Taking a lesson from Scottish film heritage

44 schools and seven further education colleges have expressed interest in offering MIA as a subject. Picture: Getty
44 schools and seven further education colleges have expressed interest in offering MIA as a subject. Picture: Getty
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The time for putting film making on the curriculum for Scottish school students is long overdue as other countries have already proved, says Rick Instrell

Today’s Scottish pupils can study for Highers in art and design, dance, drama, music and photography yet are unable to study film. This is anomalous because moving image study can combine elements of all these arts and so provides an ideal context for extending skills developed in the other subjects.

Northern Ireland has ten years’ experience of developing and running Moving Image Arts (MIA) qualifications. A unique aspect of their MIA assessment is that it is entirely electronic. Pupils build up an e-portfolio of their analysis and production work and also sit an online examination in which they analyse and evaluate previously unseen film clips.

So the question arises – why no MIA qualification in Scotland? Some may feel it reflects a longstanding wider cultural bias against film as opposed to older art forms. Others say there is no demand from schools and colleges.

To test the latter claim, the Association for Media Education in Scotland (AMES) recently conducted a survey of schools and colleges to gauge interest in an MIA qualification. To date 44 schools and seven further education colleges have expressed interest in offering MIA as a subject.

You may be asking why use the term “moving image” rather than “film”. The latter term seems too limiting in that it can refer both to the outmoded medium of celluloid as well as suggesting content primarily intended for cinematic distribution. The term “moving image” can refer to pre-digital and digital forms as well as suggesting that we need to consider how film language is employed in cinema, television, advertising, the web and interactive video.

The term “art” signals that the focus here is the study of the expressive potential of film language through watching, analysing and making moving image artefacts in a range of media contexts. We are less concerned here about the industrial or social contexts of film as would be the case were we studying film or TV within the SQA Media qualifications. Therefore an MIA qualification would complement current SQA Media qualifications as well as being informed by concepts and skills learned via the study of other expressive arts.

Some may argue that pupils already have opportunities to learn about film in current SQA provision. For example, since 1989 pupils have had the option of studying film and TV drama within English. In practice this depends on whether or not the teacher feels confident to tackle this topic as their training has most likely been geared to teaching the other options of drama, poetry, prose and language. And even if the film and TV option is selected there is usually no time to explore moving image language through film making.

From 2013-17 the British Film Institute (BFI) is investing £26 million of Lottery funding, to deliver a film education programme for 5-19 year-olds to encourage and enable the watching, making and critical understanding of film into all 26,700 UK schools. Their aim is to “boost future film audiences through learning and appreciation of film and to stimulate a new generation of filmmakers and film talent”.

A new UK organisation, Into Film, has been formed to implement BFI’s plan and they will coordinate activities in Scotland to match requirements of the Scottish curriculum. An education advisory group has been formed and includes representatives from Education Scotland, Creative Scotland, SQA, members of the Scottish Film Consortium (Regional Screen Scotland, Glasgow Film, The Centre for Moving image, Dundee Contemporary Arts, Eden Court), Film Access Network Scotland and AMES. It has already recommended a number of key priorities for Scotland including the continuing use of film to support literacy, additional curriculum resources, increasing teacher education and advocacy for an MIA qualification.

In the 1980s Scottish media education made major advances because of the enthusiasm of a few cinephile educationists inspired by conferences and resources from the BFI and the Scottish Film Council. These enthusiasts went on to form the grass-roots organisation AMES in 1983. The Scottish Film Council’s advocacy led to the Scottish Education Department funding the Media Education Development Project (MEDP) from 1983-1987. It sought to place media education at the centre of teaching and learning in Scottish education. This project was managed by the Scottish Film Council and the Scottish Council for Educational Technology and involved curriculum and examination bodies as well as AMES. Media Studies became a popular qualification in secondary and further education sectors but the aim of a true cross-curricular media education across preschool, primary and secondary sectors never materialised. However, the MEDP does illustrate the fact that curriculum change can occur if there is a concerted coordinated effort uniting all stakeholders from government through to the classroom teacher.

The current BFI film education initiative is an attempt to finally break down the ‘eggbox’ mentality of teachers and learners by demonstrating the motivational power of film watching and making across all curriculum areas as well inside and outside the classroom.

AMES is delighted that Into Film and Creative Scotland are drawing together the players in Scotland’s moving image education jigsaw. Scotland now has a 100-year history of limited success in film education. Let’s mark this dubious centenary by ensuring that this time we make teachers and pupils an offer they can’t refuse.

• Rick Instrell is a member of the management committee of the Association for Media Education in Scotland www.mediaedscotland.org.uk


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