Training, partnerships and challenges

11. Training and pedagogical approaches

When we surveyed practitioners by phone, we asked them about the approaches that they adopted when training young people (i.e. pedagogy).  Several practitioners talked about an ‘active’ approach to pedagogy, where they started with hands on, practical work – learning technical skills first through demonstration – then asked participants to practise this in a controlled activity.  Others took this approach but included ‘theory’ first and revision after the practical activity.  ‘Theory’ here could involve how to plan a good interview, thinking about genre, or input on the history, ethos and community of their station.  Practitioners noted that flexibility was key and it was often necessary to adapt methods depending on the group and context of the learning.  Learning was often described as ‘student-centred.’

The practical or hands on elements of the learning were often seen as important in motivating and engaging young people.  The practitioner at Forest FM suggested that, ‘when you work with young people, their learning has to be proactive and interactive, not passive – forget PowerPoint.’

Informality was a key issue that arose in relation to pedagogical approaches, and this was thought to be a huge asset of community radio, enabling radio practitioners to engage those for whom traditional educational institutions may not have catered.    Practitioners described a wide range of approaches to training that could often be tailored for different people.  Organisations often adopted a one-to-one approach and used mentoring systems where a more experienced volunteer worked closely with a new volunteer.

We also found that many of the practitioners we spoke to were not very confident talking about their own pedagogical approaches and practices.  Practitioners tended to talk in quite vague terms of ‘practical work’ or technical skills and ‘teamwork’, rather than drawing on sound pedagogical theory and practice, or showing an understanding of the discourse of media education.  This is probably linked to their experience and qualifications, which as detailed below are predominantly in broadcasting rather than in education.  It might be valuable for the sector to look at developing a shared language to talk about community radio training practices in relation to pedagogical theory.


12. Who are the trainers?

In our online survey, we asked what qualifications and experience trainers tended to have.  89% of respondents said that trainers at their organisation had broadcasting experience, 44% said that they had broadcasting qualifications, 63% had teaching experience, but only 15% had a school teaching qualification.  30% did have a qualification in teaching in the lifelong learning sector.

Many of the practitioners we spoke to were broadcasters first and had come to radio training from this perspective.  They spoke of a ‘skill share’ within their organisations where those with more teaching experience would come together with those with broadcasting experience to design and teach courses.  Some organisations paid external trainers to come and deliver radio training.  Several organisations in the sector have delivered a ‘train the trainers’ qualification.  Given that over half of community radio trainers do not have a teaching qualification of any kind, it would seem that this is something the sector could find very beneficial.


13. Key challenges in training delivery

We asked practitioners about the key challenges for their work with young people, in order to target the outcomes from this project for the sector.  We found that many practitioners had similar concerns around working with more formal organisations, funding, working with young people and the social aspects of radio work.


13.1 Working with formal organisations

Community radio organisations, particularly those run by volunteers, sometimes found it hard to fit into the more formal structures of education institutions.  For instance, they said that it can be difficult to work with young people in schools because of the demands of the curriculum and entrenched ways of working with young people.


Some practitioners had found that if you wanted to work with schools, it was necessary to start communicating with them months in advance of the project dates.  This may be difficult in cultures of short term funding where rapid responses are sometimes needed.  Some practitioners suggested that contractual agreements might be a good idea with schools as it is good practice to be clear about expectations.


Some community radio organisations have worked with colleges however they have found it difficult to negotiate the financial arrangements and that there was a lack of transparency.  Being a small organisation working with  a much larger organisation also caused some tensions to arise.


13.2 Funding for training

As noted earlier, many of the practitioners we spoke to painted a picture of a sector in crisis or at least very under-resourced.  This affects their ability to deliver training and has been significant for many organisations who have had to stop working with certain groups, especially those that require more time and resources (e.g. young people attending pupil referral units).


In an environment characterised by scarcity of funding opportunities, it is hard for organisations to develop sustainable relationships with educational institutions, many of whom are also struggling with limited resources and an ever changing set of demands from policy makers and others.  Only 13% of survey respondents said that their training was supported by mainstream training funding.


Practitioners told us that in their experience ‘Community Radio Fund’ grants (an Ofcom fund designed to support ‘core costs’ for community radio organisations) are not generally given to stations for trainers’ salaries even though the organisations that we spoke to see training as a core activity.


Where organisations are working on their own or with few colleagues and under pressure, they told us that it is difficult for them to network and work closely with other stations.  It is also hard for them to work with others to disseminate and lobby about their work, although such work is seen as essential in the climate of crisis and struggle in which many organisations find themselves.



13.3 Working with young people

Some practitioners told us that there were challenges relating to working with young people that needed to be carefully handled and thought through.  One of these was the inherent ‘liveliness’ of many young people which could be a problem for (some) older volunteers.  Some practitioners said that older volunteers complained that young people were too noisy, others told us that it was difficult to manage intergenerational training as young people tended to pick up skills more quickly than their older counterparts.  On the other hand, some stations said that older volunteers appreciated young people’s vibrancy and ideas.  In relation to this, some practitioners found that young people did not always have an understanding of diversity or a sensitivity about ‘who people are’ – this was often a learning curve and where staff did not have time to work with young people, conflict did arise.  Some practitioners described working closely to challenge (young) people who had ‘bigoted’ views and/or a tendency to use inappropriate language.


