Page last updated at 13:52 GMT, Wednesday, 14 October 2009 14:52 UK

Study backs BBC News School Report

Don Passey, Department of Educational Research at Lancaster University
Students are not just handing their work to a teacher, they are handing it to the world and they are doing that through the BBC. School Report offers an authenticity and realness I've not seen matched.
Don Passey, Department of Educational Research at Lancaster University

Researchers have found strong backing among teachers and students for the BBC's School Report project which enables 11 to 14-year-olds to create and publish their own news online.

In their independent evaluation, Don Passey and Julia Gillen, from the Department of Educational Research at Lancaster University, found "widespread agreement" about the worth of the initiative around the UK. They say the new research confirms the findings of an earlier study.

During a presentation of their findings on 30 September, Don Passey said: "Students are not just handing their work to a teacher, they are handing it to the world and they are doing that through the BBC. He added: "School Report offers an authenticity and realness I've not seen matched. It gives students a voice, enables them to do something with credibility and allows them to have contact which they could not otherwise have."

Co-author Julia Gillen, outlined the variety ways that School Report has been run in different schools, some of which are highlighted below .

She described the learning taking place in terms of digital literacy as "quite extraordinary" adding: "Students have a more critical attitude towards the media and a greater level of appreciation of the values of the BBC. They are working with different modes at once and different issues of content. By doing it themselves, they learn to be more critical of others' attempts at it."

'Unanimous enjoyment'

Speak to an audience
Write for an audience
Produce images using a range of technologies
Think of creative ideas for stories
Listen to others
Negotiate a point they feel strongly about
Work hard to complete a project
Meet deadlines
Create a news story that reaches an audience beyond the school
Contribute their views to a story heard publicly by others
Consider safety aspects when using digital media

The evaluation document reveals that 135 teachers reported unanimously that students enjoyed taking part in the project.

Their observations were reflected in students' responses: 66% of the 705 students indicated that they had enjoyed School Report 'a lot'; 27% said they enjoyed it to 'some' extent, while only 3% enjoyed it 'not a great deal' and 1% 'not at all'.

Teachers reported a significant improvement in students' ability to write for an audience, listen to others, negotiate and meet deadlines. Other skill development areas are outlined in the adjacent fact box.

The perception among students was that they had not only gained specific subject skills, but had also benefited with team working, creativity and their attitude towards work and social interaction.

These findings are based on online questionnaires completed by students and teachers (733 before the project and 840 afterwards) as well as observation and follow-up visits to 25 schools to interview staff and young people.

All abilities

Teachers reported increases in student skills and abilities, sometimes across a whole group.

The authors note: "The project has continued to work for students with special needs and those not fully engaged in school, as well as for gifted and talented students.

"Students have indicated how they have welcomed opportunities to be involved in experiences that they regard as special, often identifying strengths in their student colleagues ... and working positively, independently and collaboratively."

Julia Gillen, Department of Educational Research at Lancaster University
Students have a more critical attitude towards the media and a greater level of appreciation of the values of the BBC. By doing it themselves, they learn to be more critical of others' attempts at it.
Julia Gillen, Department of Educational Research at Lancaster University

Every Child Matters

There's evidence that the benefits tie in with 44 of the 45 crucial elements of the National Curriculum in English, Citizenship and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) at Key Stage 3.

It also links with 16 of the 24 elements of the Government's Every Child Matters programme, and the 'be healthy', 'enjoy and achieve', 'make a positive contribution', and 'stay safe' elements of the agenda were common topics researched and reported by students.

Hot topics

In a sample of 179 schools, the topics most commonly reported were education, sports, entertainment, citizenship, finance, current issues and concerns, health, current news stories about individuals, and safety and comfort.

Sometimes reports were tightly linked to curriculum work; in some cases this was English, Media, and ICT, but in other cases it was in other subjects (such as Geography, Science, Maths or History), or in other topic areas (such as student leadership). In some cases the reports were handed in as coursework.

In a range of cases the work has been done outside the curriculum (through an after-school group, for example), while in some cases schools have formed joint project groups or were involved in such groups in City Learning Centres (CLCs).

Listening to more news

Students reported changes in their consumption of news before and after the News Day, with more watching news on TV and many more listening to news on the radio, but no significant difference in the number reading online news.

The researchers say: "This is perhaps to be expected; students may well be fairly used to reading news as they use the internet, but their watching of TV news and listening to radio news may well have been more limited before this initiative."

Students showed much more interest than before in news about health, sport, science, finance and world affairs and about their town or region and technology. Their interest in pop stars, celebrities and politics was unchanged.

There was a big improvement in students' understanding of how news is produced and about jobs in news.

