close by can be enough to provide reassurance.

Of course, a fully-fledged scheme goes much further. A trained playground buddy may organise games at breaks, act as a counsellor, and as an early warning system when trouble's brewing. It's quite a responsibility, but primary pupils can carry it provided they're well-trained.

It's the training and organisation that this toolkit's designed to support.

It's all here: setting ground rules, problem solving, dealing with bullying, developing the appropriate responses with the young candidates, keeping things going once the novelty has worn off.

The resources are provided too: draft letters, lesson and assembly plans, role-play scenarios and games. It's certain, though that this isn't something you can just stick on to what you're doing already.

The effectiveness of the scheme depends on the emotional health of the school. As the authors say: "Playground buddy schemes tend to work most effectively in schools that are already committed to developing children's social and emotional skills."

Social Inclusion in Schools: Improving Outcomes, Raising Standards. By Ben Whitney. David Fulton pound;18.99

Few, if any, schools have a perfect attendance record. Some of the shortfall is down to ordinary illness, but heads will often tell you that the really intractable bit of the problem lies with a hard core of children who are shadowy figures, rarely in school, living on the edge of society.

This book is about those marginalised children, as well as about others who may be in school but are not fully engaged with learning. This includes looked-after children, young carers, travellers and some of the children with special educational needs.

Once upon a time, the author reminds us, children like these were entirely below the school's radar. Now, thanks to Every Child Matters, the Children Act and a drive for joined-up children's services, schools have increasingly paid attention to children identified by the DfES(Circular 1099) as "at risk".

The aim of the book is uncompromising: to convince teachers that they have a part to play in making Every Child Matters a reality: "Good or improving outcomes for the majority or even for most children are not a sufficient measure of our effectiveness. We have to be measured against them all."

Ben Whitney doesn't leave it there, of course. He uses his long experience of working for social inclusion to give practical advice on attendance, alternatives to exclusion, recognising abuse and all the other areas schools find challenging.

He clearly sees himself as a supporter of children who often have little going for them anywhere else, and his mission here is to convince teachers that they share the same responsibility. He does that well, with no-nonsense clarity and the authority of hard experience

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