See, hear, change is in the air...;Broadcasting;Millennium edition

31st December 1999 at 00:00
Music and movement may be a distant memory, but the digital online age will not make the teacher redundant, reports Heather Neill.

More mature readers may remember the excitement of going into the school hall in bare feet to await a plummy-voiced female demanding:

"Now, find a space." Young listeners would have been taking part in BBC School Radio's Music and Movement, a programme which began in the Fifties but retained its title (without the plummy presenter) into the Eighties.

It is a long time since a posh voice coming out of a box with instructions to take giant footsteps or "make yourself very, very small" provided a frisson for the average pupil. And educational broadcasting has more than kept pace with developments in both technology and the curriculum.

Up-to-date figures are staggering: more than 60 per cent of GCSE students used GCSE Bitesize to help with their revision last year on screen, on-line or in print.

More than 50 million children have been helped to read and write with series such as Words and Pictures and Look and Read. Scene, the youth drama series which deals with difficult issues such as bullying, racism and drug addiction, has been on air for 29 years and has featured writers such as Colin Welland, Tom Stoppard and John Godber.

All these facts relate to BBC Schools Television, which came into being in 1957, about the same time as ITV began broadcasting to schools. BBC radio broadcasting to schools had been in operation since 1924, when Sir Walford Davies gave a lecture on music a mere 18 months after the founding of the BBC. It has gradually been eclipsed by television, although loyal listeners still have access to programmes on Radio 3 or by buying audio cassettes.

Now the BBC and Channel 4 (which took over from ITV in 1993) have arrived at a television service which covers all areas of the curriculum - geography, history, science, English, maths and music. The channels are competitive but they co-operate, cross-referencing programmes where appropriate. Both liaise closely with teachers.

Frank Flynn, head of commissioning for children at the BBC, says that "consultation is at two levels: teachers are asked what resources they need and are shown proposals just before commissioning. Where possible, 90 per cent-plus of printed support material is written by teachers."

With the development of the Internet, schools broadcasting is in the throes of further changes. As John Richmond, commissioning editor for schools programmes at Channel 4, says of the digital age: "Soon it won't matter what tube we squirt the pictures down, just how good the pictures are." And, increasingly, pupils will be able "to interrogate and interact with the pictures".

So it's just as well that he adds, emphatically, that he cannot foresee a time when such exciting technology will make the teacher redundant.

Heather Neill is arts editor ofThe TES

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