Crash test dummies and the road to Nostalgiaville

28th February 1997 at 00:00
For a double-declutching middle-aged motor maniac like me, a collection of historic cars is sufficient unto itself. I am content to wander round recalling my boyhood rides in the mine manager's Austin 16, or the day we stood at the school gate watching open-mouthed as one of the first ever Land Rovers droned by.

Teachers, though, who are looking for a curriculum resource, want a lot more than this, and I have to say that I have rarely seen a more thoughtful approach to the needs of school parties than is demonstrated by the education staff at Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon in Warwickshire.

The centre, which houses the biggest collection of British cars in the world, has the advantage of masses of space. It is on a huge site with a faintly X-Files feel about it - but that may be just because I remember it as a nuclear V-bomber base in the Sixties.

The large and quite new main building houses classrooms and lecture theatres, as well as the collection itself. In the grounds there are picnic and play areas as well as a nature trail, an area where you can hire quad bikes and a demonstration circuit for off-road vehicles. The large grounds also mean that most of the programmes can include rides in historic vehicles. (And yes, the teachers can have rides, too.) A range of school visit programmes is available. In each case, all of the teaching is done by education staff who are fully qualified and experienced teachers.

For key stage 1 there is "Time Road": a large selection of vehicles is arranged, inside the centre, along a stretch of road. The vehicles themselves and the road surface gradually change, to demonstrate the way that cars have evolved over the past 100 years.

Full-size figures in appropriate costumes are spaced along the road, and the children are taken "backwards" from the present day. The Heritage Centre teachers do lots of careful work on remembering, in line with the national curriculum's KS1 history guidelines on understanding the passing of time. The children take part in role play, in costume, at various points on the "Time Road". There is also a ride in one of the cars.

For key stage 2 there is "History of Transport", which includes an introductory talk, with slides, and a guided tour of the museum. Again, there is dressing up and role play, and a ride in one of the historic vehicles.

Also for key stage 2 is "Britain since 1930", which specifically supports the study unit of that name in the history curriculum. Again there is a slide presentation, rides in cars from the Forties, Sixties and Eighties, and a guided tour of the museum. Emphasis is placed on the social impact of car travel, and there's also a look at statistics.

The road safety programme is also for key stage 2 and contains lots of maths, science, English and history. The pupils study road safety figures; they see a demonstration of stopping distances, and they get to watch their teacher belted into a test rig to demonstrate a 20mph frontal impact. The children, of course, enjoy this hugely.

There is quite a bit of car riding in this programme, as pupils compare safety features in cars of different periods. The pupils can also take a "driving test" on a miniature roadway.

For key stages 3 and 4, and for college students, there is a design technology programme, which looks at the issues around vehicle design.

Many school parties (there are 10,000 pupil visitors per year) make a visit to the centre at the end of the relevant curriculum topic, perhaps as a sort of "icing-on-the-cake" treat. In fact, though, the centre is a much more powerful resource than this implies. Children who make a visit at the start of a topic, to be introduced to "Britain since 1930", for example, will have plenty of images and experiences - and knowledge - in their minds, as they work back in their classrooms.

On Saturdays during the spring there are open days for teachers and their families. Incidentally, do not forget to take cameras along with you - there will be plenty of photo opportunities.

Gerald Haigh * Heritage Motor Centre, Banbury Road, Gaydon, Warwickshire CV35 0BJ. Tel: 01926 645078. School visits cost Pounds 2 per pupil (FE students Pounds 4). One adult is admitted free for every six pupils.

Education Show stand SJ16

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