School Reporters from Abbey Grange CE High School in Leeds

Wide range of groups

The initiative has enabled students of different backgrounds, attitudes and abilities to be involved, and has enabled schools to choose to work with widely inclusive groups.

Some schools new to the project got valuable help from local schools involved in previous years. Some have been helped by CLCs, the BBC or others (parents or community members).

Some schools worked with small self-selected groups, while others worked with whole classes or year groups.

Of the schools that took part in School Report during two consecutive years, some have involved more students from one class, some involved more classes from the same year group, while others involved other subjects in the same year group. Some schools are now considering involving more year groups.

A number of schools are now creating their own reporting and editing teams to gather news from across the school via a school's website or intranet, so that parents and the wider community can get regular updates.

School Reporters from Abbey Grange CE High School in Leeds

Case studies

The evaluation outlines a variety of ways that School Report has been run in different schools. The "management of participation" section begins on page 60 and includes more details about the following case-studies:

Students at one school applied, by email, to take part in School Report. Twenty-five pupils in Years 7 to 9 were selected by their ICT teacher to make a News Day video news bulletin. In preparation, they spent an afternoon looking at the BBC lessons and made some news items in advance. Now, a school news podcast is regularly released and teachers in any department can call the "roving news team" to report on a school initiative.

A History teacher used School Report to develop leadership abilities, with a specific focus on supporting "invisible" students. She selected 12 of the 60 Year 7-9 students, who applied in writing to join the weekly after-school sessions. There, they used some of the School Report lessons to develop their video news-making skills.

An ICT and Media teacher at one school, which caters for children with severe disabilities, selected a group of eight Year 8 and 9 students to take part in the project at a City Learning Centre. The pupils learned to differentiate between fact and opinion, and regional and national news - and there are plans for a school TV station.

At another school, 20 Year 8 students spent lunchtimes and one school period a week preparing for News Day. The head of ICT involved the local CLC and the Gifted and Talented pupils made five reports before the News Day. These were combined with a further five news items created on the day.

Twenty-six students from two schools, one grammar and one community college, worked in mixed-school groups on News Day. The project, run by two Geography teachers and two Teaching Assistants, involved the Years 7 to 9 pupils doing the BBC lessons during two afternoon sessions.

At a school with an international focus, it was the support staff - a language college administrator and a study centre manager - who ran the project as an extra-curricular club. Students of mixed age and abilities made video, audio and written reports, with the technical support of sixth formers.

Two students and a teacher at a school were commissioned to make a video for a local business as a result of taking part in School Report. Science and Mathematics were the focus for news stories and students prepared in Maths lessons where they looked at the presentation of statistics in the media.

An English and Media teacher ran lessons with her entire class and involved eight selected students on the News Day. The students made text-based news on the Monday of News Day week as the school could not accommodate cover.

As well as doing the BBC lessons in school, one English teacher's class went to the local CLC for two days to learn how to use the technology. On the News Day, eight students were selected to work at the CLC with students from four other schools.

An ICT co-ordinator enlisted the support of a local school that had previously run the project. Three classes of Year 8 students did the BBC lessons and five students from each took part in a weekly after-school club.

At a Specialist Humanities school the BBC lessons were run with 44 Creative and Media Diploma students. Opportunities were taken to gather radio and video reports from October 2008, and the Year 9 students took part in two practice News Days. The News Day itself involved a selected number of students, while Year 11s acted as editors and technicians, uploading the reports to the school website.

The whole of Year 8 were involved in a practice News Day at another school. The English teacher, who coordinated the event, ran BBC lessons either before or after the practice day. On the News Day itself, 17 Gifted and Talented students took part.

Two hundred Year 8 students were involved at one school. All the English teachers were involved in running the BBC lessons with seven classes and groups took part in practice days at either the local CLC or in school. Mixed ability groups were selected to create radio and video reports on the News Day.

More about School Report and previous evaluations

BBC News School Report started as a pilot in 2006 and grew quickly. A total of 514 schools across the UK were involved in the 2008 to 2009 school year.

The School Report website features lesson plans built around a series of short films presented by the newsreader, Huw Edwards, explaining how BBC reporters find and write their stories and how editors decide the order in which they are broadcast or published. BBC journalists go into schools to act as mentors.

Students create their own video, audio and text news reports to put on their school websites by a certain deadline on what is known as News Day.

The School Report website links to the sites and there's coverage of the climax on local radio, regional TV and across a range of programmes, bulletins and news websites.

In 2008, Don Passey also conducted an independent evaluation of School Report in the north-west of England. He examined how the project was implemented in 52 schools, supported by 11 CLCs, in 12 local authorities were involved. Read more about the report.

Also, previous research carried out by the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) indicates that participation in School Report can have a significant impact on literacy. Read more about the report written by literacy consultant Jan English.

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