Press Office

Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

Speeches – 2010

Saul Nassé

Saul Nassé

Controller of Learning

Speech at the Institute of Materials, London

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It's a great pleasure to be here. Not least because I'm a proud member of the Institute of Materials, so this feels like home. More importantly because – as Controller of Learning – I'm convinced I've got the best job in the BBC.

Everything in my career so far has been about advancing learning. Whether it's improving people's understanding of science as a documentary-maker, putting the very first BBC programme pages up on the web, using reality TV to combat AIDS at the World Service Trust, or recreating the Baby Borrowers parenting format in India for BBC Worldwide.

But I'm standing here today because – as a child of seven – I was inspired by Tomorrow's World. I sat down to see Raymond Baxter tell amazing stories and do incredible experiments and it made me want to study science at school and in the end take a degree in materials science. I actually broke off my PhD to join the BBC Science Department and in 1997 I came full circle when I took over as editor of Tomorrow's World.

So the BBC set me on a journey of discovery that really has shaped my whole life. And there are tens of thousands of people all over the country with similar stories – of how particular programmes sparked their curiosity, inspired a lifelong passion, gave them basic skills or kindled an ambition.

We tracked down a few of them and here's what they had to say:

[Film clip]

As quite a new dad, that one has me choking every time.


The thing is, I want everyone in Britain to have a story like the people in that film. A story about how the BBC enriched their lives. Which is why our new educational vision for the BBC is simple:

We want to inspire a life full of learning for all our audiences.

Because learning – as you all know – opens windows onto unfamiliar places, people and cultures, increases knowledge, expands the imagination, nourishes communities. Changes people. Makes the world a better place.

We want everyone to have a piece of that. I repeat: a life full of learning for all our audiences.

I think it's what they call a stretch target. And of course, we can't do it alone. But we're going to try to get there.

Harnessing the power of the BBC

At the heart of our new strategy is the desire to unlock the learning potential that exists across the vast range of BBC output and activities – whether on television, radio or online; whether national, regional or local; and using all of our specialist expertise, from News to Music, from Natural History to Sport, from Drama to Arts.

I want to use BBC programmes that are known and loved by people and can serve as springboards for learning. And I want us to take advantage of the revolution in technology that is bringing radio, television and the internet ever closer for our audiences.


So who exactly are our audiences? Well we have three target groups.

The BBC has an obligation, laid down in its Charter, to provide formal learning opportunities to: children and young people under 19 – both directly and through their parents and teachers – and adults who need help with basic skills like literacy and numeracy.

In addition, there's a very important third group – the broad BBC audience. Two thirds of adults in Britain say they've got learning needs of some kind; and of the rest, a significant proportion are open to learning. We want to do more for those people.

Shape of the offer and new investment plans

I want to give you an outline of how I see the shape of our future activity.

In order to encourage learning in all three audience groups, we shall identify core BBC content with high educational potential and work with both commissioners and producers to maximise its value.

We want to make our material easier for audiences to find and use and we want to help them discover opportunities and resources for learning beyond the BBC.

We'll also continue to create additional resources to support learning for under 19s and adult basic skills. The majority of our output for these two groups will continue to be provided via the internet, because experience shows that this platform is extremely effective. But, in line with the recommendations of the BBC's recent strategy review, Putting Quality First, and the Strategic Assessment Exercise, we plan to simplify our offering, paring down the number of learning brands.

And, because I also recognise the power of television to inspire learning in these target groups, I'm going to increase investment into programmes. This means, for example, more money for Learning Zone commissions in order to maintain a fresh supply of linear content for schools – and as a start we've just co-commissioned Talkie Time with Children's and BBC Scotland for broadcast on CBeebies and the Learning Zone. I've also decided to invest in programmes on BBC One in Daytime and BBC Three.

Meanwhile, I intend to increase investment to encourage learning within the mass BBC audience, harnessing the power of our mainstream output. BBC Learning already invests ten million pounds a year into factual output on television and online.

In addition, I'm now going to set up a new Learning Fund of £5m per year to enhance the learning impact of commissioned radio or television programmes or online content. Initiatives on any BBC service or platform, in any genre, whether made by in-house or independent producers, will be eligible for this fund and I hope it will act as a catalyst for creative conversations across the BBC about how to fulfil our new vision for learning.


I'm very pleased to see representatives of many of our partners here today. As I said earlier, we can't achieve our new vision by ourselves. And as we become increasingly clear about where we're focusing BBC investment and effort, partnerships will be central to our plans.

I want us to develop stronger relationships with organisations all over the country that can help our audiences meet their particular educational needs. Partnership is a means of hugely increasing the impact of our work, as well as significantly supporting fellow providers of public service content. So we want to work more closely with all of you.

We've had some very successful partnerships in the past, but they've tended to centre on single projects. In future I'd like us to create more long-term relationships.

We also want to work more closely with commercial organisations that produce learning materials – and it's great to see some of them here today too. It's right that, as we carry out our educational remit set out in the BBC Charter, we should also consider the possible market impact of our activities – and I'm delighted that we're already implementing the plan for broader industry engagement which I agreed earlier this year with the BBC Trust.

