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They all want to study the media

The number of pupils entered for media studies GCSE has soared by up to 20 per cent this year, amid evidence that schools can improve their results by encouraging pupils to take the exam.

National figures from the two most popular boards for media studies GCSE, to be confirmed in August, show entries for 2005 rising by 19 per cent, following rises of 12 per cent and 15 per cent the previous two years.

The numbers taking the Welsh Joint Education Committee's media GCSE have risen from 8,328 to 10,902 in 2005 - up 31 per cent. The Cardiff-based exam board's English literature entries are also up, but only by a quarter, to a provisional 76,804 this summer.

England's Qualifications and Curriculum Authority will now investigate whether secondaries should invite some pupils to study the subject instead of English literature, after finding staggering improvement in at least one comprehensive.

Media studies results at Churchdown secondary in Gloucester were nearly 30 percentage points higher than those achieved in English literature the previous year, while English results also improved.

Youngsters there have switched from studying poetry in English literature to analysing popular films, assessing racial stereotypes in the music industry and making pop videos for media studies.

The statistics will re-ignite the debate about dumbing down. Media studies has been under the spotlight again, after a Sunday newspaper highlighted concerns about the most popular media studies GCSE, where pupils receive question papers weeks in advance of the exam. Half of the marks in the WJEC exam are allocated for coursework.

Yet several teachers have said it captures the interest of disaffected youngsters, especially boys; that it can improve their performance in other subjects; and that techniques used for analysing films or soap operas are the same as those for dissecting poetry.

Martin Phillips, who runs the Digital Media Education Centre for Devon council, said 80 schools had expressed an interest in offering media studies to pupils as an alternative to English literature at a series of national conferences last year.

He said pupils taking GCSEs in English and English literature were "overloaded" with poetry, having to study anthologies for both exams, while those taking media studies with English still study Shakespeare and poetry.

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