Jane Drabble, BBC education director, unveils plans for a night-time service for schools. Sean Coughlan reports.
A review of the BBC's education strategy, instituted by its director of education Jane Drabble, promises a more "outward looking" future, reaching out to new audiences and harnessing more of the Corporation's resources for educational purposes.
If education is to be the BBC's "big idea", Jane Drabble says that it needs to be established throughout the Corporation's activities, with her department providing "a source of energy and a galvanising force, as well as being a centre of specialism and expertise". Up until now, she says, "the commitment of the whole BBC to education has not been articulated enough".
As well as wanting greater integration with the mainstream of the BBC, Jane Drabble has also announced plans to broaden the base of the output, with the introduction of services for further education colleges and pre-school children.
In September a five-nights-a week, after-midnight education service will be launched on BBC2, with 1,250 hours a year of programmes for schools, colleges and adult learners, to be transmitted overnight for recording on video. Among the programmes set to use this additional airtime will be series tailored to GNVQ courses and the BBC's voluminous archive of schools programmes.
But, this expansion of the night hours broadcasts will not mean a corresponding diminuition of the daytime programmes for schools, she assures. "I don't think that it has to be an either or. There is obviously a lot of value still for a lot of teachers in the morning programmes."
How the schools service develops in the future should be determined by the needs of its classroom consumers, Jane Drabble believes, with BBC Education reflecting the changes in its audience. For instance, she says that research in secondary schools has shown that teachers are using general output programmes as well as those which are specifically educational, creating an opportunity for her department to provide support materials to bridge the gap between schools and mainstream BBC programme departments.
This balanced diet approach is also brought to Jane Drabble's plans for new technology. "I think that there's going to be a whole plethora of opportunities, but it's very difficult to precisely predict the outcome, " she says. "But it's one of those areas where there is so much excitement about the potential that we want to be very much in on the development."
To this end, BBC Education has its own Internet-linked club and its co-produced CD-Roms are gradually coming on stream. But before peering too far down the superhighway of video-on-demand and digital television, Jane Drabble says "I'm very concerned that we keep faith with the small primary schools, " acknowledging the budgetary limitations of schools that struggle to afford video recorders.
"I'm trying very hard to maintain a position of technological neutrality, because none of us really knows what's going to take off and there's no point getting too far ahead of the game if the schools are left behind. Our responsibility as a licence-fee funded organisation is to give people the maximum possibility to make use of our material in imaginative ways."
Adult education is another area which Jane Drabble believes will benefit from cross-fertilisation between departments within the BBC. Mass education projects, such as teaching foreign languages and basic literacy skills, have proved to be popular successes, and Jane Drabble promises more of these schemes using television's power as a teacher and motivator.
This month, there will be a Watch Out campaign, encouraging families to become naturalists exploring their locality, with back-up information being provided on the Internet.
School radio, however, is not promised a return from its unloved afternoon slot on Radio 3, although Jane Drabble suggests that new outlets might be found for the department's audio productions in partnerships with local radio stations.
Now heading towards the end of her first year as director of education, Jane Drabble expresses her plans for the future of her directorate with a reassuring absence of management-speak or the dated business-school language that in the past has so often clouded the messages between the BBC and its audience.
With an established track record outside educational broadcasting, most recently as assistant managing director of network television, Jane Drabble has a background that can plug her department into the wider circles of the BBC. Although it might be safe to assume that every head of education in the past 70 years has called for education to become a more significant player in the public life of the Corporation, perhaps this time Jane Drabble might have the connections to make it happen.