Ready-made lessons for busy teachers

26th May 2006 at 01:00
LESSON KITS FOR PSHE. DVD-Roms (Windows only). Birchfield Interactive Pounds 149.95 per unit.

For the past 18 months in my school I've played an unexpected extra role: co-ordinator of PSHE and citizenship. And while I may not have welcomed the weekly deadline of having a lesson ready for the teaching team, the experience has shown me that these are two of the most powerful subjects we teach.

First, they offer the capacity to shape students' knowledge and understanding of essential issues which will help them through life; and, second, because they are powerful ways of communicating the school's values - what we believe in a global society every active citizen needs to know about how to behave responsibly and how to work with others.

That's why I'm a bit hesitant about any educational software that promises instant lessons: "No preparation required, simply deliver exciting ready-made lessons to your class."

With topics like sex education, drugs and bullying, that strikes me as an unhelpful unique selling point. PSHE should not, in any case, be about "delivering lessons", especially instant ones. It isn't some kind of inoculation against life, easily served up and administered, then sleeves rolled down because the job is finished. It needs to be about relationships, conversations, and helping young people to mediate a complex world.

Nevertheless, after years of preaching against succumbing to peer pressure, I can see the temptations of the software, especially given those weekly lesson-writing deadlines. The best bits do what good ICT should - they provide us with resources and a level of interactivity that are difficult to achieve through chalk and talk. For example, on bullying there are video clips of a pupil being bullied in different contexts. You click on the clip and watch. I enjoyed the video clips though I thought there should be more of them.

The so-called interactive quizzes are more problematic. After choosing a scenario of an old person being bullied, I rebelliously tested the system by responding to questions and saying that the bullying was fun and I'd like to do it again. I scored a decent overall total. That's where ICT doesn't help us with a subject like PSHE. It can give us screens of facts about bullying, recycling and contraception - the words read aloud in a grating voice as they appear on screen - but they can't add the essential moral dimension, the consequences of our decisions, the reminders of what it is to be human.

Geoff Barton is headteacher at King Edward VI School, Suffolk

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