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Software Explosion

In the early 1980s there was a remarkable explosion of creativity and innovation, driven by the relative ease of producing computer programmes for the new microcomputers like the PET, RM 380Z and BBC B. As well as large commercial publishers like Longmans and Mirrorsoft and higher education based initiatives such as 'Computers in the Curriculum' and ITMA, many teachers began to produce educational programs and small, innovative software companies formed to market them. The MEP Micro Primer pack compiled some and distributed them to all schools. It was the start of a flourishing home-grown software industry that continued into the 90s and beyond.


Work in Progress - needs to be completed


regional directors

Screenshot from Granny's garden

A time of creativity

In the late 1970s and early 1980s the development of cheap microcomputers offering the easy to learn BASIC computer language opened up the possibility for anyone to have a go at programming - and many did. Computer magazines published long printouts of programs to copy and many people experimented with creating programs for themselves - in the early days these were often trite or lacking educational value but gradually over the 1980s better and better programs were created.

In 1982 Chandler (1982, p.11) said for English , there was a 'mass of appaliing drill-and-practice material' which he put down to three reasons:

  1. commercial publishers had little understanding of the needs of the subject
  2. too few teachers were involved in local program development groups
  3. producing a good learning package took a long time and a lot of effort.

However he went on to predict that this was changing and that there would come a time when there would be an explosion of ideas.

And this is what happened. Many teachers developed programs for their own classes. A number of these went on to form their own companies to market these programs such as the excellent Granny's Garden from 4mation.

MEP also help fund development locally and nationally through a number of educational centres producing well thought out materials including: Computers in the Curriculum, ITMA, Five Ways, AUCBE, RESOURCE and others.

As well as these small start-up companies and number of larger commercial publishers developed and marketed educational software to take advantage of the increasing interest in computers created by MEP and the DTI Micros in Schools scheme.



Dr Jon Coupland Rosemary Fraser links to Hugh Burkhardt Shell Centre for Maths Education



Micro-Primer Pack

micro primer pack

Micro Primer Pack

This MEP project pulled together a range of software - Directed by Ron Jones,

Factfile - a database developed for the primary classroom. It allowed data collected from first-hand experience and from secondary sources to be entered into the computer, sorted, searched and displayed as graphs and tables. Information about 'ourselves' - height, weight, eye colour, hair colour, etc. - whicb had always been a popular subject in primary maths and project work, was entered imo a database file for the children to explore further.
Teachers and pupils could use it all sorts of data from other sources - census data, surveys of local shops, categorizing fungi etc.

TRAINING 50,000 primary teachers to use micros is no small task and the organisation set up to do just this has produced no small training package. The Microelectronics Education Programme (MEP) has had 500 children checking the 30 programs written by 110 people for its Microprimer package. Another 20 programs are under development. Microprimer will be presented to teachers with their micros on the training course which forms part of the Government's scheme. Each pack is specific to one of the three sponsored machines and consists of: introduction, reader, study text, activity guide, four case studies on cassette, fact file (database programs), and 11 pieces of software. The remaining software Just one of the books i n M E P ' s Microprimer will follow in three other packs, and two more are planned. Most of the programs were specially commissioned and the first fou r packs are free. The next two will be available at a subsidised price (around £15 per pack, including explanatory booklet). The material is well packaged and designed, and most of it comes in coffee-proof folders. Programs cover spatial perception, maths, quizzes and language in pack one, as well as a monitor testcard and program to check the cassette player volume controls. Schools have written these programs with financial support from the MEP - and the organisation is keen to stress the need for schools to come forward with more ideas.

Some of the Software Writers

Richard Millward


Bob Hart was headteacher of ... and produced Tombs of Arkenstone

Ian Birnbaum, FIND and Junior FIND,

Derek Allen

Derek was one of the pioneers of ICT in Education who wrote Dread Dragon Droom, one of the earliest educational programs consisting of a number of chapters, each containing a particular puzzle (mathematical, verbal, or logical). After "Droom" he went on to write various software packages including "Albert's House", "Pond" and "Rainbow Stories", all marketed through RESOURCE. Derek Allen also wrote sequels to the program: "Dragon Droom's Revenge" and "Stardust" (early versions were known simply as "Dust"). Many of his programs are still available for PC from Resource Education, now a private company based in Derbyshire. Sadly Derek died in the 1980s.

