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Tuning into television

Sean Coughlan reports on a survey of how schools programmes are being used. Geography and history teachers are the most enthusiastic classroom television users, technology teachers would rather show their pupils Horizon than schools programmes and maths teachers have barely found the on-switch. These are some of the findings of research into how schools broadcasts are used, published by the National Foundation of Educational Research last week.

Viewing, Listening and Learning The Use and Impact of Schools Broadcasts, commissioned by BBC Education and written by Caroline Sharp, shows that schools television is being used by a large majority of teachers in primary schools and in a number of specific secondary departments.

In this survey of over 700 schools and colleges, almost 90 per cent of secondary geography and history departments were found to use schools television, with the BBC's History File proving the biggest draw (within its intended audience), with 79 per cent of history teachers using it.

Modern languages, science and English departments are all regular users of schools television, with programmes such as Channel 4's Scientific Eye being used by 66 per cent of science teachers and the BBC's English File drawing a 74 per cent rating. The most reluctant viewers were found to be maths teachers, with only 15 per cent using any schools programmes at all.

Adding substance to the argument about when schools programmes should be transmitted, the research found an overwhelming preference for using recorded tapes, rather than showing programmes at the time of broadcast. In secondary schools, 99 per cent of teachers were using videotapes, with 77 per cent in primary schools.

Top of the primary hit parade for schools television was the BBC's Words and Pictures, being used by 58 per cent of teachers in the infant age range, followed in popularity by stalwarts such as Zig Zag, Look and Read and Landmarks. In primary schools as a whole, the survey found 88 per cent of teachers regularly using schools television.

School radio also scored respectably at the primary level, with over half of teachers using the service, compared to a 7 per cent take-up at secondary, a figure that corresponds with the service's concentration on its primary audience. The most popular radio series proved to be Let's Move for five-year-olds, with a 62 per cent use that towered over its rivals.

The survey also considered how mainstream programmes, made for a general audience, were being used in the classroom. In secondary schools, teachers were ready to record anything that was useful, regardless of where it came from, with 87 per cent of geography teachers using broadcasts that were not specifically educational.

Most history, English and science teachers also said that they used mainstream programmes, such as documentaries, dramas and current affairs. Technology teachers, according to the survey, use more mainstream than schools programmes, with Horizon proving a particular draw, being regularly used by almost a third of all science and technology departments.

The biggest attraction in mainstream television for primary schools proved to be wildlife programmes, but primary schools tended to use programmes designed for their age group.

Revealing how teachers are roaming the airwaves to find material to support their lessons is the research on the use of satellite. The survey found that 6 per cent of the mainstream programmes used were satellite broadcasts (almost matching the use of ITV), mostly by modern language teachers tapping into French and German channels to find "real" language material.

An in-depth survey of pupils and teachers at 35 representative schools also looked at how programmes either held or lost pupils' attention. In terms of keeping children watching, regular changes of scene, topicality and the use of humour were identified as helping; while dated presentation, patronising adults and too much dry detail were considered turn-offs.

Clarity of explanation and image succeeded in embedding information in young viewers, particularly with repetition and a display of key words. Impeding understanding, researchers found, was the use of over-complex vocabulary, long passages of speech and too much happening too quickly.

"Viewing, Listening and Learning The Use and Impact of Schools Broadcasts. " Pounds 9. By Caroline Sharp. NFER, The Mere, Upton Park, Slough, Berkshire SL1 2DQ. Tel: 01753 574123

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