Education is the New Black

A Cordelia report, 02.08.04

1. Summary

Under its Royal Charter the BBC exists to provide information, education and entertainment1. The BBC almost sees educational and public service broadcasting as one and the same thing. In the totality of its output both are hard to define, which makes evaluating the BBC’s educational position difficult. As with the public service broadcasting debate the edges are blurred.

The BBC is far more than just a television broadcasting organisation, it works through print, radio, software, television, the Internet and is increasingly moving into local and community ‘public value’ building programmes. Its place in the cultural framework of the UK is firmly entrenched, and its place in the educational framework is on the rise.

In order to justify the licence fee the BBC is stressing the importance of its role as a creator of ‘public value ’2. The BBC takes its role to educate seriously and it works with children and adult learners online, through television and through community schemes. This includes solo efforts, such as the Digital Curriculum and partnership work such as its longstanding partnership with the Open University3.

The BBC as educator creates content ranging from pre-school to adult learning, and is planning to increase its output. Its children channels, CBeebies and CBBC, together ran a combined 819 hours of ‘education for children’ in the 2002/03 period4. It is creating the Digital Curriculum, which sees £150m to be spent on resources to supplement existing national curriculum materials. This level of spending alone puts it at the level of RM whose 2003 turnover was £215.5m and ensures that its entry into the online learning market will be influential. It also works to increase skills within the adult community, using events like the recent Big Read where it worked with The Reading Agency, The National Literacy Trust, and The Book Trust.

To understand the BBC’s involvement in education it is necessary to outline the areas of its activity: broadcasting, online, print/software and community initiatives. This report will include BBC Worldwide.

2. Broadcasting

The BBC’s most familiar role is as a broadcaster. Taking its remit to inform, educate and entertain the BBC’s educational material ranges from edutainment documentaries to its partnership with the OU in the late night Learning Zone.

2.1 Hours by channel

Education/Factual Broadcasting hours per channel 2003/2004

Education/Factual Broadcasting hours per channel 2003/2004

Factual and Learning represents a wide range of material including natural history, news, science, investigative journalism and business reporting. On the lighter side it includes celebrity information, lifestyle and relationship advice. As such it is difficult to determine where a clear education value lies, although programs such as Blue Planet certainly represent education.

Open University programming represents the results of the 33 year partnership between the BBC and the OU. At present the OU contributes approximately £5m of new educational programming each year to BBC broadcasting and associated online material. The OU co-produces content with the BBC, including Child of Our Time and Leonardo. These are traditionally part of BBC 2's broadcasting but are now included on to BBC 3 and BBC 4.

The BBC Learning Zone is an overnight record and playback service that provides programs for all ranges of learners, covering material for schools, work skills, language programs, and Open University courses. It includes OU material.

Education for Children represents a wide range of educational children’s programs, including Eureka TV and Newsround as well as pre-school learning programs such as the Tweenies and Balamory.

2.2 BBC Worldwide and Learning TV

BBC Worldwide, the BBC’s commercial development unit, runs Learning TV. Currently this is a 6 hour television block that ties in to its site The channel is currently available through licensing deals in Malaysia, Brunei, South Korea and Taiwan, and is due to launch in India and West Africa. BBC Learning TV is part of the BBC Prime brand, a mixture of BBC programs broadcast throughout the world on cable and satellite.

3. Online (non-commercial)

3.1 BBC Learning is the central web page that links through into the free online education resources that the BBC offers. It provides access to BBC Schools, advice for college and university students and an adult learning service. Taken in turn these services are:

1. BBC Schools
BBC Schools is a mixed set of online educational resources aimed at children, parents and teachers. The age ranges cover pre-school through to 16+. The material is a mixed bag, covering games, a searchable archive of teacher answered questions called SOS teacher, and access to lesson material such as video clips for teachers. Much of the material refers to the BBC Bitesize revision program. BBC Bitesize is a GCSE revision aide, offering online resources, downloads and message boards. Bitesize has been successful both over the Internet and through interactive television. The BBC Annual report claims that the service reached 69% of 15-16 year olds, and 400,000 users accessed the service through interactive television.

2. BBC Colleges
A limited set of information aimed at students going to university. The site links to Radio 1’s One Life website and provides information on issues such as university funding and accommodati>n.

3. BBC Adult Learning
This section is divided into three main areas: languages, skillswise and webwise. These are:

The BBC offers short courses and learning resources in French, German, Italian and Spanish. There are short online courses to cover basic language learning, more detailed courses that tie in to television programs in the BBC Learning Zone, and other useful material, including downloadable phrase books, quizzes, monthly newsletters and supplements.

