Media studies makes the grade

16th December 1994 at 00:00
The news is good. After two years the persistent struggle to include media education in the curriculum has paid off.

There are several explicit references to audio-visual media in all key stages of the new English Order, but easily the most significant comes in a separate paragraph on the draft document. From September 1995 all secondary English teachers will be specifically required to introduce pupils "to a wide range of media, eg magazines, newspapers, radio, television, film". Pupils "should be given opportunities to analyse and evaluate such material, which should be of high quality and represent a range of forms and purposes, and different structural and presentation devices".

This undoes the stultifying requirements of the 1990 Orders which try to cram "media" into "non-fiction". It recognises that audio-visual media can include film, and can be of cultural value.

However, the English Order is only part of the story. There are substantial requirements for attention to the media in modern foreign languages, where at higher levels of attainment pupils are expected to be able to understand material from radio, film and television, and to develop their cultural awareness through such texts.

In history, film is recognised as a source of evidence at key stage 3, but not television, despite the presence of the compulsory 20th-century study unit, which might be expected to recognise the significant cultural and political role of television since the 1940s.

Even more oddly, film is not identified as a source of evidence for key stage 2 in relation to Victorian Britain or Britain since 1930. However, film and television as ways of representing the past are, appropriately, included.

Rather more problematic is the place of creative audio-visual production. For the teacher committed to media work, many obvious opportunities present themselves in art, music, design and technology, and, especially at primary level, in the light and sound aspect of science, and in mathematics. It is good that "visual literacy" and photography get a mention in art, but nowhere in any of these subjects is time-based audio-visual production actually signalled as an appropriate activity, despite the huge leisure interest in video-making.

One subject may in the end prove more crucial to the development of media attention in schools than any other: information technology. The absurdity of attempting to define it as a separate subject has given this Order a weird abstractness into which almost any content can be poured, and its insistence on "information" as its main business looks thoroughly old-fashioned when most kids are learning at home on Mortal Kombat and Sim City.

Information technology is, inevitably, the most debatable area of the whole curriculum. Once children can combine sound, speech and music with print, and with still and moving images, then what happens to traditional subject boundaries and definitions?

Such a question will occur to teachers committed to media education, who must be pondering the politics of bidding for the "specialist schools" bonanza under the rubric of media studies as "technology".

But this is unlikely to be the most pressing question for the majority of teachers. However much they approve of the Orders' U-turn on media, what they will want to know is how these requirements will be resourced.

Teachers need and want training in media education, anthologies of moving-image material, newer and better audio-visual hardware, and better and clearer criteria for the evaluation of children's media learning.

Cary Bazalgette is principal education officer at the British Film Institute

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