Look and Learn 

1 September 2001 tbs.pm/1660

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“We are now proposing a series of schools broadcasts sometime next year, as we think the medium of television has great and useful potentialities in this direction.”

Associated-Rediffusion’s Chairman, John Spencer Wills, made this announcement in his address to the company’s annual general meeting on 18th December 1956. There were two opposing views to schools television: one side held that the new schools broadcasts would be clumsy attempts at education, intruding into sacred academia; the other saw as it public-spirited gesture by private enterprise responding to a public need.

The announcement came as a surprise to the press – and indeed the amount of press interest surprised Rediffusion. “The ITV project emerged as a surprise, especially to the BBC,” wrote the News Chronicle. The BBC was pre-empted by ITV’s broadcasts by a term, although Auntie had carried out closed-circuit experiments in 1952.

The fear that schools programmes would be used to advertise to students were apparent: “The advertising world has long had eager eyes on the mass of children in schools” the Manchester Evening Chronicle said. The National Union of Teachers’ weekly, The Schoolmaster, was fairer, regretting any prejudice by teachers “against these broadcasts before they have been given a fair trial.”

The ITA had not approved the plans, but committees were quickly formed to start broadcasting the experimental broadcasts with the blessing of the educators. Eighty schools registered interest with Associated-Rediffusion for the first broadcasts, and they began on Monday afternoon, 13 May 1957. A further 45 schools were estimated to be able to watch the programmes in the Midlands.

At the same time that the experiment ended, Scottish Television, due to launch in August 1957, established its own educational advisory committee with the intention of relaying Associated-Rediffusion’s programmes, just as ATV had done, and they began doing so in the summer of 1958.

As Independent Television spread across the country, so schools programmes followed it. TWW started broadcasting schools programmes to South Wales and the West in Spring 1958; Southern Television in Autumn 1958; Tyne Tees in early 1959; Anglia in Autumn 1959; Ulster in 1960 and Westward in Summer 1961.

Although Granada had been on air since May 1956, they didn’t take the programmes. In fact, although the initial eight-week experiment had been a success, Granada didn’t relay the programmes – instead it provided its own programmes beginning in autumn 1959, once the practice became more financially stable.

Thus there was a problem – ITV’s federal system. ITV companies didn’t take all of the programmes put out by the other companies, and if they did it might not be at the same time as broadcast elsewhere. For autumn term 1961, the makers of schools programmes, Associated-Rediffusion, Granada and ATV, agreed on an exchange of programmes, and established the Network Educational Sub-Committee (NESC). The first members being John McMillan and Enid Love from Associated-Rediffusion, Lew Grade and Mary Field from ATV, Denis Forman and Sir Gerald Barry from Granada and Robert McPherson from Scottish Television.

The NESC decided that:

  • From September 1961 all first transmissions of schools programmes would be simultaneously networked.
  • There would be five hours of schools broadcast per week, made up of two transmissions daily between 2.35pm and 3.45pm with a ten-minute interval.
  • Schools programmes would be provided as follows: Associated-Rediffusion 100 minutes per week; ATV 66 minutes and Granada 54 minutes. The remainder out of the five hours would be made up of repeats selected at the discretion of the individual company’s Educational Adviser.

  • An ITV Schools Secretariat would be set up in London to deal with registering schools and providing support materials including wall charts and teachers’ guides.

This was an important set of decisions, as it meant that ITV Schools programming was uniform across the country, with each company’s programmes being seen in the other companies’ regions.

In 1962, the network introduced ‘Out of School’ broadcasts during the Christmas holidays so that teachers could take time to decide whether the programmes would be useful to them or not. This continued well into the 90s with repeats of programmes taking place during half-term holidays.

The Television Act 1954, from which ITV was created, was to be in place for ten years. The Pilkington Committee, as a preliminary to a new Act, recommended a shift of control from the companies to the ITA, and this was duly included in the Television Act 1964. The Authority set up three committees covering educational matters to take into account the ITV companies’ schools programmes as well as the adult education broadcasts pioneered by ABC.

It is perhaps fortuitous that the ITA had the last word on educational broadcasting since in 1965 Rediffusion proposed dropping Granada’s sixth-form science series Discovery, and in retaliation Granada announced that it wanted to drop three Rediffusion series. The Authority intervened successfully to resolve the matter, and after this incident the spirit of co-operation between the ITV companies on educational matters grew stronger.

By 1966, occasionally opting-out of the network schedule to provide regional schools programming were Tyne-Tees, Grampian, Scottish Television and Ulster Television, and regular local schools programmes were broadcast in Wales. By the school year 1975-76, 16 out of the 43 schools series broadcast were regional programmes.

As time went by, programmes for sixth-formers decreased. Although their audience sorely missed them, the size of the audience did not justify their inclusion within the limited air-time available. The only sixth-form programme to survive into the 80s was Granada’s Experiment series.

The advantages of schools programmes are many. They can demonstrate ideas that are impossible to put across in class, for example, science experiments that require expensive equipment that schools do not possess – Experiment was a good example of this. Ideas that schoolchildren find traditionally hard to grasp can be made more accessible by the use of animations, as illustrated by Stewart Hardy Films’ contribution to BBC schools programmes. Difficult or controversial topics can be investigated using humour and drama; drama can make history come to life, stimulating children to write and discuss, for example Yorkshire Television’s How We Used to Live series; and television can bring into the classroom far-away places to show places that the viewer would otherwise never see.

Today, schools programmes are regarded as an integral part of education for most children. The continued success of schools programming, almost 44 years since Associated-Rediffusion’s experimental term of broadcasts in May 1957, demonstrates the value placed on schools programmes by educators.

You Say

2 responses to this article

Cheehawk Grimes 3 November 2012 at 10:06 pm

DAb has only one advantage and that is the ability to supply more station channels. Otherwise it is just a list of negatives – poor reception , poor audio quality (even speach is tiring to listen to, never mind the diabolical music in dead sounding stero with high frequency cut off and distortion), very poor battery life. The choice of stations available is ropey and does not outway the disadvantages. If we had grown up with DAB and someone invented FM stereo, it would be a welcome improvement over DAB. Portables with excellent battery life, enjoyable high quality sound, good reception – wow where can I get one!

Old Possum 11 November 2012 at 4:17 pm

I agree with Cheehawk Grimes. Where I live ( Shoeburyness,Essex)DAB reception is terrible.Almost on a par with Short Wave.Hissing,Background Noises,Fading and that’s on a good day. ( Clear Sky) On a bad day( Heavy Cloud,Rain,etc.) the signal from my nearest transmitter,Danbury,is non existent.

An email to the site owners got me nowhere.The tranmitter was working within its set parameters,they said. If the FM network is going to be switched off when the country has full DAB cover,then before that happens,the DAB transmitter network will need to be upgraded,so that listeners like me can receive the signals.

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