This site is for people who want to improve basic literacy and numeracy skills. The topics covered are grammar, spelling, reading, writing, listening, and vocabulary. Supporting the online material is a newsletter that is sent out to approximately 9000 skills teachers, and the site received 2.8 million page impressions in November 2003 . It is not clear how many of these are unique visitors or regular site users.

The BBC's online education site provides advice to people new to the web reaching 225,000 unique users each month6. The site offers an ‘Ask Bill’ advice column as well as a short course in becoming ‘webwise’. The site links to local webwise centres and ties into the BBC’s initiatives to increase web and digital awareness (see community activities below).

3.2 Digital Curriculum

The Digital Curriculum is the most ambitious of the BBC’s current education projects. Work began in 2000, gaining approval by the DCMS on the 9th January 2003, and by the European Commission in September 2003. The service will begin in January 2006, and continue to be rolled out for five years after that. The BBC has set aside £150m for the service, of which £90m will be used to commission content. On the strength of the Digital Curriculum alone the BBC will become one of the major providers of educational material within the UK.

The Digital Curriculum is intended to be an online resource to all teachers and students involved in the National Curriculum. These resources will be created in discussion with the QCA (and its equivalents Learning and Teaching Scotland, QCA for Wales and the Council for the Curriculum Examinations and Assessment (Northern Ireland)). The material created will apply to all areas of a subject, not just the easier to create sections. The material is currently divided up into broad and narrow subject areas, but as the service is still under construction its final shape is hard to determine. Under the agreement the BBC has to consult with BECTA on which learning outcomes are appropriate to be taught by ICT. Further there are eighteen requirements that have to be fulfilled. These are attached in Appendix 1.

The BBC has published its outline for the broad subject areas it will cover. The DCMS has set coverage at 50% of any subject, and the service will be aiming for a maximum of 40% to avoid over stepping the 50% limit, and the BBC state that “There will be no cherry-picking of small areas where content is easier to deliver.”7

The commercial sector has had mixed reactions to the BBC’s Digital Curriculum. Both the DCMS and the BBC are aware of the concerns, and there will be ongoing research into the appropriate provision of material. The BBC intends to complement existing market provision and the DCMS have created a quota of 22% for the core subject areas of Mathematics, Science and English to represent the market’s existing provision for those key subjects. The DCMS will also review the service within two years of launch, part of which will include the effect of the Digital Curriculum on the market. However the arrival of the BBC’s considerable resources and free material has scared some of the commercial producers away from BBC topics. The full impact of the Digital Curriculum will not be possible to gauge until the service launches in 2006. However BECTA’s Curriculum Online Content Advisory Board report notes that:

“There is evidence to suggest that, prior to the July 2003 eLC announcement, a number of companies either reduced investment or were slower to enter the market as a result of the BBC’s proposition. The area most affected by the BBC’s proposed investment was the development of curriculum based resources – as opposed to research and development (for VLES8) in educational software platforms, product maintenance and application of tools.” (page 8)

3.3 BBC Worldwide Online Learning (Commercial)

BBC Worldwide owns a range of commercial educational ventures. Interactive learning is run through BBC Worldwide Interactive Learning (WIL). This venture produces e-learning products, both new and through the existing BBC archive. WIL is a content producer for the BBC Factual & Learning department, the Open University’s website, and has produced material for the National College of School Leadership and BECTA. BBC Worldwide runs the following online learning sites.

1. BBC Learning
Part of the BBC Worldwide BBC Learning is a for profit e-learning site that offers both short courses and graduate level degrees. The BBC Learning site hosts a range of courses on offer from established educational providers, such as the National Extension College. Users then search the database for an e-learning course that interests them. The e-learning course is part of a range of options, including BBC Learning TV and BBC Learning publishing. The website is particularly aimed at overseas users.

2. BBC
A companion site to BBC Learning, the BBC Studies site sells BBC educational material to teachers, lecturers and businesses. The BBC’s educational archive is available through the website and catalogue. This includes classic series as well as more recent material, including collaborative material made with the OU. Licences for lecturers, classrooms and festivals are all available. How this will change with the BBC’s plans to open its archive of content to free use for learning and creative use by the British public remains to be seen.

3. BBC Business
BBC Business Learning is another part of BBC Worldwide Learning, part of BBC Worldwide, this time focused on business and commercial customers looking for motivational or skill developing content. The site provides education resources online, through VHS, CD-ROM, and through video-on-demand and covers health and safety, management skills and programs such as Back to the Floor. Again there is an extensive back catalogue drawing on the BBC’s years of content production.

