Help pupils see cinema classics

8th July 2005 at 01:00
The increase in candidate numbers for GCSE media studies is excellent news ("Ditch poetry for pop videos", TES, June 17). All young people should have opportunities to engage both critically and creatively with the media that dominate our cultural and political lives.

However, the argument about whether or not media studies is an appropriate alternative to English literature is on the wrong track, because the two subjects are completely different in terms of what they offer to learners.

Media studies focuses on core concepts such as media languages, audience and representation, which provide pupils with critical techniques for analysing media forms they have already encountered - such as news, advertising, mainstream film and television drama, magazines and newspapers.

This conceptual framework, together with the rapidly evolving media landscape, ensures that the subject is not a "soft option" (as demonstrated by the relatively low percentage of A grades). It also means that teachers should not be expected to switch from English to media teaching without substantial re-training.

In contrast, English literature offers pupils opportunities to encounter texts they might not otherwise discover.

The central challenges are inherent in these texts: non-contemporary language, different sensibilities, unfamiliar narrative and generic forms.

The benefits are, we hope, the aesthetic pleasures and moral enlightenment afforded by any great art. It is indeed sad if teachers feel that some pupils cannot have these opportunities because they lack the necessary reading skills.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority ought to encourage the design of broader GCSEs that let pupils take not only media studies, but also courses that would provide encounters with significant "texts" from world cinema and classic television drama and documentary.

The intellectual challenge of such courses would be similar to those posed by English literature, and would enable the talents of less conventionally literate pupils to be recognised and rewarded.

Cary Bazalgette

Head of education

British Film Institute

22 Stephen Street

London, W1

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