Starting Points


The aim of this study was to investigate the relationship between the creative and media work room and the creative and media classroom. As Hesmondhalgh notes, ‘there has been a boom in studies of cultural production and cultural labour’ (2019, p. 468) so that there is now a body of work emerging to provide ‘grounded and empirically rich case studies that detail the conditions and character of cultural work’ (Banks M. , 2007, p. 5); my aim was that my research project would fit into that body of work.

As Hesmondalgh makes clear, ‘it’s more or less impossible for any individual to keep fully up to date with the immense amount of research and commentary published . . . alongside keeping track of the economic, political, sociocultural and technological changes’ (2019, p. xxiii). In this light, I sought to put in place an action research framework that looked to build and discover knowledge and ideas that I could put into my own classroom practice. In essence, I was aiming to develop a positive, productive and useful relationship between industry and education that would help to shed light on key areas such as identity, pedagogy and industry. As an enabling mechanism to achieve that aim – one that look to link the media and creative class room to the media and creative work room from the perspective of an academic (A level) provider at Key Stage 5 – I was looking to build a work placement scheme for students who, in their last year at school, were thinking about developing a career in this sector. As one participant put it:

AS: [00:06:43] I’m not looking to advance myself academically rather just get a feel for the industry so that I can make more educated choices about what I’d like to study.

[Antara Interview]

The purpose behind this intervention strategy, emanating from my own classroom practice, was to help a small group of students, usually 3 to 4 each year, who were genuinely interested in pursuing a career in the creative and media industry, to make useful connections with local creative and media organisations. The research project found action through setting up a structured and supported framework of work experience and looked to move away from just another photography project or as one of my participants saw it: just being a witness.

RA: [00:22:36] Sometimes you get the impression that if you are walking in there as a witness. A lot of people will sort of drop their coffee and be like oh no! Work experience student! You know can’t deal with them sort of thing.

VH: [00:22:44] Yeah, yeah.

RA: [00:22:45] And let’s find someone else to give them a job to do.

[Student discussion]

As such, it became clear that if I was to set up a connection between the classroom and the work room through work placement, this needed to be organised, planned, monitored and evaluated, with similarities to other areas of classroom practice that are initiated, implemented and put in place. As a starting point, a clear understanding of some of the differences and similarities towards teaching and learning – what may be termed pedagogical practice – that occurred in the classroom and/or the work room was required to underpin this project, as was an understanding of the creative and media industries. In one of my formative interviews, I asked one of my students:

MM: [00:06:07] Would it be like a visit or something like that? Would that be good just to go and have a look? Or is there something you really want to do?

AS: [00:06:17] I think going and visiting is a start. It definitely is, but working there maybe over the summer for a few weeks that’s something that I would be keen to participate in.

[Antara Interview]

This seems to suggest that an organised, focussed and structured framework was required if a successful student work placement was to be used as the basis for a connection between the classroom and the work room. As such, each placement was generally run over an extended period of time, usually lasting 6-8 weeks and each student was carefully selected and matched to an appropriate creative outlet. Initially, they were recognised or identified as ‘above and beyond’ or ‘gifted and talented’ although as the project developed in structure, students were able to emerge through a series of informal connections with industry both in the classroom and in an extra-curricular support club. Overall, students were chosen based on their desire to develop a career in the creative and media sector. All of the students in this project were in an academic Key Stage 5 education, in other words, they were in year 12 or year 13, studying a set of 3 or 4 A’ levels. This meant they would be 17 or 18 years old at the time of the placement. The intention behind this intervention was to provide an enabling mechanism to help each student to build up some professional experience to help them make informed, insightful and meaningful decisions about their future careers at a key point in their nascent development. Interestingly, there didn’t seem to be much research (if any) into this area of study, as I found that most typically research of this kind, into this kind of area – the link between professional practice and classroom practice – looked specifically at the HE or FE sector. Even though, it seemed to me, the key age when the majority of students were facing the most important decision, in terms of their future career development, was at the end of Key Stage 5, when they were 17-

