In My Opinion: Rick Instrell: All pupils have a civic right to media education

THE Association for Media Education in Scotland (AMES) believes that all pupils have a civic right to media education.

Media study should not be an optional add-on but central to the conception of what it means to be literate in the 21st-century. Educating for 21st-century literacy has three major aspects: the cultural, the creative and the critical and should embrace both page-based (print, web) and time-based media (moving-image, audio, interactive video).

In secondary school, the aim of media education is not vocational but rather as a key element of pupils’ general education. AMES believes that it is not sufficient to leave media education to the individual enthusiastic teacher. As leading UK media educationist, Cary Bazalgette, says: “If media education is worth having, then everyone should have it.”

AMES viewpoint is reflected in Education Scotland’s curriculum document, Literacy across Learning, and in the new SQA National and Higher English qualifications which demand that learning takes place in the “contexts of literature, language and media”. This should mean that all Scottish pupils receive media education across their schooling.

However, the provision of quality media education is still patchy in Scotland. Where it occurs it is usually due either to the enthusiasm of an individual teacher or to the advocacy and support of the head teacher. Often, quality media education will disappear from a school when the media expert or advocate moves on.

There is a dearth of pre-service training and CPD for teachers and AMES provides one of the few routes by which teachers can access CPD which is informed by media industry practices. Teachers delivering the new SQA Higher Media qualification need to have this and in my recent CPD sessions I was delighted to see so many committed teachers ready to take up the challenge.

Many media teachers already use their knowledge of professional media practice in media production work with pupils.

In particular, the work of Scotland’s leading advertising agencies is well-known amongst media teachers. The Leith Agency’s approach to Irn-Bru 32 ads is often used as an exemplary case study on which pupils can base their own research, planning and implementation of cross-media campaigns.

The Union’s recent Scotland Welcomes the World campaign is being use in a similar way.

In such work, pupils are also expected to research the Ofcom and Advertising Standards Authority websites and apply their findings on advertising regulation. It is encouraging to see bodies such as ASA embracing media education by producing school resources.

The analytical and creative media work which pupils do requires them to be au fait with the design principles which underlie print or web design as well the principles of continuity editing for moving image.

The new Higher also demands that pupils appreciate the complex roles that media play in society. They will need to well-versed in the issues that arise and the range of perspectives from which these issues can be viewed. Needless to say, the Leveson Inquiry and Press regulation issue will be a prime concern for teachers and pupils who will need to keep themselves abreast of developments via key resources such as BBC Radio 4’s The Media Show, The Guardian media webpages as well as the allmediascotland website itself.

When I mention that I teach media studies, lots of people scoff.

There is a discourse of derision surrounding the subject, which then has the unfortunate effect of legitimising the continued lack of central investment in teacher training.

As the media historian, James Curran says, what critics do not understand is that “the media are the starting point, not the sum, of media studies. Analysis of the media provides a means of investigating the politics, economy, culture, social relations and imaginative life of society”.

Scotland is potentially a world leader in media education. But it can only achieve that goal with support from the Scottish Government and media professionals/companies.

Your local school may well be delighted to receive advice or a masterclass from a media professional.

Alternatively, why not write an article for AMES’ Media Education Journal or offer a session for teachers at our annual conference?

Rick Instrell is an educational consultant and CPD provider and is on the management committee of AMES. He can be contacted at info@