Top billing,low morale

13th October 2000 at 01:00
Plans to break up BBC Education have upset its award-winning staff, says Alison Brace.

THESE should be exciting times for staff in BBC Education. A restructuring of the corporation by new director-general Greg Dyke is placing all things educational at the heart of its output.

For the first time, the BBC's new director of education, Michael Stevenson, has a seat on the board. And the governors themselves are committed to enhancing the corporation's proud educational tradition by developing the potential of digital technology.

This month saw the launch of the statutory consultation on a digital curriculum for schools. It is an ambitious plan, which, if licence-payers and the Government back it, will be implemented over six years from next September at a cost of pound;135 million (1 per cent of licence-fee income).

But one group does not share this brave new vision of the future: the education production staff themselves.

Instead, they see schools' programmes being replaced by a BBC delivering the Government's national curriculum through technology which only a handful of schools can access.

Most of all, they see a future in which they play no part. They feel alienated by those who have taken up the educational torch and seem to have forgotten who has kept it burning all these years, with award-winning radio and television programmes still used by 90 per cent of chools.

For proof that no one now cares about the fate of schools' TV and radio - a charge vehemently denied by BBC management - the 250 producers feel they do not need to look very far. BBC Education was due to be broken up on October 1; its staff divided between a new department, factual and learning, and children's television. Instead staff are refusing to budge and their union BECTU is poised to ballot for action.

Some may have an A* in edu-speak, conversing in acronyms and key stages, which has those with a broad-brush approach to matters educational running for the door. But the point is that somebody has to have expert, perhaps pernickety, knowledge of what schools need.

The BBC has always harnessed the potential of new technologies, making them available to all - first with radio, then with television, and now with

digital. Certainly, if Britain is to become an e-society within the next decade, then the revolution has to start now.

However, it is odd that just as education gets top billing, those with the experience perceive that they have been given only walk-on parts. Those who pause to reflect for a second will realise that to lose the support of those who have built up the BBC's excellent reputation for education programming is nothing short of peculiar. To lose their expertise and goodwill would be a great pity.

Research Focus, 29

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