Reeling them in

20th January 2006 at 00:00
British Pathe offers a veritable treasure trove of digital resources, says Patrick Kelly

You would have to be over 40 to remember when Pathe News was as much a part of going to the pictures as popcorn. Its 10-minute documentary reports of British life were the educational filler in the entertainment sandwich of the main feature and the B-movie. Cinema newsreels may have gone the way of hoola-hoops and Chopper bikes - but now a new generation of children is once again using Pathe as an educational resource - this time in the classroom rather than the cinema.

Graeme Barron's pupils at Forest Hall Primary School in Newcastle upon Tyne are often treated to a 10-minute film show projected on to the whiteboard on subjects as varied as volcanoes and Victorian Christmas cards.

There are more than 3,500 hours of footage dating from the 1920s to the 1970s and it's all absolutely free. Thanks to a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant, the entire British Pathe archive was digitised and made available on the web. Educational users were granted free access under an arrangement with school broadband providers.

"I use Pathe newsreels as a stimulus for lessons - particularly history,"

says Graeme, who is also ICT co-ordinator at the school. "But it's great for embedding ICT into other subjects. The children view a clip and then that's the basis for a discussion afterwards. Or it can provide an interesting and unusual stimulus for writing. For example, I downloaded a clip on the Changing of the Guard. And then the children had to write about what they had seen - from the point of view of one of the spectators - or one of the guardsmen."

Pupils at St Bernadette's in Wallsend have also been using Pathe - but here they have gone one step further and become documentary makers themselves - for example, interspersing Pathe's clips of the 1951 FA Cup Final with their own version of the big game filmed using stop-go animation techniques and camcorders in the school playground - all recorded using Microsoft's Moviemaker software.

"They had to write their own commentary on the film and do the voice-overs." says class teacher Imelda Agar. The children also wrote and recorded their own voice-overs for a short film about evacuees in the Second World War. "They had to imagine that they were evacuee children.

Some of the children borrowed artefacts like Second World War shells and wrote and shot their own scene of them discovering the shells in a pile of rubble. They then edited it and cut it into the original footage.

"Not only does it make history come alive," adds Imelda but "it 's also a great way of getting the boys to expand their literacy skills. The great thing about the Pathe archive is that it's very accessible. The children love it - they even like the cut-glass BBC accents from those days. What's more - unlike TV or DVD it's very easy for you and the children to manipulate it in whatever way you want."

"The children are used to working from film," adds Graeme Barron, "but what they love about the Pathe is its old style grainy feel. And, of course, what they are seeing is very high quality - well shot and well-edited scenes."

Christopher O'Hearn, commercial director for ITN Archive, which manages the Pathe archive, agrees: "The established success of the British Pathe site shows that if you have good video content then it will be viewed. With the HLF grant we were able to allow the images to be downloaded at much faster speeds and it's really taken off from there."

Dean Jackson, ICT adviser for North Tyneside, also preaches the Pathe message: "We are pushing it to teachers all the time because its such a marvellous resource. Of course, we concentrated mainly on its use in history - but its adaptable to all sorts of curriculum subjects. There's a great film of Vesuvius which lends itself to the volcanoes topic in science.

At the North Tyneside schools film festival - in which 30 schools across the authority enter every year, lots of entries were interspersing their own footage with Pathe's newsreel material. Once teachers and kids get started they really do get thinking of lots of different ways of using it."

* Teachers can access the British Pathe site at

and by logging on with their school email, they are automatically able to download content.


Support for teachers

There's a support website for teachers at - which is the website of the British Pathe Schools licence run by the regional broadband consortia of LEAS. It contains lots of useful ideas and tips about using the archive - including suggestions for anniversaries, footage which has connections with modern day events - one suggests talking about the Pakistan earthquake using Pathe film on the 1966 disaster at Aberfan.

There are also lots of useful links to schools using Pathe and examples of their work.

A Pathe history

British Pathe is one of the oldest media companies in the world.

Founded in Paris in the 1890s by Charles Pathe, the company pioneered the development of the moving image and set up in in London in 1902. By 1910 it was producing the bi-weekly newsreel, Pathe Gazette and followed this up with Pathetone Weekly, the Pathe Pictorial and Eve's Film Review, covering entertainment, culture and women's issues before ceasing production in the 1970s. Since then its archive material has been used in a host of film and TV documentaries and videos.


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