From the Guardian blog yesterday:
It’s not so easy to establish the study of film in our schools
Most teachers either don’t feel they have permission to teach the subject, or don’t know how
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 6 October 2011 19.00 BST
Don Boyd says the study of film is as important as literature and science, and rightly calls for “a system to empower schools to teach film” as “one vital responsibility” of the BFI-led film policy review (Now we’re all film-makers, 26 September).
I worked at the British Film Institute for 27 years trying to get film study established in schools, with limited success. Film can and should be taught from the earliest years in primary schools, as well as at secondary level; but I don’t believe the review, with its focus on film production and distribution, can achieve this.
Film has been taught in many British schools for 60 years. It now sits within a widening circle of moving-image media consumption and creation, and need not be limited to what’s shown in cinemas. But most teachers tend to just use films for mainstream curriculum work, like “the film of the book” in English.
Boyd cites “the intellectual heritage” of film, saying “kids can benefit from its history in the way they might study the Renaissance in art”. He’s right: but most teachers don’t know how to teach film in its own right. Boyd points out that “affordable technology exists: cameras, computers, digital editing systems, the internet”, but this connotes a professional model of film-making that frightens teachers. The barrier isn’t funding so much as attitudes: teachers don’t think they “have permission” to teach film, in the context of school league tables and directives on the curriculum.
There’s evidence of transformative film education, especially in primary schools. For example, Lincolnshire is committed to film education for younger learners, and the BFI’s short film compilations have probably reached two million children. Yet schools still don’t feel empowered to buy in the resources and training that are already available.
Why haven’t the BFI and the UK Film Council made the government recognise the importance of film education? The BFI has a small and marginal education department which is ill-placed to engage properly with the school curriculum at policy level, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) can offer it little support in doing so. The UK Film Council found it hard to figure out an effective education strategy, labouring for years to produce the remarkably un-strategic Film: 21st Century Literacy. Under the council’s watch, film education has been devolved to a lamentable patchwork of unrelated schemes and funded bodies with differing agendas.
The same people who supervised all this are now running the film policy review. They certainly need to clean up their act on what’s funded and why. But even more necessary is a clear directive from government, informed by the already abundant research that shows that when schools build on children’s early moving-image learning, all-round attainment can improve. However, if this comes from a DCMS-funded body, it’ll look like “special pleading” from one creative industry. So will education secretary Michael Gove want to endorse it?