BBC News School Report 2013–live from Action Stations

logoI have mentioned in previous posts how we have a good history at Priory School of successful School News Report days. And how this year we were aiming to be bigger and better. There were quite a few different activities going on for the live day on 21st March, including the Kidsmeet which I’ll write about separately.

I’ve led School Report for 5 years now and am always impressed with the support from the BBC. This year was even better in terms of input as we had a mentor Hannah Johns from HQ who came to share her experiences of journalism with the group in preparation, and we also had our local BBC reporter Dominic Blake who supported with pre-recording and radio.

School Report for us was again based at Action Stations at the Historic Dockyard, with the support of the Learning Manager Phil Wright. This space has the advantage of being off-site so less distraction or disturbance, its own independent press office, access to exhibits / personnel for interviews and research, a large conference room and quiet ‘green room’, and helpful staff for technical support. However, there are some challenges with access to internet/wifi, pupils needing escorting everywhere (it is an open public area and still a military space), and there also being another local school doing School Report there with 100 students spread out whereas we prefer smaller groups.

The very first time I led School Report I did it through curriculum time with a top year 8 class. Subsequently I led it as a voluntary extra-curricular club all taking place with after-school clubs. However this year that proved to be tricky, with so many students taking part in other clubs that it was nearly impossible to get all together at one time. I want the project to be open to all and not selective in terms of ability, but it would also be better to have use of curriculum time and make the impact wider scale. So next year I plan to have a lead-in time with all year 8 classes through a series of 2-3 lessons introducing them all to the project, then for the final live day let it be voluntary with up to 30 students taking part. I also intend to have more time preparing the technical side, with students learning more about live blogging / uploading and editing video, and producing green-screen broadcasts. This all proved to be more time consuming on the day this year than previously (although this was also due to wifi problems). I also intend to ensure more staff are trained in advance in the technical side.

So what did students report on?

All the articles and interview videos can be found on the school sitepriory blog www.prioryprojects.wordpress.com so have an explore. You can also see the twitter feed through @priorygeography and @priorysouthsea for the day. Students researched and reported on a variety of topics including the mobile@priory policy, kidsmeet, Ralph the Penguin, Les Miserables, HMS Warrior, the new Mary Rose Museum, the Priory QR code poetry orienteering project, etc,. Various interviews were conducted, and written articles produced. Unfortunately the final news bulletin summary was not filmed due to technical and time issues which was a disappointment, but there is still a wealth of work that went into the website.

Two exciting events did take place. Firstly, Radio Solent live interview with myself and Robbie (a year 9 student whose birthday it was and who was Photo 21-03-2013 08 35 18involved in kidsmeet as a digital leader). And secondly, two of our year 8 girls (Beth & Alex) were chosen to be the anchors for the professionally filmed BBC South Today school report special section. So they appeared on two news bulletins across the South and looked incredibly professional. They got to work with real live reporters and radio/tv crews which was very exciting for them and I was hugely proud of them.

So how did it go?

The point of the day is for students to be in the lead, teachers to encourage independencePhoto 21-03-2013 11 33 42 and let go of the reins a little. This can be hard to do if you are like me and a bit of a control freak with a certain end product in mind! The day goes incredibly quickly and you need to make sure you have a supportive team of staff around you, well organised students, clear roles and accountability, a schedule and clear protocols for all to follow. Below is a link to the schedule I shared with all staff taking part for us. I’d like to say we followed to the letter, but I suppose it wouldn’t be real journalism if we had. You do need some flexibility. For example, one student did some research and discovered she could get an interview with a creative director who had been involved with the filming of the new Les Miserables movie that day if we were quick. So we needed to fit that in. I was impressed that students worked so independently and with enthusiasm all day, under huge time pressures and in an unknown environment. I only had to ask one student once to get back on task. Other students suddenly got to 12pm and realised they hadn’t even eaten, they’d been so caught up in the moment that they’d worked through the allocated break time. (Don’t worry, we did feed them!)

I was meant to be in an overseeing capacity, the plan was to be quite free so that I could visit different areas and particularly get to see the events in the synchronous kidsmeet as well. Unfortunately I found I was needed to be more hands on than I’d planned. The moral of the story being that more time is needed in advance to train students, and other staff, particularly in a technical skills sense. I will make better use of the Practice Days in future.

Photo 21-03-2013 12 41 37For myself, I am a fairly harsh self-critic. Because the day didn’t run as smoothly as I’d anticipated, and because there were technical setbacks (such as internet access), I found it hard to see the bigger picture and to get my head above the parapet long enough to appreciate all the good that was going on. As a result, I’ll be honest and say that by 1pm I was thinking I’d rather be hiding in a corner somewhere else – and even that I’d rather be in a different job! I always used to say to my granddad that ‘if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well’ and it frustrated me that it seemed like all the hard work and preparation of everyone involved was going to be lost in chaos. I really appreciated it when David Rogers turned up for a quick visit, since he was able to drop in to the different areas and give me a heads up from an outside perspective that it was actually going ok. I couldn’t see it.

What went well?

– kids engaged, enthusiastic and happy

– a range of different stories researched and reported on

– real life skills learnt, real collaboration took place

– no behaviour issues and general public/Dockyard staff commented that students were the best behaved group they had seen

– support from our teaching staff was excellent ; English teachers Kim Bell & Hannah St Ledger could not have been more helpful, enthusiastic or supportive. Couldn’t have done it without them.

What needs fixing?

– I need to be leading more, and managing less. Less doing, more overseeing.

– Better technical training and advance preparation for students and staff

– Reliable fast internet access

– More staff on hand so more flexibility of movement

– Whole year-group input with curriculum time as lead in to project

How do I feel with hindsight?

I need to remember that at the end of the day a group of 12-14 year old children who hadn’t worked together before, and who were completely new to journalism, managed to independently research, analyse, report, edit and broadcast a range of stories from scratch. And that is some success. They were self-motivated in a challenging environment. I still have some disappointments, and I’m always going to want better, but all I saw at the end of the day was a bunch of smiling faces from the kids. They made no complaints all day. That’s got to mean something.

I’ll finish with the ‘cheer up’ quote that my boss tweeted:

“The sky isn’t the limit, it’s just a view’”

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