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Page last updated at 11:22 GMT, Friday, 12 February 2010

No limits for School Reporters in Hackney

Family conflict investigated

BBC television journalist Sonya McGilchrist helped the students from Hackney Free and Parochial School put together this film - and came away impressed. Here she describes her day with them.

As a journalist at BBC Breakfast, I'm used to producing news stories for broadcast and I know how much work is involved.

So when I was asked to help a group of 12 and 13-year-olds put together a TV feature from scratch in just a few hours, I knew we would have our work cut out.

I kept that to myself, of course, but I was not expecting anything too amazing from the pupils of Hackney Free and Parochial School in east London in the limited time they had.

How wrong I was. The TV news story they came up with was outstanding - coherent, well scripted, confidently delivered and, most importantly, focussed on the angle that caught their interest.

I had two mornings at the school with four children.

On the first morning, I took in a diary story that I'd been given by the School Report team - a report by the Children's Society looking at children's well being.

A few students from the school had been questioned as part of the Children Society's research, and some of the School Reporters were keen to reflect this.

The report ran to around 15 pages and the children spent around half an hour reading it in pairs and picking out the results that they found most interesting.

We then held an editorial meeting, encouraging them to discuss angles they wished to pursue.

My role here was to facilitate the meeting and explain that it would be good to find a "top line" in the report.

I advised them about how much information it would be possible to include, to think about their audience and not to be afraid to challenge the findings in the report.

Taking charge

Having decided how to pursue the story journalistically, the group then considered what to include in the TV piece.

They divided the report into a beginning, middle and end and I advised the children to write outline scripts for each part.

Apart from the cameraman framing the shots professionally, the children took charge of their own work

The script writing was entirely their own work and they completed it very quickly, each child taking charge of a section of the script.

I explained that it would be good to interview a spokesperson from the Children's Society and they paired up to write a list of questions.

Again, they needed very little prompting with questions - I was able to advise them which might be the most productive questions, from the long list that they quickly produced.

They phoned the Children's Society and arranged an interview.

The children felt that we needed our own survey to test the report - so I advised that a "vox pop" of other pupils would make sense.

We spent the last half hour of the first morning deciding where we could film, in and around the school.

On the second morning, with just two hours to film, we hit the ground running.

We filmed the vox pops, pieces to camera, and interviews with the Children's Society.

I offered the children advice on filming their questions separately, to make editing easier - but really, apart from the cameraman framing the shots professionally, the children took charge of their own work.

Later that day, the cameraman and I edited the piece together which took us around three hours.

The end result makes great viewing and is a real credit to all the children involved.

I'm sure that the experience gave them a valuable insight into how journalists work and, I hope, helped them to think more critically about what they see and read.

And of course I learned something too - that there is no limit to what a group of smart, enthusiastic students can do.


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