Media education is a big success in terms of student numbers. But how well is it being taught? A new report from the British Film Institute, written by inspectors James Learmonth and Mollie Sayer, highlights serious problems with the subject in England and Wales.
One problem, it says, is that the national curriculum makes little provision for media education. Another is the lack of national standards for assessment. The report points out that there are standards for public examinations in media studies, but some are still under debate. Media education has a very low profile in Ofsted's Framework for Inspection, and is not mentioned at all in the Review of Inspection Findings for English in 19934.
The findings of this qualitative study of work in 13 schools are less than heartening. While examples of excellence were found in schools which had a clear conceptual framework and continuity to what they were doing, others were very poor.
The study, which took place a year ago, found instances where teachers thought media education involved just asking students to watch a video or read newspapers: "In one lesson pupils watched a video of a Shakespeare play, but there was no accompanying discussion." In other lessons, "mediocre or poor work often involved substantial amounts of scrap-book assemblage, or lists, which lacked variety, progression or analysis".
Secondary schools reported that they were unable to build on media work done in primary schools, and the management of extended practical work was still a problem for them "partly because of the constraints on time which make it difficult to build up momentum and to share scarce equipment effectively".
The authors stress that "a refusal to accept sloppy work" and an insistence on high expectations are important in a curriculum area where status and authenticity are not guaranteed by the national curriculum, and "where some pupils, parents and even teaching staff may see media work as an easy option".