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Political history set to entertain and inform

Gavin Clark enthuses over a new television series which brings to life the past and future of Scottish devolution.

A nation once again. Channel 4, Thursdays 9.30-9.50am, January 20-February 17.

And now for the good bit. Modern studies teachers currently toiling through year one of Higher Still will have been interested to hear that plans were afoot for a television series to accompany the Higher and Intermediate 12 study themes dealing with the Scottish Parliament and its place in the British political system.

They will have been pleased that Wark Clements, the heavyweight of modern studies broadcasting, was the production company, and they will be absolutely delighted with the finished programmes and support notes.

Until recently, the LA Mix series by the same company was without doubt the pinnacle of modern studies programming. Teachers would conclude any discussion on the merits of a particular video with starry-eyed reminders that it could never match the punch of LA Mix. Now there may be a rival.

This five-part series is authoritative, entertaining and accessible. Three questions permeate the whole project. Why did the Scottish people want devolution? How did they get it? And what does the future hold? By the end of the series students will have clear answers.

The historical background to devolution is well handled. One can almost imagine the production team fretting over how to bring alive such a large dose of news footage. They manage. The rapid developments of the late Nineties are presented in a refreshing and innovative way, and the process and result of the 1999 election are fully explained. Politicians and the public provide well-fcused soundbites throughout - and the soundtrack's great.

Kirsty Wark's stewardship lends real authority to these programmes. But if she is the steady anchorwoman, then Kenny Innes is the star. His regular appearances as a "roving reporter" will amuse students of all ages and abilities. However flippant he might seem, he makes a fine job of dealing with complex issues. How does the parliament work? Do people know which representative does what? I suspect we haven't seen the last of young Kenny.

The support - sorry - Net Notes match the high production values of the programmes. Produced by Harry Blee, modern studies lecturer in the faculty of education at Glasgow University, they are available free on the Internet at They not only provide excellent background information and programme summaries but also include all of the important graphics from each programme and a range of activities. The Higher activities are separated into Outcome 1 and Outcome 2 and a range of further activities and ICT tasks lend depth. Print-outs of the notes are available from Channel 4 Schools.

Some teachers may feel that the issue of Scottish identity is dealt with in a lighthearted way and time constraints may force many to miss out the excellent but peripheral programme on Catalonia. But all in all this is a very positive addition to modern studies resources. Modern studies is the engine room of democratic education in Scotland and these programmes will provide top-grade fuel for years to come.

Gavin Clark is principal teacher of modern studieshistory at Dunbar Grammar School, East Lothian, and chair of the Modern Studies Association.

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