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Practising safe shopping

Alan Beattie assesses a practical set of materials offering pre-leavers comprehensive guidance on such skills as wise buying, knowing your rights as a consumer and responding to advertisement claims. THE SMART SHOPPER'S GUIDE TO CONSUMER RIGHTS Essex County Council Trading Standards, Beehive Lane, Chelmsford Essex CM2 9SY, Pounds 60 including postage, Age range 14-plus.

Intended for pre-leavers with special educational needs, this guide will probably teach all of us some useful lessons about the joys and perils of life as a consumer. Coming in the form of an A4 ring-binder file ready to "pick up and use", it offers a comprehensive course that could occupy up to a year of study.

Eight topics are covered: consumer rights, consumer wrongs (what to do when you find that goods are faulty), food labelling, services (how to cope with hairdressers, dry cleaners, plumbers etc), electrical goods, ways to pay, buying a car and advertising (how to read and resist persuasion techniques).

All sections have a user-friendly and active format, consisting of teacher's notes, a lesson plan, student's notes (for their own files) and worksheets. Student activities include role plays, flash cards, surveys, projects, crosswords, and wordsearches, together with occasional revision quizzes. On some topics brief case studies or stories are provided as further props for the teacher.

This practical and useful set of materials has been piloted in one Learning Support Unit in an Essex College. It is easy to adapt by switching the sequence or by expanding the notes, worksheets and so on in particular sections.

There are some limitations which perhaps reflect its origins in a local government office. It sets out clearly and firmly the statutory background against which we make personal choices and purchases and which permits us to complain and seek redress. But it underplays somewhat the more activist strands of consumer power. There is little hint of how young people might respond to wider agendas of active protest - for example around green concerns, animal welfare, access for disabled people, discrimination of various kinds.

Although safety is mentioned (and is central to the mission statement) in fact surprisingly it isn't dealt with in much depth. Moreover the wider health agenda is not seriously picked up at all, which does seem a pity. Things like how to "shop smart for your heart", and perhaps even more important how to make decisions about alcohol, drugs, medications, condoms and other contraceptives don't make an appearance.

Another wider context, that of peer pressures and teenage lifestyles and livelihoods, is also underplayed. No doubt teachers can add such further ideas themselves.

On this basis the pack has much to offer as a primer in helping vulnerable young people to know their rights, and where and how they should be respected.

Alan Beattie is professor of health promotion at the University College of St Martin, Lancaster

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