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Life classes

Secondary pupils are forever being set projects and dissertations. I'd like to recommend a subject which I believe is neglected and which would have positive implications for personal and social education. It is a very simple and practical piece of research: a pupil's own life.

The Life Story Book was conceived as a social work tool - to give young people in local authority care some idea of where they came from. Social workers saw that many in care had no sense of identity, let alone self-worth.

Into the Life Story Book went a copy of the birth certificate, photographs, and other personal documents - sometimes happy like birthday cards and sometimes painful like letters with bad news or newspaper cuttings.

Life Story Books intended for dispossessed young people stay with them and can be kept well into adulthood. But there's no reason why the Life Story Book cannot also be an educational tool, something that all pupils can occasionally work on in English, geography, or PSE lessons.

Photographs have long been accepted as instrumental in helping children remember, and cope with, the past.

Other ephemera can be valuable too, such as: Grand-dad's death certificate, the letter Mum sent out announcing the new baby's birth, big sister's wedding invitation, postcard of the town hall, front of the parish magazine, cutting from local paper about school sports' day, cutting about headteacher retiring, programme cover from football match, letter from teenage magazine accepting club membership, first swimming certificate, photograph of the cat under an apple tree, publicity leaflet for department store (where pupil works on Saturdays), picture of the biggest fish Dad caught, glossy leaflet about Mum's car, and mentions of nursery school or hospital attended in the past.

Ephemera costs nothing but is invaluable for the way it can enrich a child's memory. I think teachers have few more worthwhile projects than a personal Life Story Book for everybody - at the back or front of the class, fortunate, or pursued by misfortune.

Godfrey Holmes is a social worker who was formerly head of department in a Nottingham comprehensive.

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