Overall, the focus of the research was aimed at investigating, reflecting, analysing and evaluating this action, to see what would develop and what could be learned from this form of specific pedagogical intervention. As such, the research approach was inductive rather than deductive, in that both the theory building and the action developed during this process. For instance, as the action developed it helped to build a more effective and worthwhile work experience for future student placements. As the theory developed I was able to gain a much greater understanding across a number of key conceptual areas, which can be briefly identified as:

  1. the shifting nature of individual identities;
  2. the focus of pedagogical practice from classroom to work room; and
  3. the shifting nature of the creative industries.

As such, this project is more than just classroom intervention. It looks to generate new knowledge, new ideas and new understandings around this transformative moment of interaction between academic students in Key Stage 5 and the local creative and media sector. It is also an account that provides robust academic evidence that could benefit fellow professionals as part of a programme of continuing professional development (CPD). One that encourages teaching professionals to maintain a clear and constant dialogue with the local professional creative community and to foster pedagogical approaches that focus on learning ‘by doing’ and ‘by being’ that can directly arise from a closer working relationship with the local professional community.

As my research puts forward, developing a structured link between the classroom and the work room, not only provides a pathway for students, it can also help teachers to understand and track the shifts in contemporary professional media practice and to connect expectations of industry with a more accurate, interesting and appropriate curriculum provision in schools. As Hesmondhalgh notes, the study of cultural production has ‘unjustly had a reputation among some researchers, teachers and students of being the dreary analysis of big corporations’ (2019, p. 468). I therefore propose that connecting teachers and students into a framework of real, professional practice is able to enhance, support and inspire that transmission of knowledge and understanding. Particularly, as media organisations are currently undergoing a ‘revolution to rival the invention of movable type in the fifteenth century’ (Rusbridger, 2018, p. xx). As Giddens makes clear, modernity is radically altering the nature of day-to-day social life and affects the most personal aspects of our experience. As such, modernity must be understood from an institutional level where the transmutations introduced by modern institutions interlace in a direct way with individual life and therefore with the self (1997, p. 1)

As such, this research encourages other p ractitioners to the embrace the notion of identity and ‘the self’ as part of their teaching practice, as it was clear that placing students in a professional working environment for an extended period of time had a significant impact on the development of their (student) ‘self’ as it shifts, emerges and nudges its way into a nascent, aspiring, professional identity. Engaging in the process of identity formation is to engage with the way young people embark on a career in the creative industries and is therefore an investigation into ‘the sociological themes that can be extrapolated from these actual pedagogic encounters’ (McRobbie, 2016 , p. 2) From this perspective the work of Anthony Giddens, which I draw upon in this paper, is a useful theoretical framework to discuss and understand in terms of transformation and transition of the self and again, in light of my research findings, I would highlight this important theoretical approach to fellow practitioners when they look to build positive and useful interactions between the classroom and the work room.

From this perspective, my research project was very much about lessons that could be learned from the interaction between the shifting nature of the creative industry with the shifting nature of individual identity and looked to explore the proposition that ‘new mechanisms of self-identity are shaped by – yet also shape – the institutions of modernity’ (p. 2). In essence, which I explore in more detail in Chapter 3, Giddens proposes that individual agents are able to exert change upon themselves, in terms of their individual identity, and in terms of the institutional frameworks under which they operate, as much as institutions exert control and power over individuals. He terms this the ‘institutional reflexivity of modernity’. I explore the concept of reflexivity in Chapter 7 as part of my research findings but for now it is enough to recognise this idea as the way in which ‘the self, like the broader institutional contexts in which it exists, has to be reflexively made’ a task ‘accomplished amid a puzzling diversity of options and possibilities’ (Giddens, 1997, p. 2). 