BBC Business Learning is another part of BBC Worldwide Learning, part of BBC Worldwide, this time focused on business and commercial customers looking for motivational or skill developing content. The site provides education resources online, through VHS, CD-ROM, and through video-on-demand and covers health and safety, management skills and programs such as Back to the Floor. Again there is an extensive back catalogue drawing on the BBC’s years of content production.

4. Non-Online BBC Worldwide Material

BBC Worldwide produces an extensive range of CD-ROMs, DVDs and books based on their BBC licences. They have been very successful in Schools publishing, outperforming the market in Primary sales by 34% and the Secondary by 48%9. Children’s brands include educational material based on Balamory, Bob the Builder Teletubbies and the Fimbles.

They own the Revisewise brands, the Bitesize publishing brand and the QCA National Test Papers. Revisewise is aimed at 11 year olds sitting the key stage 2 exams, whilst Bitesize is the publishing brand of their online GCSE revision service.

All children’s educational material is sold at

BBC Worldwide also publish in the adult market through their Adult Learning division, particularly producing language materials, often working with partners such as Cambridge University and their Get Into multimedia interactive products.

5. Charter Renewal – Building Public Value

Charter Renewal has seen the BBC focus on creating public value to justify the universal licence fee. In ‘Building Public Value’ the BBC makes it clear that they wish to be judged as a public good, akin to defence and health. In order to achieve this moral high ground the BBC needs to show that it creates content that contributes to the nation as a whole. Education, already part of the BBC’s royal charter, is an obvious candidate.

In ‘Building Public Value’ the BBC talks about a ‘revolution in learning’ with the BBC aiming to become “a learning resource for all”10. The key points of the BBC’s plans are that they will develop their broadcasting and online provision of educational material, as well as working through education campaigns and with public and private partners.

The key points are:

5.1 The Digital Curriculum

See above

5.2 Educational Campaigns

The BBC has a history of large educational projects. The Big Read was the most recent, but the BBC also campaigns on social issues, it ran a social awareness campaign, Taking Care, which intended to raise the profile of issues concerning children in care. Previously it ran Hitting Home, a similar series which dealt with domestic violence. The forthcoming campaigns mentioned in ‘Building Public Value’ are as follows:

1. Literacy Campaign
The next major project is a drive to improve literacy, scheduled for some time later in the decade. The BBC aims to improve on its 1996 Read and Write campaign and hopes to help approximately 2.5m adults with literacy difficulties.

2. Kidsafe
The BBC intends to run a series of campaigns by working with public and private partners. The first initiative planned for the next charter period is the KidsSafe scheme. This will attempt to increase media literacy and safety on the Internet. This will work with existing BBC schemes, Chatguide and KidsID, which are intended to help children deal with adults posing as children on the web.

3. Music and Sport
The BBC aim to build on the Sports Academy website, which was launched in 2002 in partnership with governing sports bodies. The site is run by nine BBC sports journalists and offers advice and information on nine sports, including football, cricket, hockey and rugby. The BBC hopes to create a similar resource for music. The initiative is called Music for All and it will draw on the BBC’s full range of music radio, orchestras, and partners, such as the Royal Opera. The program intends to change music education in the UK, connecting to every home and school with broadband access.

4. Multimedia and Digital Literacy
As part of their commitment to local communities, to encourage active citizenship, and to promote the benefits of digital television the BBC intends to extend its network of Open Centres and multimedia buses. These allow people unfamiliar with the Internet to learn about it in a friendly environment.

5.3 BBCi

The BBC intend to continue to use and interactive TV to develop personalised formal and informal learning. This will be combined with their broadcast reach and popular programmes to access ‘hard to reach’ learners. What these plans will involve remains to be seen.

1 BBC Royal Charter,
2 ‘Building Public Value, Renewing the BBC for the digital world
3 The OU contributes £5m per year to the BBCs new educational broadcast programs, as well as online provision, the relationship has existed for 33 years – The OU response to the BBC Charter Review Manifesto – ‘Building public value’.
4 BBC Annual Report 2003/04, p. 140
5 BBC Annual Report 03/04, page 47
6 BBC Annual Report 03/04, page 47
7 Digital Curriculum Policy on ‘Broad Areas’ of subjects, page 2, Frank Flynn, October 2003
8 Virtual Learning Environment<
9 BBC Worldwide Annual Report 2003/04
10 Building Public Value, Renewing the BBC for the digital world, page 73

