Programmes for schools and colleges began on BBC television in September 1960. For many years a pie chart symbol with music was used to count down the last two minutes before each programme begun,in order to allow for class changeovers and getting the children settled.
Despite the introduction of colour to BBC1 in 1969, most schools programmes remained in black-and-white well into the 1970s. Indeed, it took until 1973 or 1974 for the first colour schools symbol to be introduced, known as the schools diamond. This was a mechanical model that was operated live on air, and served the same purpose as the pie chart. Following the change in colours of the BBC1 globe, the diamond followed suit in January 1975.
In September 1977, the diamond was replaced by a countdown clock, similar to that seen on ITV, in order to give teachers a clearer indication of how long they had left to get their class to shut up. Still a mechanical device, a white dot would flip away every three seconds. A computer generated version was introduced in 1982, where the dots now faded to black. But it was bad news for dots fans, as the countdown clock's days were numbered...
In September 1983 schools programmes moved to BBC2 under the heading Daytime on Two, which spelt the end of the schools dots - instead a special 'daytime' version of the BBC2 symbol was used. From 1986 onwards regular BBC2 presentation was used.
In the late 1990s and 2000s, daytime schools programmes on BBC2 was been chipped away at, with typically only an hour-and-a-half to two hours of output a day. Only primary schools were now catered for in daytime hours; secondary schools programmes were now shown in blocks during the Learning Zone.
Unexpectedly, BBC schools programming was given a boost in February 2002 with the launch of the dedicated CBBC channel on digital - for as soon as it was realised that CBBC's target audience would actually be at school during the daytime, it was decided to transmit four hours of schools programmes a day, in a strand known as Class TV. This showed a mixture of programming aimed at primary school children, most notably archive episodes of Look and Read, some of which had not been aired for over twenty-five years!
Class TV came to an end in the spring of 2008, with CBBC's 'service level agreement', which committed the channel to broadcasting schools and factual programming, having been amended with the BBC Trust agreeing that "CBBC may cease broadcast of schools programming".
Schools programming continue to disappear from our screens, with the final daytime broadcasts on BBC2 taking place in March 2010. Schools television continued for a while longer as part of the overnight BBC Learning Zone, however, which used the above ident. The Learning Zone had launched on BBC2 in September 1995, using the night hours for a sequence of Open University, language, business, training and schools programmes. The ident shown here was introduced in October 1997 and would become the longest running ident ever on any BBC channel, clocking up 18 years' service until the Learning Zone was abolished in 2015.
As with BBC1, ITV used schools countdown clocks for many years, and shown here are two different versions that were used during the 1970s and 80s. ITV schools programmes transferred to Channel 4 in 1987, but still continued to use 'ITV' branded countdown graphics for a while.
If you want to explore the subject of television idents and continuity in greater depth, I recommend the following websites:
The Ident Gallery
The Ident Zone
The TV Room
625: Television Room
Text copyright © Robert Williams, images copyright © British Broadcasting Corporation