As from this Autumn, UK Independent schools will be able to enter candidates for the Cambridge International GCE A level Media Studies, which retains 50% coursework (including assessed group work) and is not subject to the nonsense imposed by the DFE and Ofqual. It is very sad that state schools can’t do the same, as we would imagine large numbers choosing to do so.
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.
STOP PRESS: WJEC Eduqas GCSE seems to have been approved today (9th Feb) unless someone at Ofqual has accidentally put a tick on their updates page. Either they read this blogpost in the last few days and got scared or (more likely) WJEC Eduqas managed to work out what they wanted. Well done to them for getting a spec through at last. You can see the final draft here and specimen assessment materials here.
The latest news on the changes to GCSE, AS and A levels in Film Studies and Media studies is as follows:
Film Studies GCSE and AS level specifications have been approved for both WJEC/Eduqas and OCR, and as noted above, approval has now been given to OCR for A level Film.
WJEC is awaiting Ofqual’s approval for their latest draft of A level Film Studies.
Thus centres are already in a position to choose which GCSE to go for in Film Studies but given that many centres are being asked to ‘co-teach’ AS and A level, it would be unwise to make a final decision on these until the specifications are finalised. Hopefully this will be some time this month. It seems likely that some schools and colleges will be tempted to move from Media Studies to Film given the loss of any opportunity to tackle the analysis or production of film as text under the new Media Studies rules; the continued delay of new Media Studies specifications is likely to propel more teachers down that route.
Media Studies GCSE drafts 1 and 2 have already been rejected by Ofqual for all three boards. Given that it is not unusual for specifications to be submitted four or five times before being accepted and that Ofqual has been taking an extraordinarily long period of time responding to each draft, it seems unlikely that everything will go through this side of Easter, and it could indeed be much later.
The Ofqual site contains an update on the progress of all subjects and specifications here. As you will see, they have accredited 28 out of 44 specifications for GCSE so far, which means that 16 are still waiting, including three for media. Other than Urdu, no other subject with more than one specification has NOTHING through as yet, so if Ofqual try to blame the exam boards, we’d be wary of believing them.
AQA are due to submit on an unspecified date and OCR on March 16th. The WJEC specification having gained approval, does at least give us a clear idea of what Ofqual ‘want’ from the boards, which has hitherto been somewhat opaque, as subject specialists have continued to try to second guess their demands in writing specifications and sample assessment materials.
At AS and A level, the Ofqual site tells us that they have accredited 36 out of 73 specifications so far to start in September- it’s a good job teachers don’t work at such a slow pace! Design and Technology, Maths and Politics are all in a similar position to Media studies, with nothing yet approved, so at least we are not alone. AQA and WJEC are both described as awaiting third submissions, with no specified dates. OCR are due to submit AS level on 2 March and A level on 9 March for the third time.
So those are the facts. This next bit is opinion. (just in case you are one of the people who we’re told struggles to distinguish between ‘real’ and ‘fake’ news)
What you will spot in looking at the proposed specifications and assessment materials is that ‘set texts’ are very much the order of the day, with a very narrow range offered for study. Not only do the offers across the boards look more similar with each successive draft, but so too do GCSE and A level, with set texts from one board at one level just as likely to appear at a different level with another board. The only difference is likely to be the style of question. In the end your choice of exam board may well come down to which set texts do you mind teaching least!
As far as we are aware, the whole process at Ofqual’s end has been conducted without any reference to experts in media studies. Our understanding is that the external consultant employed to scrutinise the specifications is an English specialist and is not known to have any significant experience in media studies. The emphasis upon ‘set texts’ and the total lack of understanding of what practical work might involve seems to bear this out.
The subject content documents for GCSE and for AS/A level from Summer 2015 have effectively ‘stitched us up’ in a variety of ways, not least in their insistence that there are nine different media forms, all of which have to be studied AND ASSESSED IN EXAMS. This, along with other elements of the documents, have led to a convoluted process of trying to fit together an ungainly rubik cube of content for the subject. We are likely to have study of the web that can only be based on one website and how it looks on a particular date, with no study of sites like facebook or twitter because of the risk of ‘age inappropriate’ content being seen. At a time when there are calls for kids to be taught how to see through ‘fake news’, forgive us if our response is hollow laughter as we see such opportunity apparently taken away.
There is a lot more that could be written about the whole rotten process that has taken us to this point, but we’ll save it till it has fully unravelled. It will be a tale of political interference, abject fear and bungling incompetence. For those of us who have devoted our working lives to a subject we believe in- for some of us on the MEA executive, that’s over 30 years work- it feels almost tragic to see it wiped away in this manner. What we look likely to be left with is totally the opposite to what we were told the ‘reform process’ was for- teachers will simply teach to the test, because the curriculum will be so narrowed down, that will be the inevitable outcome. As has happened in English, it looks very likely that far from being more challenging, assessment in media studies could actually end up easier. But VERY boring!
So that all sounds like the death rattle of media studies, doesn’t it? Well, not necessarily…you could turn all this nonsense into a positive…
… what this could all mean is that good teachers could actually spend their time doing all kinds of interesting stuff with media, including production activity, because the preparation for the specific content and the techniques needed in the exams could be covered in quite a short period of time. There is nothing to stop you TEACHING anything you want. It’s just that it looks likely that there will no longer be any credit for anything beyond the set texts in the exams.
So finally, keep an eye both on this space and the Ofqual updates site. We’ll try to keep you notified when things get approved and then provide links so that you can judge which board suits you best, but as previously, we strongly advise you not to be bounced into making decisions until specifications are approved.