Appendix 1

DCMS requirements for the BBC Digital Curriculum

  1. High general standards in all respects (and in particular in respect of content, quality and editorial integrity) will be maintained in relation to the service.
  2. In delivering the service the BBC will, subject to the conditions set, meet all the commitments set out in the information from the BBC. The fact that some aspects and commitments to which the Secretary of State attaches particular importance may form the subject of express conditions does not prejudice the more general effect of this condition in relation to the service.
  3. Within its defined scope the service shall stimulate, support and reflect the diversity of the UK.
  4. The service must innovate continually, and exploit the extensive archives of the BBC and its media rich resources, and promote technological and pedagogical experimentation. The service, taken as a whole, should be distinctive from and complementary to services provided by the commercial sector.
  5. Neither the BBC nor any BBC subsidiary shall sell or market a commercial VLE; or allow others to develop, sell or market a BBC-branded commercial VLE. In principle these prohibitions will not extend to developing, marketing or selling a VLE for use only outside the EU/EEA, in accordance with arrangements which the BBC shall have agreed with the Department for the purpose of ensuring that any such VLE is not used within the EU/EEA. The BBC must not sell or market textbooks or other print materials specifically to accompany the Digital Curriculum save for those described in the information from the BBC.
  6. ELCs must not be used to purchase Digital Curriculum learning resources produced by BBC Worldwide, any BBC commercial subsidiary, or any company in which the BBC has a controlling shareholding.
  7. The BBC must not produce resources covering more than 50% of those learning outcomes amenable to being taught by ICT. Since the proportion of learning outcomes amenable to being taught by ICT will vary from subject to subject and over time, the BBC must consult Becta as to which learning outcomes are so amenable in each subject. In the event of a dispute as to whether or not a particular learning outcome is amenable to being taught by ICT, Becta will have the final judgment. In reaching such a judgment, Becta will be looking to maximise the use of ICT in delivering the curriculum.
  8. The BBC's funding for original in-house content and content commissioned from the private sector should be split into the following categories. Each year, a maximum of 22% is to be spent on core subjects, and a maximum of 30% on non-core subjects. Over time, and subject to paragraph 7, the remaining resources should be allocated according to the following percentages: 26% on resources for the Nations and Welsh translations, and 22% on minority subjects. With the exception of year 1, and again subject to paragraph 7, spending each year must be spread broadly in line with the above percentages.
  9. The BBC must publish and adhere to annual commissioning plans, setting out the subjects they intend to cover over the following 5 years. With the exception of the first plan, the BBC must publish annual outline plans for 5 years, together with learning outcomes for the upcoming year, at least 12 months before the start of that year. The BBC must also publish the broad areas to be covered in the second year of each commissioning plan 18 months before the start of that year (that is, 6 months prior to the publication of learning outcomes for that year). The outline plans for years 3, 4 and 5 of each commissioning plan must be at a minimum level of key stage and subject.
  10. At least 15 months before the launch of the service, the BBC must publish an outline plan for 5 years. It must publish the list of learning outcomes for year 1 at least 12 months before the launch. Within 9 months of the approval, the BBC should, having consulted Becta, publish their policy on what will be signified by a 'broad area' for each subject, given that each curriculum subject is broken up in a different way.
  11. The BBC will work closely with the Curriculum Online Content Advisory Board and, where possible, follow its recommendations.
  12. Commercial suppliers of content for the Digital Curriculum service must be allowed to retain and exploit intellectual property rights consistent with their contribution to the partnership with the BBC. The BBC must ensure that there is an independent mechanism for resolution of any dispute as to the appropriate rights which are consistent with the relevant contribution.
  13. The functionality of the Virtual Learning Environment for teachers and students should not increase during the lifetime of the Digital Curriculum beyond the initial level proposed in the BBC's application.
  14. The BBC must allow third parties unlimited access to Digital Curriculum material for companion guides, at the lowest rate compatible with the BBC's Fair Trading commitment.
  15. The rate of return included in the price of Digital Curriculum materials provided to commercial suppliers for digital learning resources to be used in Curriculum Online must be at the lowest rate compatible with the BBC's Fair Trading commitment.
  16. Promotion of the Digital Curriculum in other BBC services must make clear and prominent reference to Curriculum Online, and to alternative sources of supply, for which Electronic Learning Credits are available to schools.
  17. The BBC Governors will monitor the implementation of the service and report each year in their annual report on its delivery in line with the BBC's commitments and the conditions set.
  18. The Secretary of State will review the service within two years of the launch of the service, for the purpose of satisfying herself that the BBC is acting in accordance with the facts and assurances on the basis of which the approval was given and these conditions have been complied with. The review will include an independent assessment, encompassing an assessment of the service's impact on the market, and a public consultation. DfES and OFCOM will have a role in the review as appropriate. Its conclusions will contribute to the wider Charter review process.

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