News Archive April 2014

What’s happening with Media and Film Studies GCSE and A level

The changes to the curriculum at GCSE and A level have largely gone under the radar for teachers, who are often surprised to discover what’s been happening! For all of us, the future of Media and Film Studies is potentially at stake, so it is important that everyone is made aware of both what is happening and what we might be able to do about it. I shall outline the context for these changes and describe the precarious position in which Film and Media Studies find themselves.

The new criteria for school league tables, which values some qualifications and some subjects more than others, has led to many schools marginalising their offer of arts subjects in general and a substantial drop (for the first time) in numbers taking Media at GCSE.

Scrapping the old GCSEs and A levels and replacing them with more ‘rigorous’ courses involves terminal exams replacing modular courses and the loss of assessed coursework in many cases. It is hard to be sure of the precise impact of this at the time of writing, as there are few details as yet of the specifications and structure for the new courses.

The huge emphasis placed upon the value of Russell Group university courses and the importance of STEM and ‘facilitating’ subjects has directly or indirectly led to significant drops in takeup for Film and Media ‘A’ levels, again for the first time in their history. It is common to hear stories of heads of sixth form warning prospective students about the danger of closing down their options by not taking a full set of ‘facilitating subjects’, and also of anxious parents dissuading their offspring from taking subjects which appear to fall outside Russell Group preferences.

All these features represent a narrowing of the curriculum, tailoring ‘A’ level to a certain type of higher education experience and reducing the range of subjects at GCSE.

In the new 16-19 curriculum, AS and A level are to be decoupled, which has a number of implications, not least shutting down options for students. Up to now, taking 4 AS levels in year 12 gave students some sense of achievement from the first year of their courses and often meant that they continued with something which they had previously thought they would not pursue beyond that year. In future, if they complete the assessment of an AS course and then decide they want to take it to a full A level, they will have to take the exams all over again at the end of the second year- their initial achievement will not be counted. This has implications not just for students, but also for schools and colleges in terms of their recruitment and the courses they decide to run. For courses which are often ‘new’ to students at 16+, like Film and Media, which they often take up as a ‘fourth option’ but in which they frequently discover ‘hidden talent’, this is likely to have a further impact upon numbers.

The decline in numbers can clearly be seen in this table:


GCSE          AS             A2

2010   68,456       47,241       33,375

2011   67,433       52,818       33,855

2012   61,680       45,375       32,111

2013   59,114       43,319       29,112

(Film and Media Studies combined entries, all awarding bodies; source: JCQ)

Indications for 2014 are that the decline continues, but is slowing. However, the absence of Media and Film from the lists of subjects to be revised for first teaching in 2015 and 2016 may lead to a further drop as schools push their students towards subjects to be graded under the new system at GCSE (grades 9 to 1 replacing A* to G) and to ‘new’ A level courses which have the government’s stamp of approval.

The first subjects approved for 2015 starts at GCSE are English Language, English Literature and Maths, whilst thirteen subjects have been approved for A level: Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Psychology, English Language, English Literature, English Language and Literature, History, Art and Design, Business, Computer Science, Economics and Sociology. In April, the subjects approved for 2016 starts were announced; at GCSE these are: Combined Sciences, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Modern and Ancient Languages, History, Geography, Religious Studies; Design and Technology; Art and Design; Drama, Dance, Music, Physical Education, Computer Science and Citizenship Studies. At A level they are: Geography, Maths, Further Maths, Languages, Religious Studies; Design and Technology; Drama; Dance; Music and Physical Education. Many of the above subjects are much smaller than Media and Film Studies, which have both thus far been passed over.

There have been a number of consultations about the changes, mainly online, to which anyone can contribute. The most recent, on revised A level content for the first tranche of subjects, received 291 responses, which have been taken into account in final recommendations by the Smith committee. Often such consultations slip out very quietly and most ‘stakeholders’ are unaware of their existence or believe that they will have no effect. The next such consultation, likely to be launched very soon, will focus on what should constitute a GCSE  or an ‘A’ level. It will be very important to contribute.

