West Yorkshire police have a new approach to teaching children to be good citizens. Clare Jenkins reports.
Seven-year-old Joshua is engrossed in the classroom computer at Airedale Junior School in Castleford, West Yorkshire. He presses a button and the picture changes from a house to a kitchen. A third click and he has opened the door of the cupboard under the sink. Bottles of bleach, disinfectant and washing liquid spill out.
The program is a lesson in hidden dangers in the home. "My favourite bit is when you touch the hob and it (the computer) goes 'Ouch! Ouch!'," he says.
The CD-Rom - Learning for Today, Living for Tomorrow - has been launched by West Yorkshire Police in partnership with Wakefield Training and Enterprise Council.
Alan Perkins, the force's education liaison office, was brought in two years ago to help re-establish links between the police and schools that had been broken by the national curriculum. "We've had to revamp our whole way of working in schools," he says. "We were tied into the 1960s - a police officer sitting in front of 200 children. We wanted to put the police at the cutting edge and the only way is through technology. This CD-Rom is a multimedia resource exploring issues for the citizens of tomorrow."
"It doesn't replace the police officer," adds Sergeant Paul Raby, Wakefield's community safety officer, who was helping in the classroom. "It complements our work. It's another resource - as we are."
Two years ago, though, it was felt that the police had become under-used in education. "Teachers don't always know the resources that are available to them through the police," says Alan Perkins, "and the police didn't know about attainment targets and key stages. We've now trained them to understand what's happening in the classroom. We wanted proactive policing. So they no longer impose themselves, but come in as true partners."
West Yorkshire Police works in five local education authorities, so the CD-Rom has a triple format for use on a variety of computers. The force approached the training council for sponsorship, and it suggested making the police programme cross-curricular. "If it's used in different areas, like maths, it keeps the hidden messages going all the time," says Catherine Lunn, the council's education and business partnership manager.
Following Home Office guidelines, the CD-Rom covers four main areas: crime prevention, personal safety, citizenship and the role of the police. Contributors include Betty Boothroyd, the Speakerof the House of Commons , and MPs Ann Taylor, Labour Leader of the Commons, and Gillian Shephard, the former Secretary of State for Education and Employment.
The personal safety section includes drugs information tailored to different key stages of the curriculum. As well as dangers in the kitchen, children can look inside the bathroom cabinet and learn about the hidden dangers of medicines. There is information about alcohol, tobacco and solvents and information about hard drugs, including categories of offences and penalties. Alan Perkins emphasises that it is not a full drugs education curriculum but part of a wider package presented by teachers and supported by agencies.
Access to sensitive areas is guarded by passwords, keeping control with the teacher rather than the user, but there are no closed activities on the disc. All are open for discussion. "If people are looking for answers, there aren't any," says Alan Perkins.
"It's a life skills package, tailored to different key stages, with exercises for children to develop skills and attitudes. The teacher should use it as a guided route and a stimulus. The real work is then done by the police and other community partners."
Wakefield Training and Enterprise Council became involved, says Catherine Lunn, because the council could see the potential.
"We're always looking for alternatives to textbook teaching that support teachers and bring reality into the classroom. If something can be related to real life, children learn better. And it's fun, so they don't realise they're being taught."
In addition, the training council is always looking for education business partnerships. "This programme has the facility to bring in other partners in th`e community - a road haulage firm, for instance, in the road safety section. It's also a wonderful tool for raising attainment and developing key skills from an early age, for example ICT skills and communication in different formats with different groups of people."
It can also be used by children with reading difficulties or special educational needs.
Catherine Lunn adds: "Schools have a major remit in getting children academic qualifications. But that's not the only thing the community and employers are looking for. They also want young people to have initiative, basic skills and to be well-rounded people. As teachers have the major job of delivering the academic part, we're happy to work on the other side. So this was a wonderful opportunity to help us achieve our objectives, because it's going to help develop our future citizens and workforce."
* All schools in West Yorkshire's five areas will receive a free copy of the CD-Rom with a support booklet,guidance notes and an activities booklet. The training and enterprise council will provide training for teachers on how to use it. Other schools and police forces can buy the CD-Rom through TAG Developments, aneducational software specialist, on (freephone) 0800 591262 or 01474 537350. Profits go to the WestYorkshire Police Community Trust Fund.