Media studies not on message

11th September 1998 at 01:00
The moving image is leaving pupils unmoved - because teachers are often intimidated by the subject. Nicolas Barnard reports

MEDIA studies are on the increase in schools - but pupils are being fed a diet of soaps and ads, a study for the British Film Institute suggests.

Lack of training, and confusion over the national curriculum, means many English teachers feel at sea when it comes to the subject, according to the report Audit of Media in English.

Instead of studying film or TV in its own right, teachers prefer to use them to illustrate set literary texts. Baz Luhrmann's film of Romeo and Juliet starring Leonardo DiCaprio was widely used, says the report.

Original TV drama, like the acclaimed series Boys from the Black Stuff and Dennis Potter works, was also neglected, while advertising and soap operas featured heavily.

BFI education officer Cary Bazalgette said the report showed children were not studying the history and context of today's moving image - and were being short-changed on the 20th-century's rich cultural heritage. "There's a real challenge for teachers to think about the excitement and achievements that there have been in film and television," she said.

Media sociologist Dr Jim Barrett drew on questionnaires from 720 English teachers and the findings of six focus groups conducted around the country to produce the report. Nine out of 10 said media studies should be part of the English curriculum and nearly half devoted 10-25 per cent of their teaching time to the subject, compared to just one in five in 1994.

Almost all argued it was important to help students become more discriminating; but three quarters also believed the subject helped students protect themselves from the influence of the media.

Many teachers lacked confidence in their abilities. As one long-serving Stockport teacher said: "I feel completely at sea because I don't know the language and jargon of film-making... I steer away from those areas."

Most wanted some form of training, but with budgets under pressure few schools would fund it - particularly as most school inspections did not comment on it and the national curriculum refers to it only vaguely.

The curriculum's focus on "high quality texts" also put off teachers, wary of popular culture being seen as low brow. And while the passage of time had sifted out the key literary texts, "when you're looking at soaps it's totally up to you," one teacher said.

Resources were also limited - 87 per cent of teachers said their school's media materials budget last year was less than pound;300. Or, as one put it, their video-making equipment "looks like something the BBC chucked out 25 years ago".

Audit of Media in English available price pound;5 from BFI Education, 21 Stephen Street, London W1R 2LN or tel 0171 255 1444 ext 2329

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