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27 November 2014
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Mark Thompson


Mark Thompson


Speech given to the Annual Conference of Specialist Schools

Friday 26 November 2004
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The BBC I joined is at a turning point. Not just because of the Hutton crisis and the consequent change of leadership. And not just because this is that time every decade when the BBC's future comes under the spotlight in the run-up to Charter Renewal.

It's because digital media and new audience expectations are changing our world, the world of broadcasting and media, beyond recognition.

What's been striking about my first five months in the job is how much of that change is happening in the educational space and how many of the most inspiring people I've met are working in and with the BBC's educational and learning teams.

I think of Leigh Park Community School in Havant where I spent a morning a few weeks ago. We've built digital TV and radio studios within the school and are helping to give pupils - not to mention some members of staff and the local community - a real flavour of modern media production.

The best of their work is appearing on BBC Local Radio and BBC South Today.

I think of the teachers I met in Hull last month who have been working with us on Learning Express, our biggest broadband educational experiment so far.

How do we configure the awesome potential of digital media to support real teachers in real classrooms? The best way to find out is to work with real schools and real pupils.

That's what we've been doing and we've learned a great deal already.

Finally, I think of one student I met in Stoke. He's aged 12 and has a severely handicapped sibling. Perhaps because of the resultant anxiety, he's lost all his hair - something that has been a cause of acute embarrassment for him in the classroom.

On the day I met him, he'd come in to BBC Radio Stoke with his classmates and was making a radio essay about his experience and his decision to wear a baseball cap at all times.

As his teacher said to me, a rather withdrawn and remote young man found himself revealing feelings and perspectives that he wouldn't have dreamt of discussing either at school or probably even in the home.

In my first few months back at the BBC, I've discovered so many ways in which our educational mission - and our partnership with teaching professionals - is alive and well.

The sense of possibility and the excitement is greater than I can remember at any time in my more than 20 years at the organisation.

But the mission is changing - and it's this change I want to discuss this morning.

The BBC has had a long - and I hope you will agree - very fruitful relationship with the education sector.

Eighty years ago the BBC launched a new service for teachers and their students. The idea was, at the time, a radical and truly original one - to provide teachers with free resources through the emerging new medium of radio.

It was the first service of its type anywhere in the world. And teachers were inventive in their use of the new medium from the start.

One story comes from the BBC's Education Engineer in the early days, John Wiseman.

He recalled hearing a schools broadcast - loud if not clear - as he entered the high street of a small village.

The teacher who happened to live next door to the school owned a wireless which she kept in her sitting room. The school didn't possess one, so when it was time to listen to the BBC, she nipped home, turned the volume up and left the windows open.

The pupils - and everyone else in the vicinity - benefited from her largesse.

Things have, I hope, moved on since then. And the BBC has continued to drive innovation in educational media on television and now digital media.

Today we are broadcasting more hours of schools programming across our wider range of channels than ever before - 39 hours of television each week.

We provide a range of schools radio programmes over the internet and over 25,000 pages of dedicated schools web content.

More than nine in ten primary school teachers and eight in ten secondary teachers use BBC resources in the classroom, something that we are very proud of.

Most people that I speak to - of all ages, from all backgrounds - remember great BBC programming from their school days, just as they remember great teachers.

This is the most powerful possible testament to the power and impact that great media can have in the classroom when used by talented teachers.

But now there is digital… Digital is creating the transformational experience of our generation.

It is changing fundamentally the nature of media - what media is, what it can do, the way it is made and the expectations of audiences.

We all know digital has enormous implications not just for society; it also has many implications for schools and education.

I believe digital technology will, in the next decade, fundamentally change the nature of the relationship between teachers, students, parents and the BBC.

To date, much of the value created by digital technology has been for the individual or for commercial organisations.

Companies have created enormous fortunes for the entrepreneurs behind them, for private equity investors and for stockholders.

I believe that the next few years will be a turning point. I believe that by working together, public institutions such as the BBC and schools will create enormous public value by harnessing digital technology for the public good.

I believe we will create learning experiences in the classroom and the community that will lead the world and create future generations that are well prepared to cope with the uncertainty and the degree of change that is the corollary of this digital revolution.

Together we will use the power of digital to create value for society rather than for the few.

