Analysing a horror flick is engaging pupils left cold by more traditional approaches to English literature. Warwick Mansell reports
Media studies lessons at Churchdown comprehensive in Gloucestershire sound like a lot of fun.
For their GCSE coursework teenagers have been asked to analyse of how the film-maker Wes Craven terrorises his audience during the opening scenes of his horror hit Scream.
They have had to write about racial representation in hip-hop videos. And for their practical project, several pupils produced pop videos, backed by a written account of how they did it.
The tasks are all part of the AQA board's media studies GCSE, which the school argues is capturing the imaginations of pupils who would struggle to engage with English literature.
Leanna Arkell, head of media studies, said the work was more enjoyable for many of the pupils than studying poetry.
They were also being switched on to analytical techniques, such as the dissection of film sequences.
This view was backed by Gill Clayton, head of English at Great Torrington secondary, north Devon, where 190 pupils have been doing media studies for the past two years.
She said: "We analysed Eminem's lyrics in the same way that you would analyse poetry. But the kids were engaged with the rap in a way that you would not see with the poetry.
"We have also found some of them responding to Shakespeare and novels for their English GCSE using techniques and language they have learned in their media course."
Media studies is coming under increased scrutiny as its popularity surges, with figures from two exam boards suggesting entries have risen 20 per cent this year.
Alan Smithers, professor of education at the University of Buckingham, said schools were increasingly turning to media studies because of excessive pressure to improve results.
All secondaries had to raise the proportion of pupils achieving five or more passes at C or better. Media studies was "probably a softer option", he said.
Professor Smithers points to the assessment arrangements for AQA's media studies GCSE, which attracted two-thirds of entries in the subject last year.
For half of the marks, pupils sit a three-hour "controlled test", which is externally marked, but for which they are given the questions one to two weeks in advance.
Pupils taking AQA's media studies GCSE gain the other half of their marks for coursework: three 700-800 word essays plus a practical, which could be a video or a magazine cover.
The syllabus covers television, film, radio, pop music, newspapers, magazines and comics. TV genres including soap operas are analysed, while youngsters are asked to consider the presentational tone of radio programmes, the political orientation of newspapers and assess the skills behind film-making.
Figures from a Qualifications and Curriculum Authority report illustrate that it still lacks credibility with teachers. Some 92 per cent of 420 media studies professionals completing an online questionnaire said their students were positive about media studies courses. But 70 per cent said they thought non-media teachers in their school held it in low regard.
The report's authors believe that an association dedicated to media studies is needed to combat the subject's poor reputation.
AWA GCSES IN 2005
Paper 1: (30 per cent) 1.75 hours
Reading test: response to non-fictionwriting texts.
Question assessing pupil's ability to write persuasively.
Paper 2: (30 per cent)1.5 hours
Reading test: analysis of poetry from anthology of 15 works.
Question assessing pupil's ability to write informatively.
Coursework: (40 per cent)
Three assessments of speaking and listening
Pieces on Shakespeare, prose, media and a piece of original writing.
Written paper: (70 per cent) 1.75 hours
One question on post-1914 prose.
One question on pre- and post-1914 poetry.
Coursework: (30 per cent)
Tasks on pre-1914 drama, pre-1914 prose and post-1914 drama.
Controlled test: 50 per cent. Three hour test on television advertising, with test paper issued to pupils in advance.
Coursework: 50 per cent. Three 700-800 word essays, plus a practical production and 700-800 word written account setting out how it was produced.