09/06/2014 11:32 BST | Updated 09/08/2014 06:59 BST

Film Education: How It Looks to the Under-18s

Our research allowed us to ask: Do teenagers feel the same as their parents about big issues facing them? How do they think about representations of drugs misuse, dangerous behaviour, or the sexualisation of younger people in the media? How do young people use the age ratings system (they do!) in a multi-platform landscape?

I've written before about the British Board of Film Classification's established education programme, through which we work with schools, colleges, universities, charities, industry partners and other education institutions, to offer a broad spectrum of education events. Since January this year, our Head of Education, Lucy Brett, and our Education Officer, Heidi Renton, have spoken to over 4700 members of the public, ranging from primary school children to adult learners and cinema enthusiasts.

Much has changed since my last post though. New Classification Guidelines came into use in February, incorporating the views of younger audiences for the first time. By way of focus groups with under-18s, we aimed to find out what issues matter to that audience and how these related to the views of parents.

Our research allowed us to ask: Do teenagers feel the same as their parents about big issues facing them? How do they think about representations of drugs misuse, dangerous behaviour, or the sexualisation of younger people in the media? How do young people use the age ratings system (they do!) in a multi-platform landscape?

The answers offer food for thought. They feed into our Guidelines and our ongoing dialogue with younger audiences and their parents. They help also to ensure our Guidelines are relevant and attentive to changes in attitudes and the new challenges wide amounts of material available inside and outside traditional cinema settings pose.

We've also consolidated our websites, putting our Education Resources and our information for the public, BBFCinsight, at the heart of our public site. Now those studying films can search our enormous database of past BBFC decisions, and look closer at past and contemporary BBFC decisions using our suite of Case Studies, archive files, guides for students and podcasts.

This academic year also saw the launch of a new, interactive website for younger children, their parents and teachers Homing in on family films at U, PG, and 12A, the site allows children to read child friendly versions of our guidelines, find out the age ratings for new film releases, and rate trailers themselves.

Children have always been an enthusiastic audience for our education work - age ratings matter to them as they negotiate what films to see with their parents and carers ether at the cinema, at home on DVD, or on VoD services. You can see how engaged they are with the ratings in our CBBFC education poster, which was created using designs from school children across the country which explain the difference between the classification categories, and illustrates who is suitable for films at each of the age ratings.

Grown-ups have their own section on the CBBFC site. There parents, teachers, homeschoolers and those running after school and film clubs in schools can request our education poster and other resources for free, ask questions, and find out how BBFCinsight works to highlight the classification issues in films.

Given the increasing importance of online viewing, especially through downloads and on phones, we've worked closely with the Industry Trust for IP Awareness and with Childnet during their Safer Internet Day campaign. We've created a helpful guide for parents explaining how best to find films carrying BBFC age ratings online and offer tips about accessing films safely and legally online, and protecting younger viewers.

We've also continued to broaden our scope of activities and resources, aiming to ensure we balance the information we provide to those studying our rich history and current practices, with a direct and easy to understand dialogue for groups who may watch films, but don't necessarily have an up to date knowledge about age ratings or helpful tools like BBFCinsight.

Our Examiners and Education team are often called on to host film screening introductions for a variety of audiences. These include large scale participation in festivals, like the newly launched charity Into Film's festival taking place this November, the inaugural Cinemagic London Festival, and film study days at the National Media Museum in Bradford and at Picturehouse Cinemas' education events.

Following on from our centenary celebration work, we've worked with older film titles, to form the basis of Picturehouse events for older audiences about how scenes of sex on the cinema screen have been classified over the decades. Discussions at our events range from the introduction of the H certificate (H stood for horror/horrific) in the 1930s, to audience responses to 15 and 18 level films today.

We also present to families as a group. In the Easter holidays we spoke to children, parents and grandparents together, talking through the classification of cartoons in the 1940s and 1950s and seeing how this compares to the classification of hugely popular animations shown in cinemas today.

We returned to the Hay Literary Festival in Wales this year, to talk about the difference between U and PG, and will be talking about 12A with students at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and with teachers at the BFI Media Studies Conference later this term. At the end of last term our Head of Education travelled to Paris to address 600 British media and film studies students at the Media Live! Conference organised by European Schools Tours. She spoke about how regulation works now, and how difficult decisions aren't always those which involve the strongest material - it is often works aimed at younger audiences which prompt most pause for thought, for example, in terms of potentially harmful material, thematic or tonal issues, or innuendo in terms of sex, violence, or illegal drugs misuse.

Whether it is with pensioners or those at the start of their school life, speaking to them in person, or by way of Skype and video conferencing technology, offers an immediate litmus test for our decisions and a broader understanding of current media consumption habits. It is this real and regular contact with those groups we work hardest to inform: children, parents, teachers and others who make a call on what their charges can watch, that, in partnership with our regular Guidelines research, maintains our track record of public agreement on film classification in the ninety percent bracket.