CHILDREN WHO watch a lot of the television series Lost, are obsessed with bands such as My Chemical Romance or have a thorough knowledge of James Bond films, computer games or comics, should be recognised as gifted and talented, a media education conference heard.
Andrew Webber, who teaches media studies for the National Academy of Gifted and Talented Youth, said teachers were too ready to dismiss such interests as "geeky".
"There is a cultural fallacy that says this knowledge isn't important," Dr Webber told the conference at Warwick. "But why is it any less important than knowing all about Shakespeare?
"This level of specialist knowledge is unusual and deserves to be upgraded.
Why is a knowledge of the novels of Thomas Hardy any better than a knowledge of Lost?"
Media studies teachers have long argued the subject is sneered at unfairly, dubbed a "soft option" and blamed for luring pupils away from so-called harder subjects such as maths and science.
Newspaper stories such as the Daily Mail's "Too dim for media studies" and "How 'soft' A-level offers better grades" have done little to help its image as a "Mickey Mouse" subject.
Cary Bazalgette, former head of education at the British Film Institute, said: "There is an assumption that people who are good at media studies are poor at learning. The constant message is that TV is bad for you and stupid."
Specialists argue that clearer criteria for identifying gifted and talented children could help to improve the subject's profile.
"The problem is a lot of media work happens outside the classroom and doesn't get evaluated," said Jenny Graham, an advisory teacher at the English and Media Centre. "Also, many schools don't have the resources to allow gifted pupils to do creative work and teachers don't have the training to identify them," she said.
The academy runs a handful of day courses in media studies - mostly for pupils with aptitude in other subjects - but says it plans to enlarge provision.
"The existing programmes are limited, targeted at the top 5 per cent, and tend to be cross-curricular," said Tim Emmett, development director of CfBT Education Trust, the project's new manager. "We plan to expand on this."
SPOTTING THE MEDIA SAVVY
Specialist knowledge. Are children enthusiastic about a particular film, TV series or computer game?
Practical skills. Do they make films, websites or computer games at home?
Creativity. Do they enjoy coming up with ideas for new products?
Critical skills. Do they understand how the media works and know how to apply sophisticated terminology?