Class visits

18th October 1996 at 01:00
EUREKA! THE SECRET LIFE OF SCHOOLS Channel 4 Tuesdays, 9.30-9.45am Rpt Fridays, 9.30-9.45am Age range: 7-11

Teachers' guide and anthology from the Educational Television Company. These three programmes are being broadcast as part of the successful Eureka! series. Most primary teachers and children are aware of Michael Rosen's poems, but may be less familiar with Michael Rosen as a television presenter. I was certainly curious to see the north London poet in this role. Here he takes a journey through time to explore schools from Roman times to the present.

Each programme starts dramatically with Michael Rosen falling Alice-like down into the wonderland of his historical voyage of discovery, exploring the history of our education system. Schools may not seem, at first, to be the most riveting of subjects, but as a lot of us spend a large part of our lives in them from the age of five, it is probably worth finding out why they are the way they are.

"Schools of the Past" looks at early schooling, starting with a class of today's children doing a project on the Romans. This creates the link with education in Roman times, schools for boys in Saxon times, charity schools for the poor and education for the masses in Victorian schools. We see children enact a Victorian lesson at the Ragged School Museum. Lots of material here for history projects.

In "Rules for Schools" the programme looks at rules, regulations and punishment. The two examples chosen, the Royal Hospital School, set up for the sons and daughters of sailors, with its military discipline, and liberal Summerhill, caused a few "wows" from the three children watching the programmes with me. Corporal punishment is a difficult issue. Unfortunately, Michael Rosen looked worryingly gleeful when he talked about caning, which seemed rather inappropriate.

The final programme looks at different types of schools in Britain today. In a "Class of Their Own" we are left to gasp at the Pounds 10,000 a year fee-paying school with its wonderful facilities, including a golf course, and to contrast this with state schools. Schools for the three major religious groups in this country (Anglican, Roman Catholic and Jewish) are shown, as well as those which cater for children with special needs.

The programmes omit to mention the changing nature of British society and how schools now cater for children from a wide range of religious, cultural and linguistic backgrounds. I was left thinking that we were still talking about schools which existed several decades ago, rather than truly being brought up to date.

The accompanying teacher's notes give a very clear overview of each programme as well as useful supplementary material which includes pictures and worksheets. The programmes and notes provide an excellent and useful cross-curricular resource.

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