Thursday, 4 August 2011

Education Media Watch...?

Welcome to education readers from Twitter. This blog is normally about trans-related issues, but I didn't have anywhere else to post this, so please bear with me, I think this might be quite important and I would invite anyone who cares about education and the damage being done by the "media-Tory complex" to read this...


This idea has, up to now, been little more the germ of a thought. Someone on twitter was complaining about things that are said in the media about teachers, I think it was following the publication of the KS2 SATs statistics when the papers spout their usual stuff about... some kids can't read/write etc because they haven't got level 4...etc. So it occurred to me that we should start an Education Media Watch group like the successful Trans Media Watch (TMW) which has worked to improve the portrayal and reporting on trans people & trans issues in the media.

They work by responding to media items about trans people and complaining to the PCC/Ofcom/BBC complaints/individual editors etc. to hold journalists to account. They seem to be steadily changing media portrayals of trans people. It seems that they don't generally do it by open and direct confrontation but by personal contacts and presenting journalists/editors with information and arguments which they might not otherwise consider and being available for them to ask questions.

So maybe Ed Media Watch might be able to do the same in terms of promoting greater respect for teachers, but would probably need to go beyond this and get people working in the media to present stories about education with different perspectives. Too often the government’s line that it is "improving schools by doing x,y or z" is never challenged, or only occasionally so, and then normally only by union leaders. There seems to be a kind of “doxa” in the media that more testing, less teacher autonomy, more privatisation, less teacher training, more discipline, more accountability, more Ofsteds, more phonics...etc, etc, etc is what we need to improve education.

It seems to me that according to this media consensus simply by becoming a teacher you become inherently untrustworthy overnight and need to spend huge amounts of time on accountability activities (in contrast to City types who, despite having bankrupted most of the planet, don't need to be held accountable). It also seems that most people in the media seem to think teachers don’t work hard enough and don’t deserve “long” holidays because we only work 9-3.30 and so more and more burdens are continually placed on us. Have you ever been to a staff meeting where the head has suggested that we do less work?

I think that one of the main reasons that teachers have so consistently been portrayed negatively in the media is

a) to put us on the defensive and

b) to make it appear that ‘something must be done’ to shake up these feckless, lazy and irresponsible teachers.

In many cases these journalists, who are portraying us so badly probably don't know any better and often aren't aware of any alternative arguments or criticisms of these policies, because this media orthodoxy is so ubiquitous.

A really good example of this media consensus was when Matt Damon (yes the Matt Damon Supremacy!) who is the son of a state school teacher in the United States spoke to reporters after his speech at the Save Our Schools rally in Washington DC a few days ago. Even the cameraman somehow quoted at him a figure of 10% of teachers that are incompetent. This figure appears to have been going round media circles in the US yet it is not based on any research. To my knowledge there has been no data compiled on the quality of teachers in the United States, which gives any figure for ‘incompetent’ teachers. Compiling such figures would actually be a huge task involving a large number of observations of lessons, and as far as I know nothing like this has ever been achieved anywhere to date. So where did this figure of 10% that even the cameraman knew about come from? I suspect it came from powerful interests in the media, or large corporate interests, like the Gates Foundation and Newscorp which campaigns to get control of as many schools as possible.

I don't know about you but I have felt, for years now, that whenever any government announces an education policy, its basic premises are almost invariably accepted without question by the media, and these policies have all too often, centered around blaming teachers rather than the system. The journos simply indulge in "churnalism" using government press releases. So my idea would be to promote a set of alternative arguments to each plank of education policy and make that available to journalists together with a means of getting hold of someone to speak about them, give quotes, interviews etc, like Trans Media Watch's Memorandum of Understanding, only probably a bit more complex. Combine this with a response to detrimental comments in the media about teachers, and we have a means of holding journalists to account, or at least letting them know they are "under the eye" and that they may have to deal with a long and tedious exchange of emails if they are not a bit more even-handed.

I guess we would probably have to start by monitoring media output on education as well to see where the biggest problems are occurring. So a group of teachers, likeminded parents (and maybe even the odd lecturer in education like me) getting together to set up some sort of organisation to do this would probably be the best way to start It looks like teacher/journalist Phil Beadle is interested and it may be a good idea to involve those nice people at Local Schools Network and maybe even potentially friendly journalists like Mike Baker.

I suppose initially we need to get started with some sort of strategy because we are not going to be able to deal with the huge amounts of education-related articles in the media all at once, so it may be that we have to think about dealing with certain elements of education reporting first or certain media organisations first. Trans Media Watch started by getting C4, New Statesman and the Guardian onside and then the Independent and now the BBC appear to be cautiously coming round. With the BBC’s charter requirement to maintain balance in its broadcasts, that may be a good place to start…

Anyway, any thoughts about how to proceed would be appreciated, I really only thought of this a couple of days ago so. In the meantime I will try and pick the brains of the founder of Trans Media Watch, the wonderful Jennie Kermode, who has, following the success of TMW, been advising trans groups in other countries on how to set up their own TMWs, and also other types of groups in the UK; apparently there is now a Disability Media Watch and an Islamic Media Watch, representing groups that are misrepresented by the media. Use the hashtag #emw.

Natacha Kennedy. London. 4 Aug 2011

1 comment:

  1. Natacha

    I think this is a brilliant idea. There may be certain lessons to be learned from Trans Media Watch however the situations of trans people and teachers are quite profoundly different. Most of TMW's major gains have been made on the back of existing diversity policies within organisations such as C4, BBC and ITV. Even the hopefully soon replaced PCC has a discrimination clause in it's Editor's Code although you might never have guessed it.

    Perfectly seriously it seems to me that a much better model would be the way the Tax Payer's Alliance operates as outlined in this article in the Independent ... quite an eye-opening read:

    It would surely not be hard to find the skills from within the teaching profession and among student teachers to set up a unit such as this and would seem an obvious thing for the teaching unions to fund. The TPA do have an advantage in that manufacturing and peddling outrage is their stock in trade and outrage always makes a 'good' story. But I suspect there would be a lot of sympathy in the journalistic profession towards the EMW and stories could quite well be framed to express outrage at the way figures, research and reality were being manipulated or ignored by the government to the detriment of pupils and parents.

    There's plenty of parents whose experience of teachers is largely positive . There are school governors who understand and despair at the realities as much as teachers. I suspect it's these people you need to get onside. Social media would seem a good way to go. I don't claim to be well-informed on the issue but I bet you would even find supporters in Mumsnet if your argument is framed at avoiding strikes and conflict by supporting teachers properly and affording a degree of deserved appreciation. For instance I know that when it comes to sex education the majority of parents are in favour of more not less but this seldom makes the mainstream. You have to ask yourself why not as this implies the majority of newspaper readers must also be in favour and are not actually getting the story they would prefer. There are many more examples of how the tabloids especially are lagging behind their readers in social attitudes.