The relationship between schools and the BBC has always been close. But in truth the BBC has been a supplier of good quality resources that are an additional extra for teachers - the cream on top of the teaching cake.

This has been due to the nature of broadcast resources, which have traditionally been linear and inflexible - not ideally suited for the classroom.

As a result BBC programming has never been at the heart of teacher or student needs. In the future I believe this will change.

The digital resources we already create for teachers and those that we are developing at the moment are far richer and more flexible than anything that we could create before.

The content that we create in the future will be at the heart of the resources that teachers and students naturally turn to.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think that this change will happen overnight or that the role of teachers will be any less important.

I am not under any illusion that interactive learning is a solution to the issues faced in schools or that introducing digital media into the classroom is easy.

We know from our experience just how frustrating the practical problems teachers face with bored classes when the systems or the content don't work.

This will be evolution, not revolution. So what will the BBC's digital resources mean in real life? How will they affect the way teachers teach and students learn?

Let me try to explain. BBC digital content is already helping GCSE students to enjoy revision more and to revise more effectively - a tough task I'm sure you'll agree.

You have probably heard of BBC Bitesize, our GCSE revision service. This year over 70% of year 11 GCSE students used Bitesize. So too did 64% of secondary school teachers.

During the revision month of May the site received over 45 million page impressions. That is a lot of revision. Most of this revision took place outside school.

The reason that Bitesize has been so successful is a simple one - rapid and continuous innovation. It has innovated in the degree of interactivity and testing it offered and now Bitesize can even be found on interactive television and mobile phones.

Bitesize must continuously evolve to keep up with the fast-changing media habits of its teenage audience.

In recent research groups we talked to students after their GCSEs and to their teachers.

Teachers praised Bitesize for its comprehensiveness, its rigour and the resources that teachers can easily print off and use in lessons.

One year 11 teacher in Belfast said: "Bitesize isn't just fun for the kids, its pretty good fun for the teachers too. Its one of the easiest ways of reminding you which bits of the curriculum you haven't covered off in the run up to the exams and there's usually some decent material you can use in class to fill the gap".

One of her students put it more simply: "Let's be honest, revision's deadly. It's like having your wisdom teeth taken out again and again. With Bitesize you get it over quickly in little sections and the tests show you how well you're doing without having the piss taken out of you by your mates."

Most recently we have been experimenting with Bitesize on mobile phones. Young people are consuming ever more media on the move so our content is following them.

We offered a revision tip text service and multiple-choice quizzes this summer.

It is still early days but the take-up of what is still an experimental service suggests this will become a powerful part of what we offer in the future.

It is only a question of time before we are able to provide a service which allows students to download revision clips and tests onto their mobile devices so they can fit in interactive revision at the bus stop, on the way to school and right up to the door of the exam hall.

Our data shows students were doing just that even with the basic trial service we offered this summer.

I also believe that BBC digital content will help make lessons more dynamic and engaging for students and teachers.

The services we will offer will help teachers to plan and prepare lessons more quickly.

We have been running trials in two less well-off areas, Hull and Merseyside, for the last couple of years, experimenting to see how broadband digital technology can really work not just in primary and secondary schools, but also in homes and the community.

When the learning team first went up to Hull they asked teachers what they thought the BBC could most usefully do to help them teach more effectively.

The answer was deceptively simple - we'd like to get hold of great clips from your best programmes and to be able to use them when we want to without the hassle of tapes or DVDs.

Blackadder was one they particularly mentioned for helping to teach about the First World War.

The reason was exactly the same one that I experienced in class all those years ago.

Great programming brings lessons and ideas to life and can really engage a class in learning about a subject.

So our team worked out what types of clips would be most useful in different subjects, how long they should be and how they could be integrated into other resources that the schools were already using.

So far we've produced a library of clips from a wide range of schools programmes across relevant subjects such as geography, history, sciences and languages that can be called up on demand.

The next stage will be to broaden it out - to see how we can introduce clips from mainstream programmes such as Blue Planet, History of Britain, Walking with Cavemen - and Blackadder (rights permitting).

Like many of the best ideas, it is a simple one and it came direct from teachers.

The impact of these clips in the hands of experienced teachers is remarkable. The clips are short, flexible and easy to find.