Practitioners told us that retention of young people can be a problem as they tend to have a lot of competing activities including school work, exams and other interests.  Financial difficulties restricted the involvement of some young people, who needed to be out earning money, or were not able to pay the small subscriptions that some organisations require.


Relationship issues between young people and station managers can be complex and tense.  Whilst station managers need to uphold Ofcom regulations to ensure the future of the organisation, young people sometimes feel that the manager is deliberately getting in the way of broadcasting what they want.  For instance, the lyrical content of some young MCs work may sometimes be inappropriate for broadcast in relation to Ofcom regulations.


13.4 Social aspects of radio work

Whilst community radio can be a great way for participants to get to know other people, especially whilst they are being trained, it may be more of a challenge to ensure that this social element is retained when people become volunteers delivering their own shows.  The way that radio stations operate may make it difficult for volunteers to get to know each other – once volunteers are trained up to make a programme they tend to only develop social connections with others working on their show (if it’s not a solo show) and those coming before or after their show.  This suggests community radio organisations may need to develop strategies to encourage volunteers to make social connections, perhaps through hosting social events or providing areas for people to sit together.  Unfortunately where space is short it can be difficult or impossible to make such provision available.


14. Building partnerships

Our online survey asked respondents to tell us who they worked in partnership with on training projects for young people.  Results are in Table C.

Table C: Who are your partner organisations that help you to deliver your radio training projects? (tick all that apply)

  Response %
Local schools 48%
Youth organisations 44%
Local colleges 48%
Local media organisations 16%
Community learning providers or other community groups 32%
Employability training providers 24%
Local businesses 12%
None of the above 20%
Other 4%


It is interesting to note here that 5 of the 25 organisations that answered this question did not specify any partner organisations.  In addition we might suppose that the 3 organisations who didn’t answer this question did not have partnerships.  There is therefore some work to be done for the sector in developing these relationships.


14.1 Positive partnerships

Many of the organisations that we spoke to in the phone survey did have partnerships with educational and other institutions that they had built over the years.  However it was beyond the scope of this survey to ask in detail about how these partnerships work and how they contribute to the way that the stations are run.

Several stations had partnerships with universities which were useful in providing volunteers (e.g. media studies/ media production students), access to advice on research methods, and access to a range of ‘experts’ for interviews.  At Siren FM, the local university uses the radio station to teach the practical element of several courses (the station manager is paid to teach some elements of the programme), and they also have a relationship with Lincoln College.

One station has an ex-teacher working as a school liaison officer – they go into schools to recruit young volunteers and raise awareness of the station through competitions.  Other stations run projects in which they work with various organisations.  For instance, Sunny Govan worked with Oxfam Scotland, NHS promotions, youth groups and integration networks on a youth radio project.


14.2 Challenges in relation to partnerships

There are a number of challenges for the organisations we spoke to in relation to building partnerships.

Many stations said that they struggle with establishing partnerships due to the lack of paid staff with time to put into networking and advertising their services.  Partnerships that do develop often form around a small pot of funding and are therefore not sustainable in the long term.  Several stations described having good relationships with their local authority and local schools but no financial relationship between them.

Several stations said that they had to make decisions all the time about what would benefit their community most.  For instance, one practitioner said that they did not offer work experience placements as it was an ‘administrative nightmare’ but that they had an open door policy for the community.

Practitioners had mixed experiences of working with youth services and youth workers.  Several practitioners said that although some youth workers are committed and enthusiastic, others are less conscientious and don’t take time to organise training and events, or will take a break when the community radio practitioner arrives.  This can make the work more difficult and less effective partly because it takes time for the community radio practitioner to build the relationships with young people that the youth worker already has.

In some cases partnership projects can fail to attract young people to the station and it is necessary to take training out to other organisations.  This can make the work practically more challenging (in terms of e.g. relocating equipment) and therefore more expensive to deliver.

When working with schools (especially secondary schools) practitioners discussed the need to contact the teachers months in advance of starting the projects.  This long lead-in time can be frustrating for community organisations who often have to work to tight deadlines.  Practitioners also described the amount of negotiation needed with teachers and schools about what they are going to do.  For instance, there is often a need for the radio work to fit in with the curriculum work, which requires careful planning.  Some practitioners said that it was difficult to balance the relationship between young people and themselves and the teacher.  The community media practitioner often comes across as the ‘cool’ youth worker, whilst the teacher is the one doing the disciplining.  Managing this relationship involves a lot of careful discussion with the teacher as well as suggesting ways of working more creatively. Trainers need to be very adaptable and have to negotiate with teachers carefully.  As teachers are often overworked it can be difficult for them to prioritise sufficient time for these discussions and negotiations.

Sustainability is important, as school projects are often short-term.  Where projects are short-term, there can also be concerns around developing relationships of trust with young people.  Practitioners suggested that one way around this is to develop students as mentors for other students.

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