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Radio in the classroom

Childrens Radio Foundation girl with mic

Picture by CRF global ambassador Colin Greenwood.

Last month Jonathan Jacob wrote a post on this blog about Hatch End school in London. Two teachers there set-up an online radio broadcast to raise money for a charity. They did rather well and got lots of the pupils involved along the way.

In this piece, I want to take wider look at the connections between radio and education in the UK today.

My former radio production colleagues Meriam Soopee and John Tyndall, both award-winning writers and producers, have each entered teaching in the last couple of years. As great writers, producers and studio directors I’m sure they’ll draw on their media experience to help children learn but not every child can be in Mr Tyndall or Miss Soopee’s class, so what else is going on with radio in the classroom?

School radio

Student Radio in our colleges and universities provides an established route into professional media for presenting and production talent and, further down the age range, it seems School Radio is thriving too.

The technology company P Squared, most famous in our industry for its Myriad playout system, has installed small radio station rigs in more than 320 schools around the UK.School radio equipment

Their site explains what they sell, how to use it and useful tips for teachers who fancy enlisting the support of radio to their teaching.

For example, they suggest pupils might make a sixty second science explainer, use the radio to lead an aerobics session, write and present a review of a computer game or perform a mystery play. If the next generation understands that those ideas are all better use of the medium than playing a string of songs then I’m full of hope.

In a recent Ofsted report, Lyndhurst Primary School in the London borough of Southwark received praise from the education inspector for the value its radio station brought to the curriculum. Ofsted said the school radio helped children with their listening and speaking skills and that it encouraged free expression.

BBC School Report

BBC School Report Promo from Adam Butcher on Vimeo.

The initiative most famous for “turning classrooms into newsrooms” is centred on an annual day of reporting on radio, television and online from across the UK’s schools.

Not every school in the scheme ends up making radio – some do just video and text journalism – but those that get into radio reporting can draw on an extensive set of online resources which are freely available and cover the basics of good radio reporting, writing and broadcasting.

Smile. This may sound odd, as no-one can see you, but it makes you sound more friendly.

Some professional newsroom snafus would be avoided by following this advice and more adventurous pupils can follow guidance on making a radio package. A useful way to combine number of journalistic and production skills, even if we seldom hear layered packages on radio today.

Under the surface, schools ramp-up to the co-ordinated national day for weeks, sometimes months, and BBC staff with a background in journalism are encouraged to work with schools near their homes to help build the children’s skills and knowledge.

My own contribution was in Billingshurst, West Sussex where I worked with the children at The Weald Community School to define a news agenda for the day, produce some stories and help them order and present a bulletin. The day’s lead was immediately clear: a playground controversy over canteen portion sizes with quotes from pupils and the catering staff.

If you work in radio and have the opportunity to spend some time in a local school I would recommend it without question. Call your local school head teacher. If your experience is anything like mine you come away re-energised about radio and with tons of original ideas. Ok, ideas you’ve stolen. From children.

Eagle Extra

Surrey and Hampshire’s Eagle Radio operates a side-project called Eagle Extra which in its short life has built strong connections with local schools.

Eagle press reactionOn its own Eagle Extra is not the most listened-to radio station in the world but that’s not the point – it’s there in part to deepen Eagle Radio’s community roots and generate social value in Surrey and Hampshire.

From Primary schools to Sixth Form Colleges, groups of pupils and students from dozens of local schools have recorded and broadcast their own radio programmes on Eagle Extra. This Old Weydonian was pleased to see his former school on the list.

This week, half term, the station ran a series of one-day workshops for children with special educational needs at its studios in Guildford. 45 children and young people took-up the opportunity and the results of their work will be broadcast on Eagle Extra and available online as downloads and podcasts.

radio-rockz-mixedPrevious workshops have led to improvements in the children’s behaviour and confidence. After a radio drama workshop at Eagle Extra, pupils said they were more aware of the importance of storytelling and more likely to listen to radio drama. (Nice for commercial radio to build the BBC’s audience that way!)

At Easter, the station promises a Radio Rockz Mixed event, teaching music history and DJ skills for 13-17 year olds.

Fun Kids

The UK’s digital children’s station likes to get children on the radio where they can be reflected in the media and the station has a weekly programme, The Treehouse, which contains packages made by students.

However, Fun Kids Creative Director Matt Deegan recognises the intensive demands on production when working with young children:

We talk to them, it’s for them – it’s not bothered about their Mums and Dads but we do very little direct ‘making’ with children. This is mainly because we have a very small team and it’s quite time intensive to create this material. We tend to go to places where kids are – schools, youth groups etc, with more of an idea of what we want from them – stories, jokes, comments, requests etc, which we’ll then work on. For us that’s a better use of the small amount of time that we have.

Outside the UK

There are two interesting initiatives in South Africa which engage children in radio. The national broadcaster, SABC runs a permanent Kids Newsroom staffed by adults and supported by children. The Kids Newsroom makes regular radio and television news output for children, a bit like Newsround I suppose but with children on the production team.

Childrens Radio Foundation participantsSecondly, the international Childrens Radio Foundation is highly active in South Africa, using radio as a force for good in local communities.

Sam Bonham serves on the CRF board in the UK and explained to Earshot how the organisation uses radio as a tool to empower young people and give them a platform on which they can voice concerns about matters affecting their lives:

Radio is not the end as such, more the means. CRF teams up with community radio stations in South Africa (and 5 other countries in Africa) to produce radio programmes on issues affecting youth. Radio is at the centre of life in rural South Africa and through interviews and broadcast young people are confronting some of the challenges in their lives and becoming role models in their communities. And in turn by listening, communities are changing and growing.

Final thoughts

I enjoyed digging around for this article and my research has reaffirmed that new links between young people and radio are possible to nurture, despite everything we read about a decline in radio consumption among younger audiences.

It’s clearly in our interests as an industry that the next generation grows up media literate, aware of radio and listening to it, but the most persuasive argument for engaging children in radio is surely that the medium can help lead to a better quality of life.

As several of these examples show, the medium we love for companionship, entertainment and information can also yield genuine social value when paired appropriately with education.

Steve Martin is a creative and business manager in broadcast, mobile and digital. A former BBC editor, he has more than twenty five years experience in radio production, marketing and journalism and currently specialises in African media markets for the BBC. Views are personal.