Schools television

19th May 2000 at 01:00

This new three-part series on school pressure points slipped into the schedules almost unannounced last week. The first item, in a programme on breaking the rules, was about mobile phones, those fashion accessories that sing out merrily in the middle of a lesson just as the teacher is tackling the use of the apostrophe, or some other boring but necessary topic.

There is always the excuse that children need them to keep in touch, for example to tell their parents when they are going to be late (another detention for using a mobile phone in class, perhaps?). The other two items dealt with the problem of exclusions and the aftermath of one inexperienced teacher's indiscretion while on a school trip.

For the next couple of weeks, this will be a space to watch.

Classrooms at War, BBC1 Mondays, from May 15, 9.30-10pm


Four Ulster children find themselves imprisoned in a Norman keep by a grumpy chap called Walter de Burgh, who won't let them out until they can demonstrate that they know a little about his people and their effect on the history of the British Isles.

This week they meet that much-loved duo, Motte and Bailey, and go to the Ulster History Park to find out why the two of them proved such an effective means of defence. This new history unit for 11 to 14-year-olds also covers the Bayeux Tapestry, life in a Norman castle and the Black Death, and suggests the kind of historical knowledgethat can be gained from combining written sources, material evidence and reconstruction. By the last of the five programmes, the audience should have earned its release.

History in Action: Conquering the Normans, Channel 4 Wednesdays from May 10 to June 14, 11.40am-noon


Adam Hart-Davis pedals around the countryside on a bicycle, pulling a sort of dustbin-on-wheels behind him and looking for well-known or unjustly forgotten inventors.

He makes no effort to correct the popular belief that all boffins are barmy. It is therefore a tribute to his enormous enthusiasm that his programmes are never less than fascinating. the man is a fine teacher of the kind who loves to illustrate a point with some home-made experiment involving a hammer and a drop of nitroglycerine or a plank and some bells.

In each programme in this new series, he invites viewers to come up with inventions of their own; this week, a balloon-powered hovercraft. The best suggestions will be shown in the final programme.

Along with Christopher Cockerell, inventor of the hovercraft, the week's heroes are Lord George Murray (pupils from Portsmouth grammar school help demonstrate his shutter telegraph), Caroline Burgess and Thomas Huxley; and Hart-Davis's contraptions should be an inspiration to any science or technology teacher. Just be careful with the nitroglycerine.

Local Heroes. BBC2 Tuesdays, from May 16, 8-8.30pm

Robin Buss.

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