The Film Literacy PhD

Between 2012 and 2016 Franzi was a PhD candidate at the University of Bradford. The background to her PhD, which investigated the effect of film resources on literacy lessons in primary schools, has been included below. All work is her own and should not be duplicated without her explicit permission.

Bradford has a rich heritage of moving image innovation and film making progress. An indigenous film history which can be traced back to the first world war as well as the countries National Media Museum have contributed to the city’s identity and culture. In 2009, Bradford was awarded the world’s first UNESCO ‘City of Film’ designation which recognised its past heritage and current engagement with film. Bradford continues to improve its position in the national film community by acting as locations for films such as The Kings Speech (Hooper, 2010) and as the host to the Bradford Film Festival and the Bradford Animation Festival.

Bradford City of Film operates under four strands: Enjoy, learn, make and visit. As part of the bid for the designation, the original prospectus had promised ‘a range of educational activities around film’ which were to go beyond the walls of the National Media Museum and move into the schools of the city. Bradford had previously been involved in educational schemes such as the Better Reading Partnership which supported 1649 children and lead to a ‘significant gains in the 10-week period’ (Brooks et al., 1998, p. 18). In 2010, a year after the start of the City of Film initiate, a group of local experts gathered to design a scheme which would become the flagship education program for ‘media literacy’.

Soon the group received support from the British Film Institute as well as a blueprint for film education run by the Lincolnshire county council.  Funding was secured from various sources which was intended to ‘support boys’ literacy development’ and the focus group decided to hold a series of in-school workshops with the help of the literacy consultant Philip Webb and the equipment and staff of the Innovation Centre, the council's cost recovery service which employs ‘learning and teaching consultants, learning technologists and media professionals’ (Innovation Centres, 2014). The scheme was scheduled to start with a one year pilot in September 2011.

Over the course of this first year, 15 primary school teachers were trained by the BFI to use films in lessons, supporting literacy learning and development. These teachers were then encouraged to support and teach other teachers. All primary schools in the area had been invited to take part in the scheme, but it was felt that 15 would be a good number to keep track of progress and attainment.  The project was designed to comprise of two phases: first the teachers were to encourage the students to write after watching films after which they would encourage film production with writing. Unfortunately several of the consultants on the project were made redundant due to cuts to the council’s budget and not all schools were able to complete phase two. All schools documented their progress on a blog (Webb, 2014).

At the end of the project teachers were interviewed about their experience on the literacy scheme. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive and the benefits mentioned included increase in enthusiasm, reading, empathy, interest, concentration, processing and demonstrate information, appreciation of genres, imagination, vocabulary, writing, motivation, attitude, engagement and team building skills. Unfortunately, the project did not evaluate whether literacy attainment had increased in terms of grades, however some quotes suggest that the students enjoyed literacy much more after the projects. Only two teacher quotes actually mentioned levels in their report: one teacher said that this students jumped a whole level (1b-2b) and one other a quicker start to beginners (achievement of 1a and 1b).

‘Boys how do not engage in reading are more engaged by film.’

‘Enthusiasm towards writing greatly improved for the majority of the class.’

‘Visual stimuli has a positive effect on students ability to process and demonstrate understanding of a text.’

‘It was clear to see that more children in Year 1 (age 5-6) were achieving levels 1a and 1b much quicker in both reading and writing. Children were motivated to write. Children’s imagination, vocabulary and own expectations of what can be achieved with writing were all improved.’

‘At the beginning of the year many boys were reluctant to write. […] With this project children, particularly boys, were engaged and had good ideas during oral work.’
— Quotes from teachers on Year 1 of the literacy scheme

The scheme was judged as successful and funding was secured to continue it into a second year. By the end of the summer, Yorkshire was amongst the regions praised for being ‘positive and inspired’ by the ‘Making the Case for Film Education’ report (British Film Institute, 2012, p. 2) and it was decided to cement the success of the scheme by recruiting a PhD student who would determined the actual increase in literacy attainment through the use of film.

The official first year of the Media Literacy scheme was outlined in a document written by David Wilson at the end of the pilot project (Bradford City of Film, 2011). It suggested a three year program which focused on initial training in the first year and then suggested how teachers might be able to cascade the program to five other schools each following year until all Bradford primary schools were reached by the program. The project ‘outcomes for the pupils would be to focus on AF3 reading (improving interference and dedication)’ (Bradford City of Film, 2011, p. 1) which would then lead on to an increase in standards of writing. The documents offered little information on how schools would be selected on what kind of targets the students and teachers would be expected to meet. 16 schools were anticipated to take part in the program. Much of the initial outline remains very vague.

At the start of September 2012, 12 teachers from nine schools were part of the scheme, however none of the original schools had made the decision to continue and the first week saw the drop-out of two of the teachers. However, the overall feedback of the schools which took part was overwhelmingly positive. Only three of participants came from schools which had received Ofsted ratings of ‘satisfactory’ or below. This year, the scheme was to focus on all students (rather than just boys) and the consultants encouraged teachers to keep track of the attainment data of six focus students. All classes on the scheme were in Year 5 which allowed the teachers to focus on literacy improvements a year before the primary Sats.

Two different strands of the scheme began to emerge: Whilst the consultants and the BFI were interested in training teachers to improve the children’s understanding of film, the teachers and the council were involved in the project to raise writing and reading levels. First discussions with the teachers suggested that most were on the scheme to increase engagement and writing levels. Most focus students had been chosen because they were reluctant writers and teachers were hoping that audio visual stimulation would improve their attitude. When asked about the definition of ‘film literacy’, most teachers were unable to name the original meaning of the term (watching, analysing and making films) and instead focused on the improvement of traditional literacy through film.

A first analysis of the attainment in January 2013 suggested that some of the children had made none or very little progress, however, according to the attainment research of the consultants, this increased towards the end of the year. End-of-project feedback turned out to be very positive once more, and the Innovation Centre and City of Film planned a further year of the scheme. By the summer of 2013, ‘raising attainment through the arts [was] more common’ (CapeUK, 2013) and it was the hope of the scheme that the PhD research which was to take place the following year would reflect and confirm the anecdotal evidence which had been provided so far. 

In 2013/2014, 24 classes chose to sign up to the project. The task of my PhD was to monitor the project (teachers as well as students) and produce some hard data about literacy development as well as qualitative research which illustrates the success of the scheme. 

For the outcomes of the PhD and its impact please contact Franzi directly.