Into Film response to 'use of film in the classroom' debate

31 Mar 2016

7 mins
5 people in film club watching screen
5 people in film club watching screen

There has been a lively debate taking place within the education world recently, and it's one that is of particular relevance to us and those that make use of our offer. 

The discussion was sparked by an article that appeared in TES last week. Written by Tom Bennett, the government's appointed Behaviour Expert, the article suggested that "Outside of a media course, the only place for a full movie is a film club or similar". While we obviously support Mr. Bennett's favourable stance towards film clubs, it has always been our strident belief that film can also be a valuable educational tool within the classroom itself.

Joining the debate, Into Film CEO Paul Reeve has now written a statement responding to Bennett's article.

Paul Reeve, CEO, Into Film said:

All of us at Into Film read Tom Bennett's column with interest, particularly his comment that "outside of a media course the only place for a full movie is a film club or similar". While we welcome his endorsement of film clubs (since our organisation supports a network of many thousands in schools across the UK), we challenge strongly his assertion that watching movies in the classroom should be the sole preserve of media courses, especially if we are supposed to infer from this that films cannot be hugely rich resources for learning, or indeed that the stories they tell cannot be intrinsically educational. A well chosen film (including short form films used by many teachers), used well, can help bring learning to life, stimulating thought and understanding, and acting as a springboard for lively classroom discussion and debate. And this applies to just about every subject, curriculum area or issue you care to name.

In addition, there is emerging evidence that using film in the classroom is particularly effective in contributing to the development of literacy skills in children and young people, providing teachers with an additional tool to address this key area. The 'Leeds Partnership Project: Improving Literacy Through Film (2014/15)', in which pupils regularly engaged with film watching and filmmaking, recorded a 96% improvement in average points progress in reading, compared with the previous term, and a 60% improvement in writing. This is part of a growing bank of evidence and case studies highlighting the numerous positive educational outcomes that the use of film can help achieve that we'd be pleased to share with Mr Bennett.

We'd also remind him that film is an art form, arguably the most influential of the last century; it depicts great stories from our histories and of contemporary life, and is a central part of our shared cultural heritage. So we hope Mr Bennett isn't suggesting that film shouldn't have a place in the core classroom learning of children and young people, just as we trust that he wouldn't suggest music, visual art, drama or dance don't have a place.

We're pleased though that the piece has prompted debate. The many comments in response (including those under Sunday's Observer article about the 'furore' it ignited) articulate more clearly than we ever could the numerous educational benefits of learning through and about film.

Actor and Into Film Ambassador Michael Sheen has explained passionately why he believes in the value of film in education:

Film sparks conversation and curiosity, and very quickly leads to discussion of fundamental and important issues without feeling like its 'schoolwork'. The American film critic Roger Ebert once described films as "empathy machines". They can allow us to see the world through the eyes of others, experience other cultures, other viewpoints, other lives. And, crucially, not just get an intellectual understanding but actually feel what it's like.

When I was growing up it was watching films that had the most profound and lasting effect on me. Whether it was through seeing them on television, or on the occasional family cinema visit, I found it a totally immersive and engaging experience. As a young boy in a small Welsh steel town I was able to travel to other worlds and live many different lives. And, at times, see my own world and experience reflected back to me in the most unexpected places. Ultimately, it is not the alien worlds and exotic otherness of films like Star Wars that touch us the deepest but the recognition of ourselves and our own struggles and victories in the journey of Luke or Rey. I was on that motorcycle when Steve McQueen jumped the barbed wire fence in The Great Escape. I felt the rush of air on the back of my neck as the house collapsed around Buster Keaton. I got drowsy with Dorothy in the field of poppies on the outskirts of the Emerald City. I didn't observe these things, I experienced them - and they became a part of my life.

Michael Sheen, Into Film Ambassador and Actor

Below are some further examples of testimony on the power of film:

Education for young people is one of the most important investments the film industry can make; it helps to grow the audiences and creative talent of the future and is one of the BFI's key strategic priorities. Film is the great modern art form and one of the most powerful storytelling mediums we have to enrich lives and to expand and deepen our understanding of the world and other people. Why is it that Austen and Shakespeare are on the curriculum but Hitchcock and David Lean are absent? All are great storytellers of the world. We firmly believe that film's inclusion in formal education and the work of Into Film is vital for the success of future generations.

Amanda Nevill, BFI CEO

Film is giving the children at Anson aspiration, showing them what is possible and getting them to see life beyond Cricklewood. We have over 40 languages spoken in the school and almost a third of children with special educational need. Film, as a tool to support the curriculum and inspire children, is one of the reasons the children are in the top 5% of schools in the country for progress in reading and achieving close to the national averages in writing year after year.

Simon Pile, Assistant Headteacher, Anson Primary School

The CPD has enabled us to use film to develop language and comprehension. Our SATs results this year were great, both progress and attainment in reading and writing have improved compared with last year which we feel has been largely as a result of integrating the Into Film strategies into our teaching. Many of our pupils have few experiences of the world around them and their imagination is limited; film has helped to increase their understanding of the world and boost their imagination. Using film has undoubtedly helped to increase engagement and attainment, and we will definitely continue to integrate it into our lessons.

Roxy Prust, Park View Primary School, Leeds

Films are uniquely entertaining and often inspirational. They can change lives too. A teacher can use a film to open up a discussion and take children into the curriculum by stealth.

Sir Michael Bichard, former Permanent Secretary for the Department for Education and Employment

I remember when I was at school, and the times when I wasn't as engaged with the class, the minute a film was shown I found a way in to learning. Film is an amazing learning tool it enables people to understand more about events, history, society and much more… And it also brings people together and encourages discussion.

Carey Mulligan, Actor
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