Media studies? Surely that's not a real subject...;Film and media studies;Features amp; Arts

12th November 1999 at 00:00
Well, it is now in Scotland. Kay Smith looks at how schools will cope with the change.

While GCSE and A-level students in England and Wales have been able to choose media studies as an exam option for years and have been doing so in ever-increasing numbers, the subject has not existed in Scotland except as an optional theory element within Higher English, or as a haphazard collection of modules offered by the vocational body Scotvec.

But the sweeping reforms to the 16-plus curriculum enacted by Higher Still means that, for the first time, media studies is now being offered as a discrete subject at Higher and Advanced Higher level.

Scottish teachers have long been campaigning to get media studies accepted into the mainstream curriculum, rather than hovering on the fringe like a poor relation. And it seems their confidence in the subject is well founded. In August, the first students signed up in their droves for the new media studies Higher.

Alistair Allison, an English teacher at Linlithgow Academy in West Lothian, reported a first intake of 68 pupils - more than the number opting for Highers in history, geography and modern languages put together.

"Media is their love," he says. "But, under the old system, it was seen solely in terms of a leisure subject. Now it is something that can help get them a place at university."

But there are concerns that the new arrival is facing a long slog before it is accepted by schools and universities, which will need convincing of its academic rigour. Eleanor Thomson, a lecturer in communication and media studies, wrote in last month's TES Scotland: "I can visualise the arch looks and embarrassed coughs in staffrooms throughout Scotland, for it will take a long time before poking at the entrails of mass media is recognised as a 'real' subject."

Like any teacher about to embark on media studies tuition, Alistair Allison will be learning the subject on the hoof and will have to be largely self-taught. Eleanor Thompson, for example, spent her own time and money taking a course in media education, which involved evening classes, several weekends and a week of her summer holidays. So one of the most pressing problems for the new media studies Higher will be the shortage of suitably informed staff.

But this is only one of several potential hurdles. For most teachers who volunteer to take on media studies, it will be in addition to an existing subject - often English, art or one of the social sciences. As subjects across the board in Scotland are in a state of Higher Still confusion, this will inevitably mean increased workloads.

Add to this the requirement for sophisticated technology, from desktop publishing equipment to digital editing suites, and the issue of retraining and resourcing media studies departments becomes a daunting prospect for any school contemplating it.

But, whatever the problems, the first tranche of teachers to tackle it are optimistic. "The wonderful thing about media studies," says Rick Instrell, Scotland's media studies development officer, "is that it offers a place where information technology can be used in a natural way. Students are motivated by the quality of work they can produce."

Ironically, his own school, Lasswade Academy in Midlothian, does not yet offer media studies Higher.

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