History hit of the moment;Primary;Reviews;General

26th June 1998 at 01:00
FILM IN VICTORIAN BRITAIN. Video and booklet. By Terry Staples. British Film Institute pound;19.99

VICTORIAN CHILDREN PHOTOPACK. By Steve Harrison and Jonathan Hewitt. Folens pound;13.95

As you enter the doldrums between national tests whirlwinds and the soothing holiday breezes you might be wondering how to keep alive, in those languishing Year 6s, a flutter of interest in intellectual pursuits. Film in Victorian Britain, the most innovative resource for teaching about the Victorians to hit the market for a long time, is the answer.

But you are not teaching about the Victorians? No matter. The booklet accompanying the video contains wonderful ideas for projects that are technical, scientific, literary, creative and, above all, fun. All of them arise from the use of extracts from the hour-long video, which contains 33 lengths of film shot between 1886 and 1906.

They are neatly spaced out and are in nine broad groups. One selection, for example, is about children, another about royalty, while another features railways. Detailed provenance (a historian's delight) andtechnical information are given for each extract, making the collection truly fascinating.

You would certainly not show all of the films - not at one sitting anyway - but children will be intrigued by the shots of boys at play; surprised by the view of streets busy with horse-drawn traffic criss-crossed by pedestrians ignorant about RTAs and zebras; and amused by the jokes and special effects used in such creations as "How it feels to be run over".

The pack has been thoroughly tested in primary schools and is a unique resource. For a start there is not a photocopiable sheet in sight. I have neither the space nor the inclination to reveal the secrets held between the covers of the substantial and well-written 86-page booklet, so you will have to buy your own copy. Every school studying the Victorians should have one.

If I am allowed one small carp it is that the specially written music, mainly featuring an over-bright piano, is predominantly chirpy, which tends to lead one to regard all of the old film as rather comic, which it isn't. To be fair, the rhythmic melody that accompanies the railway film is spot on.

Folens's photopack is useful and cheap. Most of the black and white A4 pictures will be familiar to students of the period, but you can never have too many pictures, especially when you are studying the past.

The two photocopiable picture sheets do not photocopy well and are a bit of a waste. To get the most from this pack you would need to use it with children of at least 10 or 11.

One group I witnessed extracted a great deal of history from them and surprised me by how animated they could become over a few black and white pictures. Perhaps it is a measure of how boring primary teaching has been made by those mind-numbing national tests.

Paul Noble is head of St Andrew's primary school, Blunsdon, Wiltshire

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