Professional service

Rediffusion Television has always been on the side of the angels as far as education is concerned. Indeed, it could be claimed, without I hope impiety, that the company positively outpaced the educational angelic host by the introduction of its pioneer television service for schools. This was long before there was any direct obligation under the Television Acts or the terms of its contract, and also in fact before a large section of the teaching public were fully prepared to use their broadcasts. So quixotic did the company’s attitude in this regard seem at the time to many teachers that all sorts of ingenious explanations were fabricated to account for it. The true explanation was simple. Convinced of the value of ETV as an educational aid by what had already been achieved in the USA and elsewhere, Associated-Rediffusion, as it was then called, came to the conclusion that the only practical way to allow schools and the educational profession as a whole to test their theories was to give them a regular service of schools programmes. The less costly alternative would have been to sit back and do nothing while an endless academic dialogue argued the pros and cons. However stimulating this might have been to the educationists involved, it would hardly have been of advantage to the children.

Having determined to go ahead with the first term’s programming as from May 13, 1957, the company took some far-sighted decisions as to how the schools output should be organised and produced, and these have stood the test of time. A global annual budget was allocated each year for schools programmes and put at the total disposition of the head of school broadcasting, always a teacher. Education officers and other staff were recruited with the requisite teaching experience.

Each series, planned from the first by teachers, was also to be supervised by a teacher in the role of the education officer who was, and still is, an integral and influential part of each production team. Since that time the custom has become general of also co-opting a specialist from among the members of the educational advisory council onto the planning group for each series.

Rediffusion has never sought to lay down what type of schools’ series should be produced. The onus of selection has always been left entirely to the experienced educationists who form the company’s educational advisory council. The aim here has always been, within the limits of the time allocated, to provide as wide a service as possible for schools. Since 1960, when ATV and Granada entered the schools programme field, Rediffusion has willingly embraced a more narrow and specialist role. It has lavished much time and care on the important work of co-operation in this field with the other ITV companies — now achieved through monthly meetings of the network educational sub-committee — and with the BBC. The main consideration has always been what would serve children and teachers best.

Rediffusion from the start has encouraged its educational staff to be outward-looking and to keep in the closest personal contact with ETV developments abroad, through visits, EBU conferences and seminars and the activities of internationally-minded bodies like C.E.T.O. A number of our staff have gone on to take up advisory and other positions in ETV overseas.

In the newer but hardly less important area of adult education programming, Rediffusion has maintained a steady output since 1963 which started with the year-long series “Towards 2000”. This was acquired by the Central Office of Information and is still being shown in New Zealand and Nigeria. Our policy here, as a weekday company, has been to try to produce series of general interest to viewers, more general perhaps in content and approach than the regular specialised series in “Sunday Session”, while of course fulfiling the formula for adult education programmes laid down by the ITA. Our output over the years has favoured, though not exclusively, the humanities and liberal arts, because our team is best equipped to cover these.

When the history of the ITV saga comes to be written, future experts may well point to and applaud Rediffusion’s distinctively professional approach to ETV. One effect, of considerable importance for the future of ETV in this country, has been the deliberate fostering within ITV of a dedicated corps of ETV specialists, who have made educational television their chosen profession. Such people form a human bridge between the seemingly disparate worlds of education and television. With the general expansion of ETV, at the national, LEA and university levels, which can be foreseen ahead, it is certain that their special brand of expertise will be even more in demand in the next decade than it has been in the last.

The High Schools of the TV screen

From the TVTimes Midlands edition for 27 January to 2 February 1957

The opening of Britain’s first TV service for schools — Associated-Rediffusion’s pioneering tele-classes are scheduled to start in April — will be watched closely by an enthusiastic group of TV educationists in Pittsburgh U.S. For a similar service began there three years ago.

While ITV “headmaster” Boris Ford has been drawing up his studio curriculum I have been studying the development of the appropriately-named station WQED, which first beamed out TV lessons to the schools and homes of Western Pennsylvania on April 1, 1954.

It started with four hours a week. Now its programmes last for 60 hours a week. And such has been its success that 17 other high schools of the air have followed in the U.S.

Britain’s ITV schools service will use existing transmitters and other technical facilities. The preparations have lasted a matter of weeks.

But in Pittsburgh they took three years. The first requirement was money — $350,000 (about £116,000) for equipment alone. Three foundations settled the bill. A local firm provided a building for studios and offices. And a radio station offered room on its transmitting mast for the WQED aerial.

The public and schools co-operated to get the station on the air. Even today more than half the staff are volunteers. There are unpaid announcers and cameramen, and they all lend a hand for odd jobs such as painting and decorating.

With 60 hours of air time a week not all the programmes are directed solely at schools. There are items of interest for a wide range of viewers, from children of under-school age to adults.

The three major divisions are : in-school programmes, intended principally for classroom reception, out-of-school programmes for children at home, and informational and educational programmes for adults.

Programmes in the first group are planned to enrich and supplement the average school curriculum. They are devised, and their use encouraged, by representatives of all the elementary and secondary schools in the vast area covered by the transmissions. Full details of future programmes are sent every quarter to local teachers so that they can take advantage of the transmissions in their daily teaching schedule.

In the second group is Children’s Corner, a younger viewers’ feature presided over by a puppet tiger which also runs a Tame Tiger Torganisation which, besides entertaining, teaches care of pets and arts and crafts.

Perhaps the most ambitious work being done is in the third group. The Adult High School of the Air provides educational opportunities for more than 70 per cent of all the people in Western Pennsylvania who do not hold a high school diploma. Armchair students pay two dollars (about 13s.) a course. When it is completed they can take their examinations for the diploma.

Even prisoners have been tuning in— giving them the same educational chances as people outside.

Disabled and sick children who cannot attend school can follow the lessons in the same way as those more fortunate.

High school students who fail to make the grade devote their vacation to catching up on their studies by viewing.

One result has been to case the pressure on overcrowded classrooms. Educationists point out that an extension of schools TV may be the answer to the shortage of teachers.

Other stations in Pittsburgh arc doing everything they can to help.

Stations have cancelled programmes to re-transmit a WQED feature because it was of outstanding public interest.