About BBC Learning

Strategy - under 19s

Summary of Strategic Assessment Exercise for under-19s Formal Learning

Background and scope

In June 2010, the BBC Trust approved a 'strategic assessment exercise' ('SAE') undertaken by BBC management to set out the future direction for the BBC's formal learning activity for the 5-19 age group. The actions recommended by management were accepted.

The aim of the exercise was to review the BBC's approach to ensure that it best meets its public purpose of supporting children's formal learning.

The exercise covered the core elements of Bitesize, Class Clips, Schools Online, TV & Audio and Blast, within a wider context which looked at support for young people's learning from elsewhere across the BBC, such as BBC Scotland, BBC Wales and BBC Northern Ireland, CBBC and CBeebies, and other youth-focused or mainstream content including the rest of BBC Online.

The exercise took its evidence from performance research published by the BBC Trust, newly commissioned studies into the learning needs of young people and into the education software market, new audience research among parents, an internal assessment of the BBC's current learning portfolio, and an external critique of a skills proposition drawn up previously up for 6-10 year-olds.

Conclusions

The SAE concluded that there are considerable strengths in the BBC's offering:


  • Overall the current under-19s formal learning portfolio is performing strongly against its public purpose. The Trust's research showed that education is regarded as an area of strength for the BBC.
  • In particular, Bitesize is a strong performer, with around 750,000 users a week.
  • Parents also highly rated the contribution of CBeebies and CBBC.
  • The BBC's online delivery of audio and video learning resources is of potentially huge value to teachers and learners.

But there are also challenges:


  • Making available a wider range of content from all parts of the BBC to support learning.
  • Ensuring that all parts of the portfolio provide good value for money, with any relatively expensive elements being justified by clear learning outcomes.
  • Dealing with concerns about the potential impact of the BBC's activities on the marketplace and improving engagement with the wider industry.

The following strategic principles were identified:


  • The BBC should be confident in pursuing its public purpose of promoting education and learning.
  • Its offer should balance formal and informal learning, subject-based and skills-based learning.
  • It should support learners, teachers and parents. For learners, materials should be relevant to varied needs, engaging and capable of independent use at home. For teachers, the best relevant content, both newly-commissioned and mined from all parts of the BBC, should be available for classroom use. For parents, information should be provided about how the BBC can support children's learning.
  • The BBC should use the broadest range of output to support informal learning, making use of existing content from all parts of the BBC, and ensuring that services particularly relevant to an under-19s audience take a full part in helping to support learning.
  • The BBC should be aware of its potential impact in the market. While it should not shy away from delivering value to all, by making a core range of high quality curriculum-relevant resources freely available, it should look for ways of minimising any unnecessary impact on commercial players which does not compromise delivery of the Learning Purpose. For example, it should seek to prioritise where it seems able to make a real learning impact; take opportunities to address important areas of relative weakness in the market; adopt where it effectively can a different approach to other providers which, for example, makes the BBC's offering more suitable for use by types of student or in contexts (such as the home) which are not so well targeted by other providers; seek more fully to exploit existing BBC content to support learning; explore opportunities to collaborate with others; communicate its plans with the commercial sector to reduce commercial investment risk; and consider whether it can enable some form of syndication of BBC content.

Recommended immediate actions

  • Bitesize should remain the core of the formal learning proposition. It should continue to evolve, keeping it relevant to the curriculum and to the way in which children use the web, with the addition of more audio-visual content. Content differentiated for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should be given equal billing. For younger audiences there should be stronger links with other parts of the BBC and beyond. There should be a greater focus on home use. Bitesize should be adequately funded after a period of frozen funding.
  • Class Clips should see its potential better exploited with investment for both newly-commissioned material and for mining content from across the BBC. Navigation and search should be approved, and the clips should also be directed to learners and parents. Subject to rights, clips would be available for downloading and embedding, not just streaming, and ultimately some form of syndication could be allowed.
  • Learning audio should be updated and increasingly delivered online, ideally both for streaming and download, and integrated throughout the rest of the Learning portfolio.
  • Navigation and coherent presentation should be improved. Learning's new portfolios for teachers and parents have already make improvements, but there is need for more effort and investment, with older material weeded out, better guidance for parents, and better links with both the rest of the BBC and the wider web.
  • Homework support should be offered by pointing learners to relevant factual content and search pages across the BBC.
  • Blast, the creative learning project for teenagers, should be closed.* It is relatively expensive, with a very costly outreach element and a comparatively small and declining community of online users. However, the experience gained from Blast in appealing to otherwise disengaged teenage audiences should be put to good use elsewhere in the Learning portfolio and shared with teachers and others.

Further opportunities

  • As national testing in core subjects is reduced in England at the earlier key stages, consideration should be given to Bitesize moving into other subject areas such as History. The Bitesize offering for 6-10 year-olds could also be enhanced instead of spending greater sums on introducing a new brand. New ways could be sought of taking the 'bite-sized' concept to reach children less engaged in learning.
  • A wider range of longform audio and video from across the BBC should be used to support learning - for example, with podcasts of Radio 4 material for the over-16s and through making learning a priority in the BBC's Archive project.
  • Given the public policy need to improve children's literacy and numeracy, the BBC should continue to support these subjects, together with ICT and other key skills. As well as providing dedicated resources, BBC Learning should work closely with CBBC and CBeebies to reinforce learning through entertainment.
  • A proposal previously drawn up for a new project to support skills among 6-10 year-olds should not be pursued because of practical issues with implementation. Instead some of the ideas developed should be applied to work with CBBC on broadcast and online output and to a media literacy initiative offering support for children and parents.
  • More support could be offered through the BBC-wide search+ initiative. Meta-tagging could include curriculum references and the possibility of reconfiguring certain pages specifically for younger learners could also be considered.
  • BBC Learning should be involved in creative decision-making across the BBC and should develop stronger relationships with other parts of the organisation so as to bring a learning dimension to a wider range of BBC content. Next year's move to Salford of both the Learning and Children's departments should assist with this.

Future plans and funding

There have been real-terms cuts in Learning investment since 2007/08, with investment frozen because of the BBC Online service review and the SAE. The impact of these cuts has been to slow down updating of Bitesize content, the roll-out of Class Clips and the renewal and improvement of other areas.

However, the closure of Blast and the completion of work on indigenous language assets for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland allow investment to be refocused without increasing the approved overall online budget for Learning.

We are now working through the detail of new investment plans, and these will be subject to management controls, including assessment of competitive impact. We will ensure that information on future plans is published, in line with an agreement reached with the BBC Trust.

July 2010

* It is proposed that the Blast project will be closed by the end of March 2011. Activity planned for the current year (including the current UK Blast tour) is continuing as normal in the meantime.

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