film education · Films

Moving (away from) image…

What’s happened to the moving image?

About ten years ago, I attended a course which advocated the combination of English and Media Studies as a viable alternative to the usual GCSE English Lang/Lit combination and being the sponge that I was, I took this straight back to school and promptly put in place a plan to change the way we thought about English in my school. I was a young (ish), eager (and probably gung-ho) head of English and had always used film in my English teaching (I remember in my first year of teaching I attended a Film Education course and I was hooked from then on in); I had inherited a good, traditional English department and although I valued literature (of course, I’m an English teacher), I felt that using media and film would be another way to inspire creativity. Luckily, I worked with some great teachers who went with me on this and by 2010 or so we had gone from Lang Lit all the way to a school which offered BTEC Media, GCSE Media, Film Studies at GCSE and AS and the Lang/Media combo. I probably went a bit mad, not all of it worked, but it was an exciting time and our English portfolio looked just a little bit different. I remember someone at the time telling me that film had no place in the English classroom (a view echoed of course by some so-called education expert ) and I was moved to write an article for NATE on how using film improves creative writing.

Jump forward to now. Schools are beginning to streamline their curricula in order to fill progress 8 pots, losing some creative subjects and even ditching media and film along the way. Students are choosing their options, with the word ‘options’ meaning  ‘ebacc’ subjects, a limiting amount of creative subjects with often no place for media or film (except in some cases maybe as an appeasement to low ability students to get them a quick E grade – film isn’t ‘challenging’, after all). Don’t get me wrong, I understand – I understand – why schools are doing this, but it worries me how far some schools are going to meet what they feel are the demands of the contemporary educational climate. It doesn’t help when ‘teaching film’ is seen by those outside of real schools (but who profess to ‘work in education’) as an excuse for a teacher to bang on a DVD and catch up with their marking – this isn’t the case and I don’t know any teachers who do this.

Just look at some of the inspirational work done over the years (Andrew Burn, for example) on using film in creative ways in the classroom. Kids love working with film; continuing some creative writing from a film clip; exploring differences between text and film; exploring structure and tension in film sequences and using these techniques in their own writing; comparing how Miss Havisham is interpreted in different versions of Great Expectations etc etc. None of the above includes ‘watch the film while I go and grab a cup of tea’.

I really like the new specs (as you will see from some of the great work my students have done in class), and I’m trying my best to hang on to using film and media to inspire students one way or another. However, I am concerned that the drive to get students to achieve good grades at GCSE means reading Sign of Four three times in five years, doing the same things with it and finding that we have narrowed our students’ perspectives on English so much that they have forgotten how to be creative. Luckily, I work in a school that still manages to keep a level head about these things and doesn’t bend to the rules – we still use and value film in our classrooms.

Last year I went to lecture about the state of the British film industry and I raised the question about the paradox at the heart of our thinking about film in this country: we want a film industry, see film as an art form, teach it at university as a serious subject and yet at the grass roots levels of GCSE there is a feeling amongst some that film studies is not a ‘serious’ subject deserving of real consideration in the curriculum. When you consider that film is the art form of the last 100 years and that its cultural and artistic impact has been seismic, to relegate its study to a few students who might find it ‘easy’ and to dismiss it as a ‘subject about a subject’ (seriously, that’s what one colleague of mine once said- it’s not a subject, it’s a subject about a subject) is to ignore this. The French film-maker Francois Truffaut once said that there is a “certain incompatibility between the terms British and cinema” – perhaps it’s time we changed this to say “British education and film”

I’d be interested to know if anyone out there feels the same as me and whether your school has drifted away from moving image in the classroom as a result of the new specs; have you ditched media and film studies?





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