As you will probably have gathered by now, this is a difficult time for media and film studies, pending decisions about the redevelopment of specifications for 2017.
First of all, a reminder- the current GCSE and A level courses will continue till 2018, which means students starting this September (2015) and next September (2016) will see the full two years of their courses through, using the current specifications, whatever decisions are made about things starting from 2017. BTEC and OCR Technicals are unaffected by this review.
As you know, Ofqual announced last year that a number of subjects from ‘tranche 3’ would go to the next stage, whereby subject criteria would be drawn up which would need to be approved before the subjects would be allowed to go through for redevelopment. The exam boards and stakeholders (including teachers, representatives of HE and industry, as well as organisations like the BFI, Skillset and the MEA) have held meetings with Ofqual and the DFE to look at these subject criteria. Three versions of subject criteria submissions have already gone in and been given feedback by the DFE and Ofqual.
Last year, when we led a delegation to the DFE, we were told that decisions about the subjects yet to be reviewed, such as media and film, would all be down to Ofqual from then on, and that the DFE would not be intervening. However, that was before a reshuffle which brought Nick Gibb back as Schools Minister in charge of the reform process and he appears to have taken a keen interest in the content of some subjects. Judging by feedback we have so far received, his ‘interest’ in media studies is particularly acute and highly critical. The boards have submitted three drafts already and each one has come back with comments from Ofqual (who look at assessment) and the DFE (who look at content).
The main issues that we foresaw as problems for media and film were:
the proportions of NEA (non-exam assessment, the new term for coursework): we argued the case with the exam boards to retain as much as possible.
a perceived overlap between media studies and film studies.
level of demand (i.e. is it considered ‘hard enough’), which is an issue for all subjects, not just ours.
These issues remain, with the DFE currently insisting that film as a medium should not appear in the media subject criteria at all (i.e. you could not study cinema as part of the media) and raising questions about production work using moving image, suggesting that TV-based tasks are still too similar to film studies.
In addition, the DFE have insisted that only texts of sufficient ‘quality’ could be included in the subject. Some of their suggestions would make it impossible to teach about popular media. They have asked the boards to produce subject criteria which are so detailed (even down to almost precise texts which will be taught) that they resemble specifications.
Last week, the MEA executive met and was joined by some teacher stakeholders to discuss the issues. We agreed that at a stakeholder meeting for media with the exam boards the next day we would indicate that we would not be prepared to endorse the subject criteria drafts which were being put in for the next submission as we felt they were too far away from what we recognise as media studies.
When we told the exam boards this, they understood our strength of feeling and the level of concern. The boards asked for a meeting with the DFE officials who have been overseeing the submissions, which took place on Tuesday of this week and involved David Buckingham, of the MEA, and Natalie Fenton of the university subject association, MECCSA. David and Natalie discussed the case for media studies with the DFE officials and one of the outcomes of the meeting was that they offered to produce another version of the subject criteria that will be acceptable to both the MEA and MECCSA. This will be submitted in the near future and will attempt to address the DFE’s concerns.
Film studies looked to be in a less precarious position until the last few days, but stakeholders have been told that there are major concerns with it too. There is less of an issue with ‘quality texts’ here, since it is easier to come up with ‘long lists’ of films to study, so we are unsure as to the grounds for objection. However, issues around non-exam assessment remain and the boards are being asked to give more detail regarding the ‘level of demand’ at each of GCSE, AS and A level and how this is differentiated.
We feel it is probably time for media teachers to call upon headteachers, former students, parents and others to see if they can find ways of influencing those in power. Mr. Gibb may not be persuadable on the grounds of the arguments made by media teachers, but local Tory MPs finding that popular and successful subjects in good schools in their constituencies are under threat might be tempted to speak up for them. Mr. Gibb’s views on education more broadly are clearly outlined in this article from the Independent:
MEA is watching developments very closely, and is actively considering several potential courses of action as the process moves forward. We will keep members informed via the website and newsletter alerts.
Key Arguments for the future of GCSE and A level Media and Film Studies are here, should you need them !
Last year, over 50,000 completed GCSE Media and 22,000 completed A-level Media; over 6,000 completed A-level Film and over 7,000 completed GCSE Film.