Learning objectives

I think that in future we need to be crystal clear about our objectives when we embark on projects, so that we can share them with our partners inside and outside the BBC, and so that we can set about measuring how successful our learning activities are.

From now on, all BBC Learning content will be expected to deliver explicit learning outcomes which we've split into three groups:

  • Learning to Know – is about acquiring knowledge and understanding
  • Learning to Do – covers gaining skills, confidence and competence
  • Learning to Develop – is about helping people grow as individuals and members of communities

Let's take an example from Bitesize, our revision guide that's now used by 85 per cent of all GCSE students. In its Geography section, GCSE students can study settlements – a core part of the curriculum:

They Learn to Know by finding out how settlements occur; they Learn to Do by interpreting settlement patterns through map-reading; but the most important thing, and this is something that runs across the whole of Bitesize, they Learn to Develop by becoming, confident, independent learners. They've learned to learn on their own.

The Learning Exchange

As I hope I've made clear, the critical factor in fulfilling our new strategy will be our ability to harness the might of the BBC – its scale, expertise, resources, on-screen talent, geographical breadth – to realise the full learning potential of the organisation.

Key to making this work this will be sharing information and building relationships, so I'm setting up what we're going to call the BBC Learning Exchange – a team based in the Learning Department. It will publish our strategic priorities and programme of activities each year. It will identify opportunities, provide advice on outreach, partnerships and audiences. It will keep a register of initiatives and contacts, and advise on applications to the Learning Fund.

I hope that the Learning Exchange will make our ties with partners and suppliers even stronger and help commercial organisations by providing real clarity about what the BBC is and isn't doing. This is all about making the UK's learning offer – inside and outside the BBC - more than the sum of its parts.


I want to end by announcing four new projects which reflect the strategy I've just outlined.


The first is a unique collaboration with one of the BBC's biggest brands: EastEnders. Learning is going to fund the hugely popular EastEnders' online spin off E20, which is written by and aimed at young people. We'll use it to bring the personal, social and health education curriculum to life, working closely with colleagues in Drama. We've talked to teenagers and they want help addressing issues like bullying, finding jobs or being pressurised into relationships. And they're really excited by the prospect of EastEnders in the classroom.


Turning now to science, I'm delighted to announce that we'll be funding the new series Wallace & Gromit's Amazing World Of Invention and taking the series round the country with roadshows and workshops for schools, to inspire interest in science and invention. We're also funding the next two Brian Cox science epics – Stargazing and Wonders Of The Universe. Stargazing live events will be held across the UK at science centres, observatories and national parks. I believe that some of our star factual presenters can have great impact as teachers and so we've commissioned the presenters of BBC One's Bang Goes The Theory, which we co-fund with the Open University, to bring scientific principles to life for Class Clips.

And, in case you've not seen it, we've brought along a miniature version of the Bang Goes The Theory roadshow, which has drawn over 100,000 visitors this year. Two of the presenters, Yan Wong and Dallas Campbell – the Raymond Baxters of today – have pitched their laboratory bench in the library to show you some of their amazing experiments. Thanks Yan and Dallas. Do go and see what they're up to afterwards.

Adult Literacy Project

Another new partnership will be with BBC Daytime. Together we're going to mount a major adult literacy event, with documentary and drama on BBC One, outreach partnerships and online elements. In the Seventies, as I'm sure some of you remember, the drama series On The Move, starring Bob Hoskins, was the catalyst in a literacy campaign that helped thousands of people with reading and writing. Daytime Controller Liam Keelan and I are inviting television writers to come up with a drama to target adult literacy levels today. At the same time, we'll also be revamping Skillswise so people inspired by the TV series can sign up for a literacy course backed by BBC materials.


Finally, I want to announce a groundbreaking history initiative. And I decided to ask some of the people involved to tell you about it in their own words.

I think the history project epitomises our new vision and strategy for learning in the BBC. We want to harness the vast potential of the BBC – its programmes, services, talent, expertise – to provide a life full of learning for everyone in Britain, whatever their level and whatever their needs. And we want to do it in partnership with organisations and institutions that are also committed to learning.

The people of this country feel the BBC's commitment to learning powerfully and instinctively. They, quite rightly, have huge expectations of us – and we must over-deliver.

We have to weave the golden thread of education throughout our output, so that today's adults can make the very most of their lives and talents. And so that today's children can be inspired and encouraged like Nick Park, Bettany Hughes and the others we saw in that film.

But now I'd really like to hear from you: your thoughts about what I've said and any questions it's prompted.

Thank you, that's the end of the formal part of this evening, but please do stay for drinks and experiments in the library, and please feel free to buttonhole me, or any of my BBC colleagues, so that we can continue the discussion. Don't forget Yan and Dallas' experiments from Bang Goes The Theory are in the library. And out on the landing we have one of the few remaining Domesday project machines, along with a modern PC we've managed to get all the data on too. It now all fits on one USB drive! Enjoy.

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