But an ambitious simulation exercise run by Northamptonshire LEA, with support from the interactive content providers Actis, is helping to reinvent the relationship between the Northamptonshire police and local schools.
Operation Superhighway is a series of internet activities organised by the Northamptonshire Inspection and Advisory Service (NIAS) as part of its Teachers on the Beat scheme. The simulations, which have covered road safety, vandalism and personal safety, involve Year 8 students from more than a third of the county's middle and secondary schools.
I attended an activity day called Lost, at Wrenn school in Wellingborough. Running the session were the lower-school PSHE co-ordinator, Jennie Davies, with community liaison officer PC Norman Hyslop. Using the Actis project box, the class had to use PCs and work in teams to solve the mystery of two missing school children. The nerve centre of the investigation was a local technology centre with Actis staff and real police officers.
During the live event, information was posted to all participating schools. It was up to the children to sift through it and discard the red herrings. They could consult with the in-house police liaison officer or send questions and suggestions to the officers at HQ. The exercise ran for 75 minutes and was followed by a short session for the students to write up their findings.
The Lost project box is one of several online interactive packages from Actis that allow schools to take part in such simulations. Aimed at key stage 2 and 3 students, the boxes can be customised - the Northants version included local references and a live link with police at the event HQ.
Operation Superhighway is successful on many levels. It is limited to Year 8 students, so it is perceived by them to be a special event. It covers many subjects including ICT, English, PSHE and citizenship, and encourages students to think creatively and bring skills from different areas into one activity. The simulations also succeed in producing a more natural relationship between pupils and the police - one of the aims of the Teachers on the Beat initiative.
Such events take planning and commitment from the teachers involved. Those who took part had to attend a two-hour training session after school, but comprehensive teachers' notes and support materials are also produced by Actis. But there is no doubt in Jennie Davies's mind that the extra effort was worth it. "The children get loads out of it. And they are obviously excited because they relate to the police officer in a completely different way than they would outside school," she says.
Operation Superhighway is an excellent example of how ICT can be used to break down barriers.
The Lost project box used in the Northants simulation is now available to all schools at www.actis.co.uk Yolanda Brooks