British Studies Web Pages


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Website of the Month - May 2002


Value for ELT: realia/ culture background/ culture projects/ general interest/ government

Producer of site (and intended audience)

The British government portal - run from the Cabinet Office. It is intended as a way of opening the workings of government to the British people - an exercise in democratisation (but hardly achieves that - there is still a great deal of legal secrecy). It also “aims to give everyone {in the UK} access to the internet by 2005”. However there is an enormous amount of information here - rather overwhelming but saves people in the UK a lot of time queuing in offices, or expensively on the telephone (the UK is a telephone culture - many things can only be done on the phone) - so it has to be reliable and up-to-date. For the aims of the site look at

Description of site

Big and complex. Links include many other non-profitmaking organisations outside of government. If you want a government department, either local or national, go A-Z Local Government/ A-Z Central Government, plus the Scottish Executive and the Welsh Assembly. On the A-Z Local Government page is a link to Local services, itself with links to such services as Health and Education (both in my experience very widely misunderstood in Poland). Some of the main links at the top are also useful: Your Life gives a series of everyday life events e.g. moving home, learning to drive, having a baby, dealing with crime etc - these are very good indeed. There is also daily news but from a government perspective - not a good site for news.

Accessibility *****

The home page really is the centre and the search engine (top right) its most useful feature and the site’s great strength. Type in what you want to know about - you don’t need to know the relevant government department first. Much better than the big search engines as a starting point for finding out about everyday life in the UK. Accessibility is its primary aim and, considering the vast range of links, it is good. An illustration: issues as different as prescriptions and euthanasia both produced at least a 100 links.

Not all departments linked to have upgraded their sites and quality is variable. Links are given in order of ‘popularity’, but if you’re not specific there can be rather a lot and often they are simply different pages of the same one, which can be very irritating. Sometimes they can be highly local too which is perhaps not what you are looking for. At the time of writing it was impossible to download any pages successfully

Range of themes covered *****

Enormous - the search engine will turn up links on the most unlikely subjects

Language level

Native - but increasingly simple and direct, in line with the government’s policy of public access. There is a link on the homepage to a Welsh version where you can see for yourself how the Celtic family of languages are completely unrelated to other European groups.

Value for students 

Age: 13+ * 16+ *** 19+ ***** Lang. level: pre-int/ int ** upper-int/ adv ****

For project work (via its search engine) and the curious - otherwise the site will not hold much interest. For more advanced students it could save a lot of time on projects. If you have an interest in government in the UK (but not politics) it is essential.

Value for teachers ****

Very good for your own background, watch your own responses as you look at the site and see if you can work out the cultural differences to how government works in Poland (you will be reading it just as any native in the UK). Pass this awareness on to your students. Useful for finding realia and possibly materials for the classroom. Good for directing older and more advanced students to if they are doing projects. Not so good for understanding how government and society in the UK work - it presumes of course you already know!

Overall value *****

A very good starting point to find out about life in the UK through original and ‘authentic’ documents. Go here before you try the big search engines. If the area you’re interested in is e.g. popular culture then this is not the site for you (but you might still be surprised). If you want to know what people in the UK have to deal with in terms of government - this is the site. Obviously the shared knowledge of living in the UK is assumed but it will give an idea of how things are done (or not).

Note  - Remember when visiting the sites of government departments that they are interested in promoting government policy - what the government hopes to achieve in the future - not necessarily presenting what actually happens. Read between the lines - how often do governments achieve their aims - imagine an equivalent Polish site and your reaction to it.

Produced in Poland by British Council © 2003. The United Kingdom's international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. We are registered in England as a charity.