The rules of the game

21st May 2004 at 01:00
PARLIAMENT UNCOVERED. pfp publishing. Video and teacher's notes pound;24.99 Student book pound;4

THE BOOK OF RULE. Dorling Kindersley pound;20

William Storey reviews resources that set out to explain the inner workings of political systems

Parliament Uncovered, produced in 2002 for teachers of politics, has been re-launched for teaching citizenship, with a student activity book and teacher's notes. Produced in collaboration with the Parliamentary Education Unit, this accessible video is divided into 10-minute segments on aspects of Parliament's work.

It can be used to introduce the British parliamentary system to students of all ages. Parliamentarians explain their role, with two of the younger and more engaging personalities, Oona King, and Lord Taylor, being prominently featured.

However, its accessibility is also its main drawback. It provides useful and interesting information but does not prompt students to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of Parliament.

The same is true of the activity book. Attractively laid out with one page per topic, it puts questions which invite students to demonstrate knowledge but not insight. The teacher's notes address this weakness, suggesting various activities which help deepen students' understanding but which require the teacher to have strong subject knowledge to be effective.

For hard-pressed teachers taking citizenship as a supplementary subject, relying on these materials would produce superficial lessons.

The Book of Rule (illustrated below) surveys the political systems of 193 countries, organised by systems of government, with countries actively ruled by monarchs in the first section, the two countries ruled by religious leaders in the second, and so on. There are so many countries defined as democracies that this category is broken down into parliamentary democracies, presidential democracies and so on.

There is a brief explanation of how each system works. Most countries are allocated a page in which their political history and current arrangements are explained. Some more influential countries are covered in greater detail: the UK is given 10 pages.

It is not clear whom this book is aimed at. It cannot be used as a book of current affairs as world events change so rapidly. The combination of very general historical accounts and very detailed text boxes on the political system makes the information too limited for some but too detailed and confusing for others. The introduction suggests that it can help identify "fairer and more just ways of conducting our affairs", but for policy-makers it is far too superficial, and ordinary citizens are unlikely to use it for this.

Despite these limitations, the book could still be useful in citizenship lessons. The brief explanations of political systems could be used in human geography, while language students preparing for oral exams (which often choose political systems as a topic) would find it very useful.

William Storey is head of politics at St Dominic's Sixth Form College, Harrow

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