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.