Why Scotland (or rather the SQA) has got Media Studies wrong

This is a very personal post.

Over the past year I have become increasingly frustrated with the way in which the production aspect of the SQA Media Studies course is (perhaps) viewed as an add-on. To clarify this, all pupils who undertake the course (whether that is at Intermediate One, Intermediate Two, or Higher level) need to complete a produced piece of media work during the year – this can be print based, film based, audio based etc. However, this work does not account towards their final grade. What is summatively assessed is their analysis skills (in terms of theory) and their knowledge of Language and Cultural Codes. Something that has not changed for several years and does not reflect the way Media Studies is approached in the 21st Century.

It is a firm belief of mine that in relation to Media Studies, the theoretical aspects inform the practical aspects, and vice versa. When learners are given the theoretical understanding of how the media works, then they engage with the production aspect at a higher level. Throughout this past year, I have witnessed some truly inspirational work from learners in terms of the video work that they have completed; some outstanding team work; and individuals continually evaluating their progress. Nearly all learners fully engage with the production aspect of the course, but at the end of the day are rewarded with nothing from the awarding body. The positive is that they are rewarded with a personal and collective sense of achievement, whether this be from showing their work to others within school, or from the number of views their work has had online.

So what needs to be done? I feel that the OCR Media Studies AS and A2 course has pretty much got it right. These qualifications are assessed by 50% internally marked coursework and 50% by external examinations. Learners produce media artefacts from a series of briefs (print, video, audio, and websites) and it is paramount that they continually evaluate their progression of their production through blogging. This is relatively old news for practitioners in England, but maybe not for those in Scotland. The OCR system provides institutions and learners with a selection of briefs for their production. Here are two examples:

“A short film in its entirety, lasting approximately five minutes, which may be live action or animated or  combination of both, together with two of the following three options:

  • a poster for the film;
  • a radio trailer for the film;
  • a film magazine review page featuring the film.”

“A promotion package for the release of an album, to include a music promo video, together with two of the following three options:

  • a website homepage for the band;
  • a cover for its release as part of a digipack (CD/DVD package);
  • a magazine advertisement for the digipack (CD/DVD package).”

What these briefs do is give learners a practical and theoretical understanding of how different media work together. They are encouraged to understand media convergence and synergy, and more importantly are credited in relation to this understanding. At present, the Media Studies course offered by the SQA does none of this, instead production briefs are left completely open (this does have some advantages) and it is left to the learner and teacher if they want to make their production embrace different media. Yet, it needs to be repeated, that no credit is given to this.

I sincerely hope that the current Media Studies course offered by the SQA will change radically in the future. Consultation is already underway in relation to how moving image texts will be incorporated into the new Curriculum for Excellence, specifically with regards to Literacy, yet even a cursory glance at the new curriculum will show that Media Studies has been completely omitted (I would love to be corrected with this statement!).

Why has there been this omission? Maybe you have the answer to this and I would love to hear your views about how Media Studies is treated in Scotland.


4 thoughts on “Why Scotland (or rather the SQA) has got Media Studies wrong

  1. Succinct and to the point. I thought about doing Media Studies at Stirling instead of History but didn’t because part of the problem I think is that Media Studies (a horrible title that bears no relationship to what it invovles) has a ‘reputation’ as being a soft subject that can be passed easily simply by making a quick film or reviewing a Danish ‘arty’ film. Given the sheer power of media in ALL its forms today not just the newsmedia, it is important to treat it separately from English in many ways. It touches on psychology, philosophy, art, design, technology, religion, modern languages and the way messages are passed to and from people; persuasive and discursive, reflective and so many other topics. As you say it shouldn’t therefore be assessed with something as simple as a summative exam. But again, going back to the Media Studies at university for example. Their final exam was to watch a three hour Swedish film and then write 5000 words on it. Why not a new interpretation in film or sound/music, why not a reworked drama piece or if an essay why not delivered as an audiofile/podcast /videocast?

    I think you’ve covered pretty much what needs to be done – let’s hope SQA agree and drag you kicking and screaming back to Scotland at the weekends as a consultant with proven success in the media field ! Best of luck down South where you’ll be able to achieve a lot more methinks without the boundaries in place up here currently.

  2. Many thanks for your response Dave. I completely agree that many see the course as either a soft option or one for the so-called ‘knuckle draggers’, whereas, like you say, it is so much more than this. One thing my learners soon realise is that the course is a lot tougher than they initially thought it would be, yet with this knowledge, their level of enjoyment for the course also rises.

    That example of the University course is almost comical! I sincerely hope that not everything depended on that final exam.

    Many thanks for the good wishes – there will be a blogpost in relation to that very soon!

  3. Very interesting and thought-provoking post Andy. Never having taught Media Studies at this level I was not aware that the production element ‘counted for nothing’, though as you say I’m sure the kids benefit hugely from doing it with or without the paper qualification. That is not the point however, and it should certainly be recognised. As you know, those of us currently working on moving image texts as part of the SSA literacy assessment tasks are making conscious efforts to have these texts recognised as ‘mainstream’, not as something simply to be enjoyed but not fully understood. I think this is a big part of the problem, the fact that we don’t take moving image texts seriously enough at a very young age, and one of the consequences of that is the ridiculous attitude from some, which both you and Dave acknowledge, that Media Studies is a soft option or somehow not relevent to the development of the individual or the economy. Much further from the truth than that it is not possible to go! Best of luck down south. England’s gain is our loss.


  4. Great stuff Andy!

    Media is a challenging and difficult subject for all students who take it.

    For the most able, taking the right course (OCR!) the academic rigour is second to none and will develop in them the skills they need for university, particularly in terms of research, essay writing and citation.

    For those students who are perhaps not as academic the course (OCR at least) provides a real opportunity to develop, deeply technical, practical skills. Students who have undertaken GCSE and/or A-Level Media Studies at my school walk away with a high level of skill in Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Premiere. Many also develop skills in the use of Audio editing (Audacity / Adobe Soundbooth), animation (Frame by Frame / Flash) and blogging.

    When people ask me about Media Studies, either enquiring or daring to criticise I ask them “If you were an employer would you not be impressed to see this list of skills on a potential employee’s CV?” The answer of course is “Yes!”

    Media Studies needs to be studied by every young person across the globe. It should be held up alongside Maths and ICT as the most important subject there is because those of us who teach Media and those who study it are setting ourselves apart from the masses, enabling ourselves to question what we see and hear.

    So many people grow up today and do not understand the deeply rooted political, ideological and biased messages that are intrinsically woven into the Media that they see, hear, read and interact with on a daily basis. It is scary to think that a student arrives at my door and really can not see a difference between the drama of Skins and the reality of Big Brother. To them the two are synonymous! This is not their fault. Skins is cleverly constructed through camera angles, editing style and features of mise-en-scene to appear highly realistic, its degree of verisimilitude being (according to my 6th formers) quite high. The student in question needs to take Media Studies so that she can decipher the text, break it down and come to terms with its actual nature: a deeply mediated, constructed text.

    Well, I ended up writing more than I planned but then I blame you. You have touched upon a subject very close to my heart.


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