The importance of training media teachers

EMC has invited some well-known figures in the world of English and Media teaching to give their views on a subject about which they feel strongly by writing us a guest blog. These blogs will not necessarily represent the views of The English and Media Centre, but promise to be thought-provoking and spark debate.

peteIn this guest blog, Pete Fraser considers the importance of training media teachers. Pete has nearly 30 years experience of classroom practice and working with teachers to benefit their students. He is also a senior examiner and moderator and has written and edited a number of Media Studies publications. He is currently Chair of The Media Education Association and blogs for MediaMagazine on Pete’s Media Blog

 

SPOILER ALERT: there is Good News at the end of this article!

The number of teachers in the UK teaching some form of media course must run well into four figures. With 70,000 students taking AS or A2 courses at any one time and over 110,000 in either Year 10 or 11 doing GCSE, plus many more doing vocational courses, a conservative estimate would be 3000 teachers with media related courses as at least part of their timetable. But how many of them would have had the kind of training in the subject that we would expect from a teacher of STEM subjects or indeed, English?

As Kate Domaille put it (2013):

By far the most common experience for media teachers is that they begin their teaching life with an allegiance to one subject area and through a sequence of mishap, design or endeavor, become media teachers alongside other subject obligations. (p.64)

Thirty years ago, I was doing my (free) course in teacher training at the London University Institute of Education, part of the first cohort to be taught by David Buckingham on the English and Media PGCE there. Around this time, I was on my teaching practice at Kingsway Princeton College near Kings Cross, teaching A level English Literature and Communication Studies, O level Film Studies, CSE Modern Communication (TV Studies) and probably some other stuff which I have conveniently forgotten. Those students must be in their late forties now, which seems pretty extraordinary, shocking even! But what is more shocking is that this academic year there are actually fewer university teacher training courses with a significant media element in them than there were back then.

In fact, there are none.

Despite the massive growth in media and related courses at 14-19 over the years as noted in my last blog for the EMC, training teachers, since I was lucky enough to be on that course from 1984-5, has been largely a matter of ad hoc arrangements and grabbing tiny bits of English PGCEs . As Domaille (2012) has noted, “media teaching pathways have tended to be subsumed within the English subject route”, though as she puts it, most media teachers over the years have been largely self taught with the support of “a virtual university created collectively and voluntarily by media teachers”. (p.225)

Though there remain a number of PGCEs, mainly English ones, containing an element of media as part of the course and many trainees have had the opportunity to teach a bit of the subject on their teaching practice, the formal accredited HE based PGCEs of National curriculum areas have been largely denied to generations of media teachers. For several years, the only predominantly media PGCE was at the Central School of Speech and Drama, started by Julian Sefton-Green in the mid-1990s, but this course was withdrawn last year.

Many teachers have undertaken long term professional development in the area, notably Masters degrees in their spare time at places like the Institute of Education or CEMP at Bournemouth University, or the excellent long running Diploma in Media Education run by Jenny Grahame at the EMC for nearly 20 years, initially in combination with Birkbeck college, and later as a Masters-level module at the Institute of Education. Many more media teachers have had to rely on very short term training, such as exam board INSET days, BFI conferences or day courses from a variety of providers over the years, none of which, however good they might be, can substitute for the sustained professional training of a PGCE.

The GTP route or other similar ‘on the job’ training has worked for some over the years, especially in bigger school or college media departments able to offer a significant amount of media teaching and the support of experienced colleagues. Domaille (2013) wondered whether the shift of teacher training from universities to schools and the accompanying ‘freedom’ in the curriculum which academies were offered by Michael Gove might have led to more of an emphasis on media education and thus more training for media teachers. However, the demands of league tables make this unlikely, as schools are forced to place an increasing emphasis on STEM subjects. Indeed, the competitive culture emphasized between schools or academy chains seems, anecdotally, to be leading to even fewer opportunities for teachers to learn from each other outside their own institution. As one teacher told me at a teachmeet, if her Head knew that she was there sharing good practice with other teachers from ‘rival schools’ in the area, she’d be in trouble.

Light at the end of the tunnel

It all sounds a bit depressing, doesn’t it? But wait! A search on the UCAS (formerly GTTR) site using the filters ‘communication and media studies’, ‘secondary’ and ‘all training programme types’ reveals 23 providers. Most are individual schools and local partnerships, with many of those offering placements having a good reputation for media. But nestling in there amongst them is a new kid on the block…from September next year, Goldsmiths will be partnered with the English and Media Centre to offer a PGCE in Media with a minor component of English. As the course blurb states:

This unique programme, run in collaboration with the English and Media Centre, will give you a thorough grounding in teaching media studies in secondary schools, including post-16 teaching.

It offers a balance of theory and practice, including the opportunity to understand the key concepts in media studies as well as some training in teaching English at Key Stage 3 as an enhancement.

The English and professional studies element will be taught at Goldsmiths’ New Cross site, but the media element will be at the English and Media Centre, where a new suite of media equipment will be installed so that the trainees will have a fully integrated course of theory and practice for media teaching. All students will have placements in strong media departments in schools and colleges in the London area, and a shorter placement in a school teaching English, so that they are fully equipped for their future careers.

It’s a small but very significant step, an exciting and bold move – a partnership that represents a real opportunity for the training of the media teachers of tomorrow; who knows, in thirty years time maybe one will be blogging with some nostalgia about the PGCE he or she took back in 2015 which provided a decent set of tools for a career as a media teacher….

References

Domaille, K., The professional preparation, progression and development of media teachers in Scarratt, E., and Davison, J., The Media Teacher’s Handbook, Routledge, 2012, p. 225-239

Domaille, K., Educating Media Educators in Fraser, P., and Wardle, J., Current Perspectives in Media Education , Palgrave 2013, p.55-70

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