Mike Matson

mike matson

Granny's Garden

Peter Weston - Edword

Anita Straker - In 1978 Anita Straker was Wiltshire's maths advisor and the loan of a Commodore Pet by a fellow inspector sparked her interest in programming (. She enjoyed using it so much she bought one herself and the knowledge of programming gained led to thoughts of using computers in primary schools. At that time the only primary software available was American and "dreadful", so she started writing her own programs including Martello Tower, Tea Shop.


The Software Companies

During the 80s a large number of companies were founded ranging from small one/two people outfits to much larger enterprises. Some of these are listed below. It isn't meant to be a definitive list but to illustrate the range and diversity of them. I am happy to add in additional descriptions if you have them - contact me here.

Cambridgeshire Software House


Cambridgeshire Software House was formed in 1980 by Brian and Wendy Richardson and published their first program on a Commodore PET 32K computer in 1981. Since then they have designed, programmed and published over 500 pieces of software. They continue to publish programs available through their website and in recent years have been heavily involved in the Jaguar Cars Maths in Motion Challenge for Schools.

1983 The Mary Rose - Best Educational Simulation Of The Year - Historical Association

Based on the rediscovery and excavation of King Henry VIII's flagship, Mary Rose, this package came in two parts. First is the search for the wreck, where you nagivated a boat around the Solent, sending down divers to investigate what
you find on an underwater sonar scan. The second part simulated the excavation process. The complete package contained supplementary resource materials provided by the Mary Rose Trust.
Produced for the Apple, BBC, PET, RML480Z, Spectrum £40.25 (cass disk)

1985 Cars - Maths In Motion - Best Program Of The Year - EC&T Magazine

Clywd Technics


This was a word-processing package for the BBC written by Peter Weston , very easy use and offering many facilities. It came on a chip (EPROM) and so didn't eat into the computer memory as much as others that had to be loaded in from tape or disc.
Written by Peter Weston and developed by the Microelectronics Education Programme it sold for £51. 95.



Formed in 1983 4Mation is still publishing and still publishes Granny's Garden, probably their most famous product. See their website at http:

Granny's Garden

Their most famous game, this was all about exploring, feeding dragons, and improving reading skills.

Flowers of Crystal

This game has two parts to it, in the first part you are Super Jim and you have to find 4 treasures to complete the game. Then in part two you have to find the Flower of Crystal, you do this by finding the 6 parts of the flower dream. The effects in this game are excellent, and it has a nice blend of story-telling and educational value.


Mr Men Software


Mirrorsoft was part of Mirror Group Newspapers and its titles included First Steps with the Mr Men', 'Here and There with the Mr Men', 'Fleet Street Publisher' and 'Tetris'. They aimed for the home market especially focussing on the ZX Spectrum but also the BBC B and Electron computers. It kept going until the early 1990s.








Dread Dragon Droom


At the end of MEP the five local authorities agreed to continue funding RESOURCE as well as supporting it as a software development and publishing centre. It continued growing and expanding, running the annual RESOURCE conference at the Doncaster Race Course Conference Centre every November. It also supported a team of seven regional advisory teachers under the ESG scheme.

Software included: Dread Dragon Droom, Dust, Find, Albert's House, Forge, BBC Buggy Primer, Control BASIC, Picture Maker.




Chandler, D. (1982) Introduction in D. Chandler (ed) Exploring English with Microcomputers Reader 1 CET, London

Jones, R. (1987), Micro-Primer Revisited: the Microelectronics Education Programme in perspective. British Journal of Educational Technology, 18: 206–210.

Johnston, C. (1999), A catalyst within the system; Interview;Anita Straker, Times Educational Supplement 16 April, 1999