Significant to this line of enquiry is a recognition that the self is not socially unconditioned. Rather, that there are a range of ‘symbolic materials which form the elements of the identities we construct which are themselves distributed unevenly’ (Thompson, 1995, p. 210). Indeed, it is clear that symbolic resources are not available to everyone in a similar way, and ‘access to them may require skills that some individuals possess and others do not’ (ibid). Recognising this fact was in many ways the starting point of this action research project, as I had heard from many students who wanted to connect with industry but who didn’t quite have the skills, or access that was required, despite their success on their academic (A level) course of study.

CL: [00:17:56] I feel like I was very successful at school, I was really happy, I felt like all the projects I did I was really happy with them. The teachers were happy with me and it was very positive and I wanted that to continue as I went into the working industry.

[Ciara Interview]

As such, I felt that it was possible to affect and implement change from an individual perspective and took up the position of teacher-research, as part of a Doctoral research programme in Creative and Media Education, which presented the opportunity to develop, a rigorous, robust and academic framework for my ideas, one which enabled a critical enquiry into this area of research. To that end, I constructed a framework of interaction with local creative providers, which I called Creative Pathways, which allowed students (and teachers) to interact and engage with local creative and media organisations in a structured and organised framework, which yielded a specific set of data that I could analyse and present.

Specifically, I engaged in a process of gathering a range of data that emanated from these interactions by talking to the students who took up the placements, which on the whole formed the main body of my research participants. However, as time progressed, I was also able to interview students who had taken up a placement in the early stages of this project and had subsequently gone on to study at university or had taken up a career pathway directly in the media industry. I also interviewed teaching colleagues, parents and media professionals. I drew data from my participants, mainly gathered in the form of semi-structured interviews focussed mainly on those students who had just completed a placement. As this was an action research project I generally analysed and evaluated my data after each phase of action and found that as the project developed so did my theoretical understanding. My project was also able to draw on an extensive range of meetings, conversations, casual comments, observations, notes, musings and other interactions, that I had with media professionals, policy makers, teachers and parents that contributes to the broad thinking and approach to this enquiry. Ultimately, I analysed my data in reference to my research questions

Throughout this project I developed my knowledge and understanding across a range of theoretical and practical ideas, appropriate to my field of research, that informed and underpinned my understanding and approach, the majority of which is set out and articulated in this paper. For example, the shifting composition of the ‘creative industry’, as seen from a local framework; as well as the ways in which professional identities can be played out and performed by aspiring young students through a supported interaction with professional organisations. Importantly, this project gave students a voice to express their enthusiasm and concerns, which in turn allowed me to provide a platform for them to reconcile their burgeoning ambitions with an insight into the realities of working in the creative and media sector.

At the start of this project I wanted to investigate and identify the gaps in my own knowledge and to draw together the classroom and the workroom in a much closer working relationship, to help me develop as a professional teacher and to understand what a closer relationship between the classroom and the workroom might reveal. Central to this aim was my intention to help a small number of students understand and engage with the creative industry as a potential career route, in a meaningful and practical way. During this process, it has become increasingly clear to me, that unless we – that is creative and media teachers – pay attention to what creative and media students have to say about how they see the world; as well as listening to, and working with creative and media professionals, then we may struggle ‘to take account of the special place of symbolic creativity, knowledge and expression in human life’ (Hesmondhalgh, 2019, p. 468)

So, as a brief summary to this introduction, I wanted to explore intervention strategies that could provide a more knowledgeable approach towards teaching and learning in creative and media subjects at Key Stage 5, mainly aimed at those students who held genuine ambition to pursue a career in this sector. Specifically, I wanted to investigate the potential possibilities for a more positive relationship that could connect the contemporary, creative classroom to a local framework of creative employment. 

This doctoral thesis is a record of that project. A chance for a teacher-researcher to demand a little more for his students, in an action-research project that looked to critically assess and contribute to the apparent ‘disconnect’ between the classroom and the workroom.

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