By Angela Harrison
BBC News education reporter
Increasing numbers of teenagers are opting to do media studies - with some dropping English literature to do so, a report from an exams watchdog suggests.
"Media studies is not all soap plots," says Phillip Pullman
The number of pupils in England taking media studies GCSE rose 19% this year.
The regulator, the QCA, says a "significant minority" of schools might let pupils take English with media studies instead of English literature.
Some have found this has lifted general English results, especially for boys.
All children in England follow the national curriculum and have to study English until they are 16.
Media studies has been taught in schools since the 1970s. Since 1986, when the subject was introduced for GCSE level, there has been a 32% increase (10,000 pupils) in numbers taking it each year.
Last year, 40,000 pupils took it and provisional figures for 2005 from the two exam boards most popular for the subject show an increase in entries of 19%.
Entries for English literature were also up this year - albeit by just 1%.
Professor of education at Buckingham University, Alan Smithers believes schools are choosing to do media studies because it is "probably a soft option".
In the media studies GCSE offered by the AQA exam board, half of the marks are given for a "controlled test" and pupils are given the questions one or two weeks in advance.
The other half is based on coursework: three 800-word essays plus a practical element such as creating a video or magazine cover.
For AQA's English literature exam this year, 70% of marks will be given for a written paper covering poetry and prose, while 30% will be based on coursework on drama and prose.
Professor Smithers told the BBC News Website government targets were distorting education, because schools had to concentrate on grades, irrespective of the benefits of the courses to the children.
"The role of English literature is to enable us to share the insights of people who came to understand what it is to be human," he said.
"It's fun to engage with new media in new forms of education but that should not supplant that accumulated understanding."
Supporters of media studies argue that the subject engages and motivates pupils and that it uses the same skills used in English literature to analyse texts.
In media studies GCSE, pupils might analyse pop lyrics or videos or look at stereotyping in films.
The Digital Media Education Centre in Exeter offers training for teachers in media studies as well as project work for children.
Director Martin Phillips says 80 schools have expressed an interest in offering media studies to children as an alternative to English literature at GCSE level.
He told the BBC News Website: "It is not dumbing down. It is setting a more challenging range of texts to study and also to make.
"It is not throwing out poetry and bringing in the pop video as some people suggest because all children have to do poetry.
"If you join English to media studies, kids will engage with a wider variety of texts. Most of us get most of our information about the world from the media."
What the Dickens?
Author Philip Pullman also believes media studies is a valuable subject.
He told the Times Educational Supplement: "Media studies is easily sneered at by those who think it entirely consists of watching Eastenders and Coronation Street.
"How TV news and information reaches us through the media is of profound importance."
Teaching throughout secondary school and often in primary schools already links into media studies.
Young secondary pupils might be asked to write a newspaper article from the point of view of an ancient Greek, for example.
Another example, given in the QCA report, is how pupils at Key Stage 3 (aged 11 to 14) might compare the opening chapters of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens with the opening scenes in David Lean's film of the novel.
I think perhaps the semantics need to change. As a humanities graduate myself, I was initially sceptical when my daughter wished to go to a local foundation school specialising in media studies, but have since come around. Media surrounds us, from new media like games and the internet, to television, film, newspapers, magazines and yes, books as well. A good course in media should analyse all of these different forms, from their historical roots to the vast array of media in which we currently engage. History, drama, literature and poetry and even psychology are all relevant, as are more technical subjects such as computing, televisuals and information and graphic design. It's a huge subject that perhaps should be given its due in our complex world of information and entertainment. There's absolutely no reason this should be considered a 'soft option' if approached from the right direction.
Lisa, Cambridge, UK
Is it any wonder why kids leave school without the necessary skills when these sort of subjects are being taught. We need to return to teaching the core subjects and teaching children a trade, rather than wasting their time with pointless Mickey Mouse subjects.
Media Studies is definitely not a soft option! Many students may choose to take it in the hope that it sounds like a push-over, but (depending on the course) it deals with many contemporary issues. I took English literature at GSCE, Drama at A Level, and am now taking a three-year degree course on Media Studies and Sociology! All three are engaging and interesting in their own way to me and I believe that all three are valuable to a student's education. Media studies may not deal with traditional 'complicated' literature such as Shakespeare but in this media-obsessed world it can only help students cope and perhaps even pursue a career in this ever-growing industry.
Media studies, leisure and tourism and business studies are all used as excuses to avoid proper subjects of study and if they have any value should be undertaken only after the ability to learn core subjects has been tested
Martin Sheehan, Marple, England