As usual the same tired arguments about A Level Media Studies have been trotted out again in the last few days in the build-up to the release of the actual results. In the Guardian last week Peter Wilby wrote quite a sensible piece offering a refreshing view on the debate -- but was then deluged by bloggers representing the 'dumbing down' camp. Today the Daily Telegraph has had the nerve to repeat more or less the same story that ran in the Mail at this time last year with rent-an-education-quote Alan Smithers on 'soft subjects' like media studies.
This year I'm going to try to rebut at least some of the charges on behalf of the Media Education Association. The 'soft subject' charge is made against a raft of subjects. They are likely to be either potentially radical (sociology is still in this category and still being described as 'soft', just as it was in the 1970s) or possibly too 'vocational' like business studies. The prejudices come from traditionalists and those whose own educational background has involved either 'high culture' arts or 'hard sciences'. The charges have very little to do with any kind of evidence.
Media studies may be many things, but like most subjects it offers the opportunity for students to stretch themselves or to take an easier option and just pass the exam. The problem is really the exam system. The same people who think media studies is a soft option are also those who claim that students are all exam grade chasers. But this is contradictory logic. No student who chooses a course because they think they will get a higher grade would then select Media Studies at A Level, since the proportion of A grades is low compared to most traditional subjects. So, does that mean that students who choose media are the less 'street smart' students who don't know what they are doing? That could be true at AS, but they soon learn that it isn't a doss and many drop out before A2. We know that media students come from all kinds of schools and colleges and there are now enough of them (about 4% of all A Level students) to be confident that the media cohort is representative of the whole student population. There is a small percentage of students who don't consider taking media studies because the press, their school or their parents have attempted to put them off. Whether these students would get higher grades if they did take media studies is impossible to know. The truth of course is that the students who make it to A2 Media Studies are there because they want to be, because they enjoy the subject and think that it is relevant to their lives.