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Pick of the week:

The Roman Empire in the First Century BBC Knowledge, Monday, February 25, 9-9.40pm

This series of history programmes dealing with the fascinating topic of first-century Rome has reached the death of Nero. By chance, we know a lot about everyday life in Italy around this time, thanks to the eruption of Vesuvius; and, even more surprising, perhaps, we have a contemporary account of that event by Pliny the Younger, who witnessed the eruption as a teenager.

He stayed at a safe distance and survived, but his learned uncle decided to have a closer look and was suffocated by the fumes. This film puts the disaster in its historical context.

* Best for schools

Off Limits: growing up gay Channel 4 ,Thursdays, from February 28, 10.25-10.50am

Everybody at school teases Jake for being a "sissy", particularly the chief bully, Lucas. Then Jake's widowed father falls in love with Lucas's divorced mother, and the two worst enemies end up sharing a bedroom. Likely? Well, stranger things have happened; and the point of this play is to highlight the problem, so getting the two protagonists close to one another is not such a bad idea.

Eventually (and less probably, perhaps), they come to like one another and see the person behind the attitude. It is at this point that everything starts to go pear-shaped. Teenage viewers should enjoy this rather soapy drama, as it slyly encourages them to question their attitudes to their own and other people's sexuality.

Maths Challenge BBC2, Wednesday, February 27, 12.20-12.30pm

Another new programme in this quiz series for nine and 10-year-olds, adapted from the Schools Radio series. This week, the subject is complements.

Matt Matics has to stop his arch-enemy, Dr Strangeglove, from becoming master of an icy mental maths universe. "Situates maths clearly in the real world," says the press release; as you will have noticed. In your real world, and to help you survive Year 5 in last period on a dull afternoon, a teacher's activity pack is available with a range of photocopiable sheets and suggestions for use.

* Best of the rest

Meet the Ancestors Special BBC2, Tuesday, February 26, 9-9.50pm

More classical studies, this time looking at the end of the Roman Empire and asking why it collapsed. The team travel to Lugano and Sardinia to investigate Professor David Soren's theory that a deadly strain of malaria was part of the problem. Not exactly "meet the ancestors", though: the corpses this week belong to babies and children, who died before they could pass on their genes; their DNA suggests malaria was the cause.

Raised by the State BBC2, Tuesday, February 26, 11.20pm-12midnight

David Akinsaya spent his childhood in care, where he was successively considered unfosterable, maladjusted and, finally, a criminal. He was also sexually abused. Nowadays, he works for the Prince's Trust and campaigns for children in care. Here, he questions the British care system and what it does to those it is supposed to bring up.

Robin Buss

Full educational programme schedules can be found online at programmesspring2002.cfm

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