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Informed decisions at a stroke

ANIMALS IN MIND - Initial Teacher Training Guide to Animal Welfare. RSPCA. Call 01403 264 181 to order (free to teachers and trainers).

Children have a natural fascination for all things cute and furry. With projects on "pets" a long time standing favourite, enthusing and engaging children of all ages, it's easy to think there is little need for yet more resources on the subject.

Sadly, however, many projects fail to explore the issues adequately or to exploit the subject's capacity for developing skills across the curriculum.

Despite the important role that animals play in our society, debate on issues of protection and welfare often highlights ignorance.

This resource provides some much needed support and information. Intended for student teachers and their trainers, it gives a sound rationale for using an animal welfare education component in initial teacher training and the national curriculum.

More than simply raising awareness, it encourages an intelligent, rather than an emotive examination of the issues. The emphasis is, quite rightly, on informed decision-making.

Although the layout and design make it a little hard to follow, it offers practical guidance and activities for professional development as well as a step-by-step approach to developing topic webs and schemes of work.

Even though the quality of background information is occasionally inconsistent, it includes some innovative sample lesson plans and creative activity sheets for both student teachers and their pupils.

The "compassion criteria" game and role-play ideas prove that animal welfare education is an ideal vehicle for stimulating thought-provoking, objective discussion on sensitive and controversial issues.

The rather old-fashioned, simplistic illustrations are not appealing, yet some of the images do encourage a re-examination of often hypocritical views and offer new perspectives

Both student teachers and pupils are encouraged to recognise the value of knowing what questions to ask rather than only seeking answers.

The national curriculum links could have been made more explicit and the differentiation between key stages 1, 2 and 3 may not help student teachers to correctly "match" work to different ability levels.

With this in mind, trainers would need to support them in other teaching aspects, including management and organisation issues. The student teacher activities in the policy-making section encourage the development of skills that are transferable to other school management issues. They are guided through a process to identify the implications for the whole school and the "poker policy" card game is designed to promote a democratic approach.

Hands-on activities for pupils are discouraged with the fair justification that animals do not thrive in a classroom environment. Inadequate supervision of children and a lack of knowledgeable care can cause suffering and distress to the animal.

However, from my experience there is no substitute for the real thing, as children learn so much from interacting with an animal. For those willing to take on the responsibility of supervising this, the RSPCA's booklet Animals and Schools offers some excellent advice.

Although the set of photographs at the end of the book represent the only colour in the guide, this is not just another "time-saving" resource. It provokes a re-examination of the value of animal welfare education and of our relationship with animals in the western world.

The "ahh" element which is usually associated with any study of animals has, perhaps quite rightly, been omitted.

Jenifer Smith was youth education manager for the National Canine Defence League. She now works freelance producing a range of education resources and teaches part time in inner London schools

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