The Benefits of Film Education in Schools

13th May 2018 - Sarah Mumford

Being film and media literate in the 21st century is vital. Film education in schools is increasing pupil engagement, inspiring writing, improving literacy attainment and improving behaviour.

In 2018 children and young people receive much of their education, information and entertainment via still and moving images on screens – on mobile phones, notebooks, ipads, tvs or cinema.  Whilst it has always been accepted that being able to read and write was essential to live life to the full as active citizens, never before has the need to be fully media literate too been more important – not least with the plethora of recently coined ‘fake news’ on social media.

Boy watching a film screen

Screening Literacy, the 2011 European Commission on film education, defined film literacy as:

“The level of understanding of a film, the ability to be conscious and curious in the choice of films; the competence to critically watch a film and to analyse its content, cinematography and technical aspects; and the ability to manipulate its language and technical resources in creating moving image production”.

Film education (film literacy, media education, and media literacy are all frequently used terms encompassing similar elements and approaches) enables children and young people (and adults!) to understand how film and moving image ‘texts’ make meaning, encourages them to watch films from a variety of sources and inspires them to create films of their own. In so doing, they are empowered to be culturally literate – to be able to ‘read’ the films and moving image texts they see every day and ‘write’ their own for others to watch too.

“Watching a film doesn’t feel like working, but it can inspire children through rich imagery, use of camera shots, music, sound effects, silence and dialogue.”

Whilst there are no formal requirements for film or media education to be taught in the current iteration of the National Curriculum in the UK there is a strong history of its delivery within the English curriculum in the years prior to this. Britain has what are probably some of the best national film education initiatives in the world courtesy of BFI Education (led initially by Cary Bazalgette)The Film Space , the English and Media Centre  and Into Film.

Giving teachers and pupils the skills and ability to teach and learn about how film and other moving image texts make meaning, how and why they are produced and the impact they have on audiences has been the mainstay of film education practice for a number of years.

“….stimulating with visual images really really does work… Children were engrossed and they begged to do a version of their own.” Teacher, Hollingwood Primary

In more recent years practical activities, tools and techniques have emerged based on tried and tested methods such as using the 3Cs: colour, character, camera and the 3Ss: story, setting, sound, provide a specific structure for students to consider when writing about and developing their own films. Having the sound on only (Sound On/Vision Off) without the visuals is another strategy that encourages pupils to really listen to the soundtrack and imagine and then articulate what might be happening. Tell Me Grids and Role on the Wall, Venn Diagrams and predictive writing are also techniques that Into Film have now formalised as part of their national programme of film education.

‘The positive impact of the project has shone through the positivity from the children. They were very engaged and thoroughly enjoyed all aspects. Writing, which for some was a challenge, was made easier through the enthusiastic responses by the children. This in turn had a positive impact on pupil results. The results for this particular group of children showed that they made between 4 and 6 APS points in writing and between 2 and 4 APS points in reading with one child making 6APS points.’ Teacher, Victoria Primary School

Many of these film and media literacy activities are derived from a BFI Education resource full of core basic teaching techniques from EYFS to KS2, including step by step instructions: Free film literacy resources from Into Film for all key stages can be downloaded from here:

“Some of the boys made a lot of progress, and several are now performing on a level with the higher achieving girls.” Teacher, Newby Primary School

IVE currently receive funding from the Department for Education (DfE), as the Yorkshire and Humber Arts Council England (ACE) funded Bridge organisation, to ensure film organisations are part of local cultural education partnerships ( In 2013 we (when known as CapeUK) commissioned a report into film education in the region entitled Pockets of Excellence: Film Education in Yorkshire and the Humber.  Since the report IVE have held an annual film education teachers’ conference, continue to liaise with Into Film and the BFI Film Forever strategy and to encourage film organisations to be part of local cultural education partnerships.

film on dozens of screens

We have also been supporting Bradford UNESCO City of Film’s specific ambition to move film education on from being a series of disconnected experiences to becoming an integral part of every young person’s life – a systematic process in which confidence and articulacy grow by having the opportunity to see a wide range of films, to gain a critical understanding of film and to enjoy the creative activity of filmmaking. Find out more here:

“The boys used to kick furniture when they saw their writing books but now they are engaged and are keen to get involved and write newspaper reports.” Teacher, Greengates Primary School

The Bradford Film Literacy Programme (devised by the BFI, Bradford Curriculum Innovation Centre, Bradford UNESCO City of Film and the then National Media Museum, now National Science & Media Museum (that IVE Cultural Education Director Sarah Mumford used to work for) took place in primary schools in 2010-2011 and 2012-2015 and continues year in year out in different manifestations dependent on partners and funding availability. It was designed to act as a legacy for the Bradford UNSECO City of Film status to explore whether learning about and through short film in literacy could increase pupils’ literacy attainment levels. On average, each year target pupils engaged in the programme make 4 average points progress (the measure used when schools all used the same ‘levels’ for measuring progress) for writing and reading. This was above the expected rate of progress as children making good progress move around 3 APS each year at KS2. Plans are afoot to secure funding to take the film literacy programme from primary through to secondary next in the form of a transitionary film literacy programme. Bradford’s Curriculum Innovation Centre are driving this initiative with the support of IVE and Bradford UNESCO City of Film.

IVE (then CapeUK) supported the 2014 iteration of the Bradford Film Literacy project – introducing professional filmmakers into the established programme – and continue to nurture the formal evaluation of the programme in schools across the region in 2018 working with Bradford Curriculum Innovation Centre, Philip Webb Literacy, Into Film, the BFI, Bradford UNESCO City of Film and English adviser James Durran. The impact on pupils’ writing, engagement and enjoyment continues to be palpable.

In addition to recently securing SHINE Trust funding for a programme of work with Temple Learning Academy using filmmaking to improve behaviour, engagement and attainment with students as they transition into year 7 at Temple Learning Academy IVE are also currently exploring the appetite for the establishment of a Yorkshire & Humber film education network and hope to be able to report back on the outcome of that investigation towards the end of 2018.

You can find out more about film education in schools in general via the Into Film website:; via the BFI Education website: and about the Bradford Film Literacy programme via the Bradford UNESCO City of Film website: and . Into Film and Bradford Curriculum Innovation Centre currently offer film literacy CPD for teachers. Please contact them via their websites.

Further reading:

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