Four young people sit at a computer in the corner of a classroom, jigging in time to the music, giggling at funny sound effects and chatting. A visitor might assume they are playing a game; the children may feel they are, too. But their teacher, although busy with the rest of the class, is happily in control.
The group is engaged in Learning for Life, a personal and social education package on CD-Rom. Newly developed by Grampian Police, with support from Shell UK, the Scottish Office and the Gordon Cook Foundation, the package is an electronic extension to the force's popular set of teacher and pupil resources, Police Box. It could change the way values education and life skills are taught in primary schools.
Focusing on three of the five Police Box issues - Drugsense, Vandalism and Bullying (a subsequent CD-Rom will deal with Safety and Law and Order) - the disc has a range of downloadable materials including inservice workshops; a personal knowledge base with information on drugs; staff, curricular and policy development; working with parents and multi-agency partnerships.
The disc has been an instant hit with children throughout Grampian. From Primary 1 to Secondary 1, they have gone for the central character Big Bernie, a portly community bobby with a couthy Yorkshire accent. They say the Sixties-style music that introduces and concludes each lesson is "cool", and are amused by the sound effects, ranging from a honking horn, when the wrong word or image is selected, to raucous applause when a task is successfully completed.
Lessons are divided into age ranges and subject matter. Drug-sense for five to eight-year-olds deals with valuing self, valuing the body, alternatives to medicine, what's safe to eat and who gives us medicine. For eight to 10-year-olds, it builds on these issues, introducing prescribed and over-the-counter drugs, types of medicines and how and why they are taken, and alcohol and tobacco. For the 10-13 age group, the subject matter includes positive and negative pressure, decision-making, and the types, effects and consequences of drugs, including alcohol and tobacco.
Valerie Kidd, assistant head at Mile End School, Aberdeen, has been involved in piloting the CD-Rom. "It's a wonderful, flexible resource," she says. "The children love it and it can be fully integrated into the classroom; four or five pupils at a time can use it, while the rest of the class work on another task relating to the same topic. When everyone has completed the electronic lesson, we can then discuss the issues and take them further."
Like Police Box, the CD-Rom links directly into the 5-14 national curriculum and suggests extensions and home tasks for each lesson. It also suggests agencies which can be invited to develop the topic further, and links in to a new Learning for Life website.
The author of the CD-Rom is Grampian Police's education adviser, Wilma Gillanders, a teacher with 34 years' experience. She was also responsible for the co-development of Police Box, with PC Brian Boyd, who came up with the original idea. Both are delighted at the success of Police Box, which has been adopted by several police forces and education authorities in the UK.
PC Boyd points out that the CD-Rom is intended to enhance, rather than replace, the role he and his colleagues play in schools. Teachers at the launch stressed that the police presence was vital to their delivery of the issues covered by Police Box and Learning for Life. "The new CD-Rom will be a valuable reference tool, but it cannot replace the strong and trusting relationship PC Boyd has built up with our pupils," says Margot Bradbury, assistant head of Hazlewood School, Aberdeen.
"Learning for Life", vol 1 pound;50, pound;50 plus VAT for subsequent sets of four discs. Available from Shell Education Service, PO Box 46, Newbury, Berkshire RG14 2YX