Citizenship lessons - the movie

26th October 2007 at 01:00
Inspired by Al Gore's climate change documentary, one of England's most distinguished film directors is making a movie about the importance of educating children to change the world.

David Puttnam, who directed Chariots of Fire, has teamed up with author Bill Bryson and Sir Michael Barber, a former education adviser to the Prime Minister.

He showed a four-minute trailer at the Teaching Awards gala dinner this week, although the feature-length documentary for cinema release is still being filmed.

Some of its arguments will inevitably be contentious: it will call for school to be redefined, focusing not just on numeracy and literacy but on moral and social education.

The trailer takes a swipe at American education, saying that the best education systems draw their teachers from the top third of university graduates, but the US draws its teachers from the bottom third of graduates.

Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize this month for his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. But an English judge found that he had made nine factual errors that should be accounted for when it is shown in schools.

Lord Puttnam had been impressed by the former American vice-president's documentary, but said it lacked a focus on the importance of school education in solving the planet's problems.

Without teachers, he said, "this nation would simply have no foreseeable future whatsoever".

Children were passionate about the physical environment of the world around them, and were building issues of sustainability into the very fabric of their schools.

Quoting Jonathon Porritt, the environmentalist, he said: "The nation's primary schools have become a hotbed of radical environmentalism. Politicians of all parties - take note."

The project was conceived over a breakfast shared by Lord Puttnam, Sir Michael, Mr Bryson and Caroline Rowlands, who runs the television and film production company that made the London 2012 Olympics bid films.

It rapidly snowballed in size and ambition, and Ms Rowlands was made executive producer.

She told The TES that education systems were crumbling in many parts of the world; that even in the developed world we were letting down the most vulnerable children.

Ms Rowlands grew up in apartheid-era South Africa, and was aware that she was privileged to have an education.

"We are better equipped to cope with climate change, social instability - everything we confront as the human race - if we are better educated," she said.

"This isn't about cosy classrooms with children chanting 'a, b, c, d'. Education is so much broader than that - we are going to have to confront some very difficult topics head on."

The first of those could be wrestling control of the curriculum agenda away from politicians, she said, giving short shrift to Gordon Brown's talk of delivering primary education to the developing world.

"Personally, I think education comes from a moral place. It can't be linked to politicians' agendas, to any political party in any country. This is about every adult taking responsibility for educating every child they encounter."

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