School radio message matters more than the means

12th July 1996 at 01:00
In the wide-ranging article "Daytime saving?", on the developments in BBC school radio (TES, June 21) it is concluded that change in the mode of delivery marks a break with the "Reithian foundations of the BBC".

I would counter that this move represents a continuation of that tradition - in that it puts the needs of the audience first. School radio exists for one reason only: to serve the needs of schools by providing a range of programmes that will inspire children to learn. To achieve this goal the BBC needs to deliver programmes in the most convenient way for the teachers who use them. The mode of delivery is of secondary importance.

Teachers operate in an environment in which time is at premium. They need a service that offers convenient and accessible programmes. As Sean Coughlan rightly points out, research highlighted that "88 per cent of teachers thought an alternative form of delivery via audio cassettes or CDs would be an improvement on broadcasting and 95 per cent of those preferred tapes". Moreover, 91 per cent of primary teachers are already recording broadcasts on to cassettes to use when it best suits them (National Foundation in Educational Research 1991). In essence, therefore, the BBC is only formalising what is current best practice.

For many of us whose memories of their own schooldays are punctuated by vivid recollections of school radio programmes, the need for a shift in provision may appear to represent a break with a reassuring tradition and a wrench from our childhood memories. However, although the mode of delivery may have altered, the purpose of the programmes remains as ever: to inspire, to entertain and to motivate. The priority has to be meeting the needs of children today, rather than deferring to the memories of children of yesteryear.

Forty years ago school radio was the dominant broadcast medium for education. The advent of television produced a marked change in uptake and usage, as did the introduction of cassette recorders. Changes in the output of BBC school radio reflect a changing pattern of demand, not a desire to wind down the service.

In fact, programmes will continue to be broadcast at night for those teachers who wish to record off air, as well as being provided on cassette.


Head of commissioning for schools

BBC Education

White City

Wood Lane

London W12

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