Let me tell you what a history teacher said about the service.

"When I was planning my lessons about the Second World War, I had a quick look at the various video clips on the system; I chose a few of them that fitted the learning objectives and that was it. During the lessons it only takes a few seconds for the video to start and the kids are quiet because they really enjoy it."

I believe this is just the first step in what will be a quantum leap in the way BBC content is used by teachers and students.

BBC content, when digitised, will become a highly flexible learning resource that students and teachers can manipulate in any way they choose to achieve learning objectives.

Our vision is for a Creative Archive. The idea is to open up as much of the BBC's archive as we possibly can as a resource not just for students and teachers but for the whole nation.

Students and teachers will be able to use the content for projects, to create their own media, to do anything they can imagine - as long as it isn't for commercial purposes.

Instead of the BBC providing teachers and students with inflexible programmes, we will give you raw material that you can develop, integrate with your own content and share with other schools or local organisations.

In effect this is how teachers have integrated different materials to create lessons for generations - what we aim to provide is an archive of free video resources to use.

Opening up the archive sounds simple. Unfortunately it isn't. There are huge rights issues and literally millions of hours of content that we need choose from, digitise and make available in a form that can be easily used.

But when it happens - and a trial using BBC content will begin in January next year - it will be a remarkable learning resource.

What sort of school will use these resources? It does sound rather blue sky, I know. But at Kingswood School in the Bransholme area of Hull, an area of high social deprivation, teachers and students are already creating their own learning content, reinventing BBC content in new ways, combining their own clips with those from the BBC, building their own websites, creating their own films and even creating their own television channel.

This has taken time, but as teachers and students have steadily grown in confidence with the content, remarkable things have happened.

And incidentally, the school is soon to get specialist school status in visual and performing arts.

A fundamental change has taken place in Kingswood School. What has traditionally been 'our' BBC content has become 'their' content.

What was once a linear experience, with the programming starting, running its course and coming to an end, has become a remarkably interactive and creative one.

BBC learning resources have changed from being great additional materials to being a central resource that empowers both teachers and students.

In Hull our work has not just been about digital technology. We have developed a range of initiatives in the community that have had real learning impact, helping open doors to jobs and training for people who are often left behind by modern society.

Claire was thrown out of home at 14 and spent time both in care and living on the streets. Her education, not surprisingly, suffered.

By 17 she had no money, no prospects and none of the opportunities many of us take for granted.

But then she heard about a BBC event called The Creative Voice, being run in conjunction with the local council.

The aim was to offer young people a chance to get involved in programme-making.

Claire took part and went on to receive BBC training and support to make a short programme using the latest digital equipment.

Her film on the plight of young people thrown out by their parents was eventually shown on BBC TWO and proved a stepping stone onto a media course at the local college.

I have left our biggest schools project - the real quantum leap - until last.

That is, of course, the BBC's Digital Curriculum. We are investing £150m in the Digital Curriculum to create learning material across a range of subjects that will cover all ages from 5 to 16.

This will combine video, audio, text and animation and different versions will be created to suit the needs of the curricula in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England.

The first sections of the BBC's Digital Curriculum will launch in 2006.

The service will then be steadily built up over the following two years.

Let me be clear about what we're offering and why it fundamentally alters the balance of the relationship between the BBC and the learner.

This is no longer us supplying you, the teachers, with tools to enhance your lessons.

Yes, the digital curriculum will do that, but it will do far more.

The BBC's Digital Curriculum will allow you to customise and combine our content with other teaching tools; it will allow you to make individual judgments about what content will work best for each child; it will allow you to guide children in their learning but then allow them to make the discoveries themselves.

The defining quality of the BBC's Digital Curriculum is its focus on the learner.

The service will offer children immersive, absorbing experiences, engaging them through the media experiences that they most enjoy, bringing in the most reluctant learners, demanding their involvement.

I am fascinated by the way children totally immerse themselves in computer games, spending hours in total concentration with just a single objective in mind.

We want to make that objective learning rather than the end of Grand Theft Auto.

Our teams are using the lessons learnt from the Playstation games and creating successful television formats and using them to create public value.

Instead of the learning experience being a linear one, we are creating environments that students walk into and around, rather than just through.

