Opinion

How The Big Issue became an A-level set text

Take note, The Big Issue is on the A-level curriculum. Deputy editor Steven MacKenzie explains how it got there.

South London teacher Mrs Fisher delivers an online lesson.

South London teacher Mrs Fisher delivers an online lesson. Photo: Mrs Fisher

Our last significant anniversary was our 25th birthday. So special was the special edition we put together in 2016 that it became a set text in school curriculums.

Okay – an optional set text. If you happen to be studying component two of the Eduqas A level Media course you’ll have pored over the pages even more closely than we do before sending to print.

In the Mainstream and Alternative part of the course, The Big Issue’s 25th-anniversary edition is set against an edition of Vogue from July 1965. That has an iconic image of Sophia Loren on the cover (who coincidentally was interviewed in our pages earlier this year).

Students study the use of media language to create meaning, codes and conventions, genre, representation, intertextuality, ideological viewpoints and their construction.

They do this by drawing on Barthes’s research on semiotics, Todorov’s work on narratology, Levi-Strauss’s structuralism theory, Gauntlett’s work on identity and much more besides. All of these things are zipping through our heads as we put together this magazine. Even if we don’t realise it.

The Big Issue has regularly been studied in schools and colleges. And every year when we run our kids cover competition, many teachers use that as an opportunity to explore the issue of homelessness in their classrooms. But this A-level course became more prominent after lockdown closed schools.

With pupils studying at home, enterprising teachers started uploading lessons to YouTube. If you’re at a loose end we suggest looking up videos by Mrs Fisher, who is a teacher in South London, and Rob from Thomas Rotherham College, where they scrutinise pages of The Big Issue, dissecting every choice we deliberately or accidentally made.

Beyond this edition, the course involves studying two covers from the period of study. “The front covers should demonstrate representations that are alternative to the mainstream and of national significance, in terms of the issues or events they portray,” says one resource site. Then classes produce their own front covers.

Teachers often send their attempts over and we love to see them – and how young people are being introduced to the work we do. Any good ideas will be stolen, of course.

Exams have been disrupted by events beyond our control over the last couple of years so there is only one official past paper question we can test you on. Worth 15 points, students in 2019 were asked:

Explore how the set edition of The Big Issue conveys viewpoints and ideologies.

We look forward to your answers…

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For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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