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Schools television

PICK OF THE WEEK

The BBC feels that it is time to update us on the subject of human origins, with the benefit of a good deal of new knowledge that has emerged in the past decade or so. Philip Martin's series Ape-man sets out to do the job.

It started a couple of weeks ago with a rather complex argument about the thought processes of prehistoric humans: did they have brains similar to our own? And, in any case, how can we tell?

This is the real strength of the series: that it examines not only the findings of recent science, but also the means by which the conclusions were reached. Last week's film looked at the remains of pre-humans and proto-humans; this week's reaches the very earliest creature of human form, Homo erectus.

Tall and athletic, but with apparently no capacity for language and very limited thought processes, this ancestor was actually a pretty terrifying piece of work, who would probably have wanted to eat you rather than chat about the family. However, the notion of the "missing link" is one that the series tends to discard. It seems that there was no smooth evolution from Caliban to Prospero, but a number of fits, starts and dead ends.

This is one reason why each programme covers a more or less self-contained topic, as well as offering an example of investigative methodology. There is a website (www.bbc.co.ukapeman) and a book by Robin McKie to accompany the series.

Ape-man, BBC2, Marh 7, 9-9.50pm

SCHOOL SPOTLIGHT

The 10 new spring programmes in this series for seven to 11-year-olds feature a wide range of different occasions when we want to use writing.

Mousey and her friend Larry, the computer terminal, parachute in to help a child with composing a recipe, keeping a diary, making a character for a comic and writing song lyrics. Visiting experts such as the children's writers Jacqueline Wilson and Dick King-Smith also offer advice; and Larry tells us about verbs and that kind of thing. All very sensible and practical.

DREAM ON, Channel 4 Mondays (rpt Wednesdays) to March 29 10.15-10.30 am (9.45-10am)

BEST OF THE REST

Leah Betts was a bright, attractive A-level student who died five years ago after taking Ecstasy at her eighteenth birthday party. Her case is well known because her father, Paul, was determined to make it serve as a warning and has since devoted his time to speaking, particularly in schools, about the dangers of drugs.

This is the first of three programmes on drug abuse among teenagers, approaching the issues in a fairly open way, with particular emphasis on the reasons why young people make the choices they do and on the messages they get from their elders.

"I don't think anybody really considered drugs to be illegal," one of Leah's friends says. "They were so freely available."

Children of Drugs, BBC1, March 8, 9.30-10.20pm

Robin Buss

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