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So who did dung in the 1950s?

Dissecting otter dung, then answering O-level maths questions on a blackboard are not typical pursuits on television game shows.

But they will be standard challenges in a series which pits pupils against their parents to see who copes best with 1950s schoolwork.

That'll Test 'Em is a spin-off from the reality programme That'll Teach 'Em, which begins its third series on Channel 4 next week.

The main programme previously sent GCSE pupils to a 1950s grammar school then a 1960s secondary modern. This year it returns to the 1950s to see how 30 students cope with single-sex education.

While the reality series was filmed over four weeks in a real school, the quiz show was produced on a studio set in London complete with science laboratory benches and Bakelite switches.

The games include a practical science round in which contestants dissect otter and rhinoceros dung and a "supply teacher round" in which visiting teachers ask them O-level questions. Surreally, the teams also compete to fire rolled-up rugby socks at a picture of Hitler using a catapult constructed from a chair.

Neil Gallery, quiz producer, said the pupils usually outperformed the parents, even though the adults had sat O-levels for real. "The parents took it very seriously but their maths was atrocious," he said.

The teenagers, all predicted to get GCSE A and B grades, did less well when they sat mock O-levels in the main series.

But the programme's makers said they believed that teaching them in single-sex groups was a key reason why the boys performed only 5 per cent worse than the girls, whereas at GCSE the national averages show them lagging 10 per cent behind.

The boys also appreciated the riskier old-fashioned science lessons involving plentiful dissections and chemical explosions.

James Williams, a science education lecturer at Sussex university, writes in today's TES about how playing the deputy headteacher changed his mind about the validity of GCSEs.

"I had great pleasure marking Fifties-style, complete with lashings of red ink, crosses and bold lines through what I considered gibberish," he said.

That'll Teach 'Em starts on Tuesday on Channel 4 at 9pm, followed by That'll Test 'Em on More4.

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