Worth voting for

24th January 2003 at 00:00
OUR PARLIAMENT: PARLIAMENT EXPLORED BY CHILDREN, FOR CHILDREN. Teacher's Guides and video: key stages 2 and 3. By Raji Hunjan. pfp Twofour ProductionsParliamentary Education Unit, pound;25 Tel: 0870 241 0731

The idea behind these resources is great: if children find Parliament boring and confusing, send child reporters to quiz Members of Parliament and lords to find out how the place works.

Holly wants to know why the House of Lords blocked a measure to combat Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE); Tanya wants to know why there aren't more women MPs. The trouble is, they get shunted around a bewildering variety of people, all of whom speak in such grown-up language that the whole business becomes even more confusing. My own children were mystified. The best bits are when we see politics away from Westminster.

Will the playing fields be sold? Will Sam be elected to the school council (we never learn the result)?

The teachers' guides, which are well thought-out, look at who should make different decisions, ranging from what's for lunch at school to who should choose MPs. But use the video with caution.

THE CITIZENSHIP FILE. pfp Publishing. Subscription, pound;64.50

This is a subscription-based service with hole-punched sheets that build into a comprehensive collection of lesson plans, information sheets for teachers and pupils, and suggestions for links with outside bodies.

The emphasis is on the practical: legal rights are illustrated by Raging Rhona, who wants her money back and will not make do with a credit note.

Citizenship should go across the curriculum, and there are good ideas for cross-curricular links covering everything from drama (a script looking at rights of way) and school assemblies, to using ICT to look at crime statistics and linking up with a university law department. There are ideas for entering the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Award or linking up with charities to develop citizenship locally. It's all regularly updated, which is essential for any school taking citizenship seriously.

GET INTO CITIZENSHIP: Government and Democracy; Britain - a Diverse Society; The Significance of the Media in Society; Crime and Legal Awareness; Human Rights pfp Publishing, pound;4 each (pound;2 for orders of 60 or more)

Get into Citizenship is A SERIes of workbooks on the theme in citizenship education at key stage 3. The emphasis is how law and governance affect young people and there is detailed guidance on how to run a mock election.

The information is up to date - Jonathon Woodgate and Lee Bowyer are in there, as is the Queen Mother's funeral.

The teaching ideas allow for differentiation: crosswords and lists feature alongside extended writing on proportional representation, and there are tests at different levels of attainment.

CITIZENSHIP PA September 2002, Volume 1, Number 1. Politics Association Email: politic@enablis.co.uk Subscription: pound;25

The Politics Association has risen to the challenge of citizenship education with this subscription-based magazine for teachers. The idea is to help keep more than one step ahead of pupils by giving background information on major issues such as declining voter-turnout, along with ideas for lesson plans and resources on themes such as democracy.

Particularly useful are reports on how citizenship has been introduced in different types of schools.

The first issue contains ideas for teaching about the Commonwealth and features an illuminating report on setting up a school council in a special school. "Politics" is widely interpreted. It also looks at extra-parliamentary pressure groups, such as Friends of the Earth. Although the main focus is for teachers, there is a pull-out section for pupils that considers the case for and against the monarchy. This is an impressive resource that will give a lot of busy teachers some much-needed confidence.

THE STORY OF PARLIAMENT IN THE PALACE OF WESTMINSTER. By John Field. James and James, pound;25

The Speaker may discard his wig and all-night sittings may pass, but Parliament cannot escape its history, and neither can anyone teaching it in citizenship.

Why do we have an unelected second chamber? Why don't we have proportional representation? Why, in short, isn't Parliament more democratic? The answer, as John Field points out in this thoroughly engaging and well-crafted book, is simple: Parliament was never intended to be democratic.

In the Middle Ages the only democracy that mattered was the balance of power between king and nobles. Cromwell himself, republican though he was, was horrified at the idea that power should be shared by those with no interest beyond breathing, and at his most egalitarian he never countenanced votes for women.

Yet Parliament has a long and honourable record of adapting to change, opening its doors to new groups and new voices. Field clearly loves the place. He writes easily, with frequent comparisons with today's Parliament, so that even without a background in history you are unlikely to get lost.

He starts his story in the primeval swamp of the prehistoric Thames - there are still dinosaurs about the place to this day.

Sean Lang teaches history at Long Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge

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