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Schools television

* SCHOOL Spotlight

A new academic year is one of those intense networking jamborees, whether you're just starting off at primary school or busy signing up for scuba diving at freshers' fair. For children though, it is a time to catch up on friendships that have probably been in stasis over the holidays.

The new term's new output from Channel 4 Learning and BBC Schools offers a similar opportunity to renew old acquaintances, as well as a chance to make new friends. Channel 4's Number Crew is back on the high seas with the SS Mathematical and three further units that cover numbers and the number system, calculations and solving problems. Over on BBC2, Maths Challenge 2 will give older pupils more quick-fire puzzles to solve using mental arithmetic.

Tony Blair will no doubt welcome two endearingly squashy characters Dottie and Buzz ('Stop, Look andListen', Channel 4). This pair wrestle with various moral dilemmas in a world which emphasises the importance of Christian values.

Multimedia slapstick is the order of the day with DynaMo from the BBC, as animated adventurers explore the world of numbers, words, colours and creatures through games and puzzles. This series is backed up by books, website, video and a parent's guide for those helping children learn at home.

Both channels have health-related fare: on Channel 4 it's all about going to the dentist. Arghh, no one likes doing that but All About Us: crunch time is designed to diffuse our natural terror and, by reinforcing messages about diet and hygiene, should give viewers a better chance of avoiding the dentist's chair in future.

Finally, looking ahead to the end-of-term production, there's Channel 4's all singing, all-dancing Stop, Look and Listen guide to putting on your own performance of Jack and the Beanstalk. This comes with teacher's guide, CD (with songs, plus an extra karaoke version for everyone to join in); script, prop list and stage directions.

* Best of the rest

England 0, Poland 0. Once again our sporting mediocrity has dashed a nation's hopes. If only we had a production line of Michael Owens.

Luckily the boy wonder is taking his own masterclass in a new series for BBC2. Called, appropriately enough, Michael Owen'sSoccer Skills.

Each week he drills a mixed group of kids in the finer aspects of ball control, the importance of warming up properly and other tricks of the trade.

Rather like his football, he's a natural presenter - unaffected, twinkly-eyed and engaging. But this is not merely a celebrity show-case, the lessons are clearly detailed and his pupils show ever greater mastery, which should make this essential watching for anyone who's ever wanted to pull on an England shirt, or merely turn out for the school.

"I'm going to teach you," Michael says confidently, "how to put the ball in the back of the net." Hopefully his colleagues will be watching.

Michael Owen's Soccer Skills BBC2, Fridays 6.45-7.15pm

JANETTE WOLF

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