The DFE/Ofqual principles for what makes a GCSE/GCE are that there should be a ‘reasonable’ number of candidates, that a subject should ‘not be too vocational’, that there be ‘clear progression routes to HE’, that it can be ‘assessed effectively’ (which usually means not too much coursework), that there be ‘stakeholder involvement’ and a ‘comparability of standard’ (to old specifications and to other subjects). When the consultation happens, the MEA will be asking as many people as possible to participate with the aim of ensuring that Film and Media Studies are accepted for development for 2017. It should be noted that Media Studies is the largest subject not to have been approved so far and that some subjects which have vocational options (Business, Art, PE) have already gone through. Likewise, some subjects (such as Art) have been approved with very high coursework components. There are obvious implications for colleagues in HE if our subjects were to disappear at ‘A’ level in particular, given that many schools and colleges send on as many as 30% of their Media/Film ‘A’ level candidates to related courses at university.

The MEA, as the subject association representing teachers in schools and colleges, is requesting a meeting with the Department for Education to lobby for the continuation of these subjects, where we hope to be accompanied by representatives from the Russell group (through MECCSA), the BFI, the NFTS (on behalf of the industry), the awarding bodies and headteachers. We will be keeping everyone informed about opportunities to participate in the consultation process and urge you to support the case for Film and Media to maintain their status as GCSEs and GCE A levels.

We would also ask you to share this information with supportive colleagues, with senior management in your schools and colleges, with sympathetic parents and with ex-students who have gone on to use the media or film qualifications they gained with you who might also be persuaded to add their voice to the consultation. Once it is available online, we will let you know how the MEA intends to respond to each question to help maximise our chances of success.

Pete Fraser (Chair, Media Education Association)

Download as PDF Context for MEA site

Key Points to use to support the case for Media and Film Studies prepared for the MEA executive by David Buckingham, Pete Fraser and Jenny Grahame here.



Key Arguments for the Future of GCSE and ‘A’ Level Media and Film Studies

The Media Education Association (MEA) represents a broad and growing constituency of media educators in schools and colleges. We are concerned that Media and Film Studies have not been included in the list of approved subjects for revised specifications for 2016 at GCSE and A-level. We wish to ensure that they are included in the list for 2017 and we urge our members to respond to consultations on these issues to be announced shortly by the DFE.

In summary, the key points we would emphasise are as follows:

  • Media and Film Studies are now well established fields of academic study. There is a long history of academic research in this area, dating back to the 1920s. This research draws on other academic disciplines, but has increasingly developed its own distinctive methods, concepts and theories.
  • There is an equally long history of teaching about film and other popular media in schools. Award-bearing Media and Film Studies courses have been offered in UK schools since the 1970s. The subjects have clearly defined conceptual frameworks, well-developed approaches to classroom practice, and rigorous criteria for assessment that have been refined over several decades.
  • Courses in this field (under various titles) have been successfully offered in universities in the UK and around the world since the 1960s. These courses are frequently oversubscribed, and required grades for admission are often higher than for other social science, arts and humanities subjects.
  • A great many leading universities conduct research and provide undergraduate and/or postgraduate courses in this field. Among the Russell Group, these include Oxford, LSE, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Warwick, Glasgow, Kings, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield and several others.
  • Media and Film Studies have a strong practical dimension. The creative industries are a large and growing sector of the UK economy, accounting for around 6% of GDP and employing 2 million people (according to the CBI). Many of the skills developed in Media and Film Studies GCSE and A Levels prepare students for employment in this sector.
  • However, Media and Film Studies courses, both in schools and in higher education, typically include analytical and critical study alongside creative, practical activities. This combination of theory and practice aims to produce reflective practitioners, and is characteristic of many arts/humanities and STEM subjects.
  • The UK is generally considered to be a world leader in media education, both at school level and in higher education. British scholarship and pedagogic approaches have significantly influenced developments in the USA, Australia and Canada, and across Europe.
  • Media education is an essential requirement for active participation in contemporary society: it enables young people to be critical consumers of mass media, safe and responsible users of online and social media platforms, and more informed and engaged citizens. Examined Media and Film Studies courses should be available to all our students.

David Buckingham, Pete Fraser, Jenny Grahame

(on behalf of the Media Education Association executive committee)

Download as PDF Future of GCSE and GCE

The context: What’s happening to Media and Film Studies at GCSE and ‘A’ level here