Education Quandary

'My daughter wants to do A-level film studies. I'm suspicious of courses that end in "studies". Is it a good subject? And what do universities think?'

Hilary's advice

Is it really the "studies" part of this that worries you, or the "film" bit? Would you feel as anxious if your daughter wanted to take, say, religious or classical studies (or classical civilisation, as they prefer to call it), both of which are similarly made-up subjects in their own way but more likely to involve traditional academic content than this one?

If your daughter takes film studies she will cover: the history of film, how the film industry works, the role of critics and fans, the art of screen writing and how to develop her critical thinking and writing skills in relation to film. She will study some films in depth, and a specialist area of her choice, which could be anything from Italian neo-realism to the work of Tarantino or Hitchcock. She might also look at aspects of society, such as feminism, in the context of film.

Whether you think this amounts to a respectable course probably boils down to how seriously you take films. However, your daughter may well find that the subject, if taught well (a big proviso), can offer the same opportunities for intellectual development as other arts subjects such as art history or English literature. The cinema is an important art form today and there is no immutable law that says Keats is more worthy of study than Kieslowski.

On the contrary, it's a subject that may well engage her more than anything else she studies in the sixth form, and since universities say they recognise it as a standard A-level qualification - although the better ones will almost certainly want to see it combined with traditional subjects - there is no reason for her not to do it. In fact she may even like it so much that she will decide to do it at university. Then you'll really have to worry!

Readers' advice

We were in the same situation when my daughter was choosing her A-levels. She took AS courses in English literature, English language, psychology and media studies and ended up with three A grades, having dropped English language. She is now happily studying English literature with history of art at York University, a course at a respected institution for which there was quite a bit of competition.

I would say that if your daughter has a career or course in mind for after A-levels, she should check that film studies will be recognised. If not, provided she does well and her other subjects complement it, she's right in thinking she should do something she enjoys.
Linda Kemp, Scarborough

Are A-levels for learning, or a way of winning a place at a good university? If the answer is the latter, then knowing what is acceptable to the university is the priority. If, on the other hand, the point of taking the course is to learn the subject in order to use it later, it will be welcomed by employers.

I have a general degree from the Open University of which part is a level 3 film and television history course. This was taught as a history subject and the skills needed were as for a traditional history course - essay writing, reference to primary and secondary sources, and so on. I am now studying for a Master's degree in history with a "traditional" university and believe that my film and television course was useful to take my studies to the next level.
Helena Minton, Berkshire

This looks like it is one of those subjects that is fun to study but intellectually vacuous. It is likely to include seeing a complete film each week, with emphasis on the student's personal reaction to the film. Students should study something that will stretch them and impress future employers.
Michael K Baldwin, Kent

Next week's quandary

Jamie Oliver says our children are still being served muck for school dinners, but if 20,000 people wrote to Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, things would change. Is he right? After all, people have been going on about this for years and nothing gets done. And, if he is right, why won't people make the change?

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