For all four submissions (GCSE Film, A level Film, GCSE Media, A level Media) the MEA reluctantly accepted proposals in order to get them through, rather than seeing them as the ‘ideal’ submissions we would have liked. In June, we were faced with possibilities which ranged from losing the subjects altogether to heavy ministerial influence in proposing extremely clumsy subject criteria, particularly for media studies. We believe that our intervention at the media studies stakeholder meeting on 24 June had significant impact and led to us being given a much greater level of involvement, through David Buckingham and Natalie Fenton being given the opportunity to present a case at the DFE, then being allowed to draft the next version of the criteria for media.
David and Natalie’s draft brought us back from the brink of a media studies dominated by set text case studies (Watergate as news, compulsory 1960s TV plays, etc). Though the DFE and Ofqual insisted on a number of changes to their draft, to which the exam boards had to agree, it did represent a significant shift back to what we would recognise as media studies.
Across all four sets of subject criteria, we have lost a proportion of coursework (down to 30% from 50% in some cases) and have lost assessed group work. We have more of an emphasis upon both ‘theory’ and on exam boards setting the objects of study. In order to avoid overlap between the two subjects, we will no longer be allowed to have film practical tasks (film trailers, film openings, short films) set for assessment in media studies. These were all changes which we resisted for as long as possible, but Ofqual and the DFE refused to budge on this issue.
Changes which we broadly welcome involve the broadening of the range of texts which are studied in both subjects (more of an insistence upon global, including non-English language, ‘alternative’ and independent media being studied, as well as historical dimensions). The agreement that the 30% coursework can be entirely for the practical element does mean that there is the possibility of moving the assessment of research, planning and evaluation into the exam, which does have a precedent in the OCR media A level, which would at least mean no net loss in percentage terms for practical work.
There are constraints on the films to be studied, though there is nothing to say that teachers could not use films from outside the ‘set texts’, but student work on these would not be directly assessed in the exam. Overall, we think that the prescriptive demands are likely to make GCSE Film harder than comparable subjects; for example, English Literature does not require the reading of critical texts about the books to be studied.
Film A level
We welcome the more comprehensive coverage of film history and global film, though we find that in many ways this looks like film studies A level of the mid 1980s, with the emphasis on auteurism and film movements (New wave, Neo-Realism, etc). There is much more emphasis than ever before on the role of screenplays, even appearing in the AOs. There is also a lot of film watching needed, as there will be a minimum of twelve set films in the A level. An interesting new dimension in theory is ‘theories of filmmakers’ where case studies of the thoughts of directors like Hitchcock, Eisenstein and Godard will be expected. Absent however, is the word ‘including’ in relation to compulsory theory examples of study; we feel this needs to be paralleled in the media criteria discussed below. The removal of any references to industry- particularly the specific mention of the removal of distribution and marketing within the subject content, means that film risks being studied in a textual vacuum.
Overall, though, given the set text approach of the current WJEC spec and the choices currently made by centres, we do not feel that the subject criteria represent a particularly radical departure. We think centres will adjust and cope.
We welcome the climbdown on rigid specification-style detail and can see that there is now a lot more scope for dealing with contemporary media issues. Though exam boards will set some texts for study, the range of these is now much more appropriate than the ‘critically acclaimed’ narrow definition which was suggested in June. We are concerned at the limitations on coursework imposed by the prescriptions regarding overlap with film but believe it can be worked with. The inclusion of specific theory at GCSE does seem unnecessary and unlikely to be well understood by students (on past experience of reading exam scripts!). Propp, Mulvey and Blumer and Katz are all cited as compulsory in the document.
Media A level
As at GCSE, the compromise over the nature of the objects of study is welcomed. The requirement for a full range of texts in terms of quality, structure, form, geographical origin and audience is all welcome. Though it may seem daunting that so many different media forms need to be studied, the requirement for only three forms in depth does make this possible. Again, as with GCSE, we are disappointed at the limitations imposed by removing the opportunity to do film-based coursework, but are confident that good coursework tasks using video can still be set. At AS level, candidates will be assessed on making a single text and at A level, on a cross-media production; as the structure of A level is very different from currently, this does not mean that they would do both, which at least makes the individual work more manageable.
The biggest issue for A level Media, and the one on which we should perhaps concentrate our efforts, is that of compulsory theory. An earlier draft listed theoretical areas with examples of specific ‘theorists’; in the final draft, these have been changed from ‘e.g.’ to ‘including’, which makes them appear to be compulsory for study. The MEA did not support this change. This not only creates significant overlap with HE study in this area but risks making the A level unmanageable. According to the document, students would have to study discourse analysis, postmodernism, theories of race and post-colonial theory, semiotics including Barthes, and a whole set of other topics, including the work of Todorov, Levi-Strauss, Fairclough, Neale, Hall, McRobbie, Gramsci, Baudrillard, Said, Butler, Bandura, Gerbner, Morley, Jenkins, Poster, Murdock and Golding, Livingstone and Lunt, Chomsky and Doyle. (There were a couple on the list who we had to look up as we hadn’t heard of them!). Though we have no objection to theory at A level, there is too much to cover here and a real risk of rote-learning being the outcome.
Overall, we would still wish to challenge the reduction of coursework, the loss of group work and the constraining nature of the set text approach. On theory we think we need to press for a change from the set list of theory/theorists to a list of examples of approaches to consider. We also need to argue that candidates could not be assessed (or be prepared to be assessed) on every area here as that would represent a vast increase in content, again way beyond the volume of subjects like English lit.
There are TWO consultations: Ofqual’s on Assessment Objectives, which is actually quite straightforward, and the DFE on content, which is where we will make our sustained arguments. We will publish the wording of our responses on these shortly, after which we will urge members to respond.