A glance at the Ofqual page where the progress of approval of new specifications for all subjects is listed, would appear to be grounds for optimism. The headline states that 25 out of 26 GCSE subjects have all specifications accredited and that 17 out of 20 AS and A level subjects have all specifications accredited. The problem comes when you look closely and see that at GCSE, that is every subject except ours; at A level, it’s just Media and Maths/Further Maths left to accredit. Perhaps that proves Media Studies is as difficult as Maths. Ha!
The optimism of February, when a flurry of activity resulted in the approval of all three Eduqas specifications (GCSE, AS and A level), has been dashed by the recent rejection of the OCR ones. As can be seen from the web page, new dates for the next versions to be submitted have been set – May 12, 17 and 26. The page also indicates that AQA submitted a new draft for GCSE quite a while back (27 March) and that fourth drafts are awaited for AS and A level, with no dates yet set. On past experience, the likelihood of getting decisions back from Ofqual before late June look pretty slim.
Conspiracy theorists might say that this is all an attempt to wear down the exam boards so that they give up and dump the subjects (as OCR did with Modern Languages last year), leading to just one provider. But we think it is more a case of incompetence; Ofqual are still taking ages to respond to each submission and when they do, our sources suggest that the feedback is incoherent. The more the exam boards try to get the ball in the net that Ofqual have constructed, the more they move the goalposts.
It seems that what Ofqual is looking for, though not fully articulated in its feedback, are specifications very similar to the model approved for Eduqas, but just featuring different ‘set texts’. What all this amounts to is a cynical disregard for teachers of the subject and their years of accumulated expertise, and little understanding of the needs of future students, for whom Media Studies looks set to become just another dry, assessment-driven subject. All the criteria point to a desire to ‘catch people out’. Questions have to be unpredictable to a quite ludicrous degree, so they appear not to be about giving students the opportunity to show what they have learnt and can do, but to stop them from doing so.
The MEA has supported efforts by the exam boards to get something through in order to save the subject in the curriculum, to save the opportunity for students to do something with which they are engaged and also, frankly, to save teachers’ jobs. Our help with this process involved considerable compromises over the subject matter and assessment right from the outset, and more recently such compromise could well be accused of veering into sell-out. But even the sell-out has been rejected, and we have little confidence that much of educational and creative value can be salvaged.
We know from teachers we have spoken to that many have been told they can no longer wait for specs to be accredited to choose which they will follow for the future, so they have jumped to Eduqas as the only one available. We cannot blame them for doing so. It is still possible that the other boards will get something accredited in the second half of the summer term, and our advice to teachers is still to hang on, as it is possible that they may find more palatable options in the OCR and AQA GCSEs and AS/A levels if they ever get accredited. One of the strengths of the system hitherto has always been that teachers have had a choice in terms of approach to the subject; it is most regrettable to see this lost. We would also urge colleagues to consider the possibility of Applied qualifications as well, since these may suit your students more than the new academic ones.
A radical suggestion
At ‘A’ level, shifting from modular to linear courses means that teachers will be preparing students for exams at the end of two years. Our view is that it would serve little purpose to focus on this particular content too early (students won’t remember it, so you’d need to go back to it anyway); and given how boring much of it looks, you certainly won’t want to spend two years on it. A more sensible route would be to spend the first year of the course simply doing things you have done in the past – getting students interested in the subject, helping them to get a broad understanding of media texts and ideas (beyond the DfE’s bizarre list of 19 compulsory ‘theorists’) and building their creative and analytical skills. Unless your school insists on entering all students for the new AS level (in our view an expensive and pointless activity), using the first year in this way would be a feasible option and a much better educational experience.
If you want to start a course even without a specification in place, just use the DFE subject content as your guide. The specifications effectively have to cover that with the inclusion of a few examples.
If your worry is grades – the outcome of the new, more difficult A levels – there is nothing to suggest that the proportions of students getting grade A and the proportion getting a pass (grade E) in the future will change. As far as we are aware (and we have asked) these will still be calculated on the basis of prior attainment of the cohort (their average GCSE score), so even if the exams are harder (with their ‘catch ‘em out’ questions), overall they will still get what they always did at the end.
Coming soon (or whenever)
Once the process is complete, The MEA is committed to publishing an updated comparative critique of the new specifications (if there are any to compare, though we can already see that there is plenty to critique). We will also publish an account of the whole process of this slow strangulation of media studies.
In the meantime, as soon as we hear any news which might move things forward, we will let you know.
AMES CONFERENCE, Edinburgh, June 3rd
Looks excellent and a bargain at only £60!
Full information here