Candid camera work

28th April 1995 at 01:00
Programmers are not shying away from the troublesome topics, finds Carolyn O'Grady. Teachers of junior classes often feel very comfortable with certain subjects, but extremely uncertain about others. Terry Marsh, until earlier this month head of BBC Schools, says that for key stage 2, broadcasters now feel that "risk investment" is the name of the game.

"We want to push the boat out in those subjects where teachers feel most diffident." Following the BBC's major boost to primary science, the next subjects to be given the TV and radio treatment, though on a smaller scale, will include maths and French, where the corporation is taking its cue from teachers rather than the national curriculum.

Maths is an area where the broadcasters feel their contribution has been relatively unsuccessful so far. "Maths teachers don't use TV programmes, " says Paul Ashton, commissioning editor for Channel 4 Schools. In an attempt to change their minds, last autumn Channel 4 launched a key stage 2 series, Maths Everywhere, which uses colourful animation and graphics to provide starting points for mathematical investigations.

In addition, taking heart from the recent success of Number Time at key stage 1, which has seen a rise from 26 per cent to 40 per cent in school take-up over two terms, the BBC is now piloting maths programmes at key stage 2 based on that series for launch in l99697.

In French the emphasis, says Sheila Scarborough, BBC primary education officer, is on motivating children and supporting non-specialist teachers. "We've had a lot of requests from teachers," she added. Though French is not part of the national curriculum at primary level many schools were making time for it either in schooltime or as a lunchtime club.

This summer the BBC will introduce 10 television programmes to link with the radio series Le Club. Made in French, they will show French children in their homes and include some lively animation.

This summer will also see support for teachers in fulfilling the national curriculum requirement that children be taught the traditional dances of the British Isles. The BBC radio series, Dance Workshop, is introducing Scottish and Irish dances. Channel 4, with The Dragon's Song, is already focusing on vocal and instrumental music in Wales and on music from Northern Ireland in Songs and Sounds by Leaps and Bounds.

In the meantime, Primary Science, the BBC's two-year Pounds 6 million blockbuster project of programmes for teachers and pupils, materials and resources continues to dominate the schedules at that age range. It is designed to give the investigative side of science a special push.

Also designed to have a significant impact on teachers' confidence in delivering the primary science curriculum is a major new INSET series, Making Sense of Science, which will begin on Channel 4 in the autumn.

Television's great strength, says Sheila Scarborough, "is that it can provide experiences which teachers can't. We try to show things that will grab pupils' attention". The repertoire is huge: films, dramatisations, graphics and animation are included.

Thus in the BBC series, Science Zone, part of the Primary Science project, programmes on "forces" and "friction" contain footage on escaping from an oil-rig platform, a manoeuvre which requires respect for gravity, and an Olympic bob-sleigh race which illustrates careful control of the force of friction.

Reading and writing are also areas where the broadcasters feel they can provide motivation. In an eight-programme Look and Read special an imaginary television station is the device used to encourage children to look at the process of writing for many different purposes. It comes with a support pack of ideas for games and other activities.

In an interesting development BookBox, a new Channel 4 English series, is made up almost entirely of dramatisations of popular texts and plays written to promote reading. Freddie and Zapper, for example, is a four-part drama in which the eponymous heroes find themselves in a strange world peopled by characters from famous stories.

The idea, says Paul Ashton, is to encourage more sophisticated reading and reflection. "There is plenty in the schedules for the reluctant reader. But what about the average reader? We are trying to say to them: 'Now look at all the wonderful things you can read'."

Also attempting to provide an accessible route to more challenging works is the BBC's Shakespeare: the Animated Tales, which makes use of beautifully constructed animation to introduce 9 to 13-year-olds to the Bard.

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