They have to find their way around, discover things, solve problems and make learning leaps if they are to progress. As students work their way through, they will be learning in focused ways that are carefully designed to help them achieve curriculum learning objectives.

I also believe this service will begin to link the school and the home in learning in a way that has not been achieved before.

When we started planning the BBC's Digital Curriculum we talked to parents. Many said they wanted to be more involved and to help their children but found it difficult to do so.

I know myself how hard it can be to work out just what my own children are studying at school.

We believe that the BBC's Digital Curriculum will help. It will offer support to make it easier for parents to understand what their children are studying and to find ways to work together to help progress in school.

It will help to bridge the sometimes seemingly unbridgeable gulf between school and home.

We at the BBC are just as concerned about issues of access and inclusion as you are.

The Digital Curriculum and the Creative Archive will be freely available to all.

But you need to have broadband access to use them effectively.

There will be access at school, in libraries and community centres for those who do not have access at home and we are working to develop partnerships to open up access in as many places as possible on the high street and in the local community.

I believe that the BBC's Digital Curriculum will open new learning experiences that will be created by the ingenuity of teachers and their students.

The BBC's Digital Curriculum will enable students to see and hear poets reading their own work.

It will offer opportunities for students to immerse themselves in the cultural context that created the poets.

Students will be able to 'play' with poetic forms - and equally importantly in our multicultural society, they will be able to access poetry from other cultures that produced the writers and the writing.

And - a real sign of why this world is so different - they will be able to 'publish' their own work on the site, share it with other students and teachers.

It will be teachers and students who will create the best ideas for taking things further.

We at the BBC are creating content and tools - the infrastructure that allows everyone to become a creative learner.

But it will be teachers and students that create the most innovative and exciting forms of learning by developing the content themselves.

It is a thrilling experience to be developing these new learning experiences and we are confident that BBC's Digital Curriculum content will have a truly positive impact in the classroom.

The rich content we are creating helps kids see things in new ways - in primary schools we will be using virtual simulations, videos of light, shade and shadow and animated models of planetary movement.

Inspired perhaps by a simple question that one 6-year-old put to a member of our team on a school visit: "Where does my shadow live when it's not following me?"

That's quite a question to face on a wet Tuesday morning. But it is a fantastic one.

The digital curriculum will be a new form of partnership for the BBC.

It will be a partnership with other providers in the industry - the best independent producers and companies will be making at least half of our material and we will complement what is made elsewhere.

But above all it will be a partnership with you the schools. And here I would like to issue an invitation - to work with us.

We'll be testing the technical infrastructure in schools in the early part of next year and then the actual content later on, on a rolling basis as it is developed.

We want to understand what works and what doesn't and make sure we've got it right before going live.

The end result will be far more powerful if you could become our partners.

We expect to work with up to 1,000 schools during this pilot stage, covering the full range in terms of size, location, social background and ICT experience and infrastructure.

Within this, we want to include specialist schools and we hope that many of you will want to work with us.

So our Digital Curriculum team will be talking to the Trust about how we can achieve this.

The BBC's commitment to education is becoming stronger than ever.

Education should not just be in the schools content I have been describing.

Webwise already helps adults go online for the first time; Skillswise helps current adult learners get to grips with their numeracy and literacy problems; Radio 1 helps its listeners learn about and get into the music industry; the red button and the BBC's online services provide excellent learning content to support our programming.

I want to make learning a fundamental strand in every service that the BBC offers.

I want learning to enter our mainstream services more powerfully.

Next Autumn BBC ONE will be launching a literacy campaign to encourage hundreds of thousands of adults to take on their literacy problems for the first time.

This will be the first of many projects that place learning in the heart of peak-time on our major channels.

Education has always been at the heart of the BBC's mission. It is at the very heart of public service after all.

We are investing more financial and human capital in learning than ever before.

Our strategy is to ensure that the BBC's relationship with schools and teachers remains as strong as ever; that we maximise the public value in education from digital technology; and that the BBC will be a major contributor to our learning society for the next decade.

The BBC has learnt that it does things so much better in partnership than on its own.

We know that the impact is far greater if we work together - by doing so we will create a legacy of educational benefits, for the whole nation, for generations to come.


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