Some home truths unearthed
Somewhere in the national debate about standards there should be a mention of the way subjects have evolved, in particular geography. Many of the concepts introduced in the Zig Zag series of key stage 2 programmes are exactly the same as those which were taught in university departments some 20 years ago.
It was on some of the first punchcard-driven computers that we worked out the laws of the new science of locational analysis. Today, we ask our 9 and 10-year-olds to study those same laws, such as where to site a shopping centre or sports stadium in relation to a town or city. That shows a remarkable development, no matter how the Government may choose to measure it.
The general subject matter for the four programmes called Village, Town and City (January 6-29) was the endlessly fascinating study of settlement patterns.
Four locations are compared, from an isolated farm on Dartmoor, through to the big city of Leeds. Each is exemplified by a family home, introduced by a young person who tells his, or her, story.
This is the vehicle for the introduction of ideas about rural-to-urban migration, commuting patterns, the location of retail centres and urban traffic flows. The topics, of course, are not introduced in as many words, but the themes are there, easy to unearth and easy to understand.
With programmes such as these, the value added by the teacher is crucial. The children will have no problem understanding that James's village shop has closed and that Laura has to travel miles to see her friends, but where they need help is in understanding the social and economic "laws" that govern such inconveniences.
With geographical non-specialists often teaching in upper primary, there is greater pressure placed on the additional, printed resources. Buy them!
All this talk of locational analysis and settlement patterns may suggest a degree of complexity. Quite the opposite, the programmes are simple and enjoyable.
Using junior narrators, supported by a friendly Blue Peter-style geographer, is an approach that works. Charm overflows. It is also summer all the time, and herein lies a small complaint.
The Zig Zag producers, who clearly know their stuff, have chosen four families who all appear to have one mother, one father, and one or two brothers and sisters. Moreover, all the families are white and middle-class. Sadly, the Asian faces that feature in the Leeds unit appear to be tokens.
The BBC can never be accused of not taking care; the suggestion is that they made the wrong choice. Britain today comprises a diverse mix of one-parent families, poor families and non-white families.
For children in these groups, their very social, financial and ethnic backgrounds strongly influence the process of day-to-day life. No car and no cash does interesting things to patterns of shopping behaviour.
This quibble aside, the programmes are genial, interesting and usable. Apart from the geographical content, they can also be used as a springboard for the discussion of much wider issues around the way we live. In this respect they will fit well within the integrated topic approach to national curriculum teaching in primary schools.
* Resource Pack and Fact Finder available from BBC Educational Publishing, PO Box 234, Wetherby, West Yorkshire LE23 7EU, Pounds 11.95 (pack) and Pounds 4.99 (book). Prices include VAT