Dinosaurs leave the rest standing

29th March 1996 at 00:00
Gillian Macdonald reports on this year's best schools' television. Did dinosaurs run faster than men? How would you work it out? Well, a 12-year-old scientist could probably show you how, though not many adults would know where to begin.

As demonstrated in an award-winning schools television programme, the answer is yes, they did (at 50 kilometres per hour), and all you need to do to calculate their speed is multiply the length of their stride by four and divide by the square root of the length of the leg.

The award, presented by the Royal Television Society at a BAFTA dinner in London last night, went to Channel 4's Scientific Eye: Darwin and the Dinosaurs, produced by Yorkshire Television and voted best secondary science programme of the year. A group of young pupils were taken to the Natural History Museum, where they worked out the answer for themselves, using ladders and string to measure a dinosaur's leg and replica footprints in the grounds. As one judge said, Scientific Eye has humour, which is rare in science programming, it presents a classic question and offers an open-minded way of exploring an idea.

The RTS awards, like those for documentaries and dramas, are the industry's own accolades, in this case, for educational broadcasters, and each year they are given to only four out of the hundreds of animations, dramas, documentaries, and magazine programmes produced for UK schools. This year three of the four awards went to Channel 4. Two went to social education and two to science.

Some of the programmes are produced on shoestring budgets, but a rare one has half a million invested in it, such as the winner of this year's secondary arts category, Loved Up, produced for the BBC's long-running teenage strand, Scene. A co-production with Screen 2, the major BBC2 drama slot, this was judged an outstanding play by any standards. Tackling the easy slide of a young teenage girl into drug dealing and the complex relations within her family, it was considered well-written, completely gripping and brilliantly acted - particularly by the female lead, Lena Headey.

But money is not the issue. These programmes are rewarded for their production values and their educational achievement. The winner of the junior category, another social education drama, was Good Health: No Bullying Here, produced by Carlton Television for Channel 4. Far less costly and less glossy, this was deemed to be a grittily realistic and well-acted dramatisation of a child being bullied at school. It was particularly commended for raising the problems faced by the girl's mother who had to go in to the school, and for ending with provocative, open questions for debate.

If young actors came in for a lot of praise this year, so did presenters such as Marcelle Duprey and Ron Selves in another Good Health series, Seeing is Believing, winner of the pre-school and infants category, produced by Tetra Films for Channel 4.

In an entertaining and informative mix of topics on eyes, they helped to create a relaxed atmosphere in which young children seemed completely at home in projects they were doing. Particular mention was made too of the engaging demonstration of how the eye of a camera works by Australian actor Kristian Schmid.

Gillian Macdonald is TES Resources and Media Editor, and chaired this year's Schools' Jury.

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