On 27th April, 2021, The DTEA’s Primary Drama sub-group held a consultation with primary teachers and head teachers who have proven success in using drama in their schools.
It was a truly inspirational and positive meeting which has given us so much to consider. Below are some notes and observations from the consultation.
Timm Dadds, Cwmrhydyceirrw Primary School
Becky Lawrence, Hillmead Primary School
Luke Hollowell-Williams, Holy Trinity and St Silas Primary School
Angela Watson, Billesley Primary School
Lucy Coates, Reay Primary School
Andrew Wilkinson, Burley and Woodhead C of E Primary School
Dan Jones, Allens Croft Primary School
Harry Tomes, Britannia Village Primary School
Richard Kieran, Woodrow First School
DTEA Members present:
Geoffrey Readman (meeting chair), Patrick O’Sullivan, Christopher Lawrence, Maggie Hulson, Cath Greenwood, Vicki Ireland, Adam Milford, Michael Judge.
In advance of the consultation, we invited teachers to:
Share with the meeting an outline of how and why they have prioritised drama and theatre in their school,
Discuss why they think other schools are not incorporating drama – what are the key barriers?
Advise on what they/we could offer other teachers and schools about how and why to incorporate more drama and theatre into their classrooms,
Discuss concerns they have regarding the lack of drama generally in primary education,
Suggest where should the DTEA go next to promote and support drama and theatre education in primary settings?
There were several common threads in the testimony given by many, if not all of the teachers during the consultation:
Areas of deprivation. Several schools are in deprived areas, often with high ratios of children accessing free school meals, children who speak English as a second language, and some schools with high numbers of refugee and multi-national student bodies. Some teachers expressed that, when trying to introduce drama, met resistance from schools who did not believe children had the language or understanding to be able to engage with the subject.
Drama is cross curricular. Teachers explained how the use of drama was not restricted to being ‘a drama lesson’, but it was also a teaching methodology which was used to expand and embed learning across the curriculum, but with particular reference to developing language, literacy, oracy and critical thinking.
Some teachers were using Drama as part of their practice through Mantle of the Expert, dramatising stories, improvising, and playing with ideas, information and subjects to improve understanding, and bring subjects to life ahead of written and other forms of pupil assessment and evaluation.
Literacy literally improves. The ability to play out a scene or an entire story enables pupils to visualise and find vocabulary which aids their written work.
Teachers gave examples of creative projects based on poetry, song and storytelling with external practitioners, such as actors, who found it magical to see and hear their work being performed by professionals.
Drama has helped them explore Shakespeare, run other cultural learning projects, study history, science, and other subjects, bringing subjects to life.
Relationships and understanding. There is a disturbing scaling back of the play-based curriculum in primary, but it is strongly felt that this is not only how children learn information, but also how they build relationships, learn to discuss, interact, listen and communicate.
Drama facilitates positive, productive play, helping students to listen, respond, communicate, express their thoughts, emotions and opinions, think critically, disagree and debate, while developing strong relationships both with peers, teachers and with their community.
Confidence was also boosted, particularly through performance, which aids their ability to express themselves and communicate with new people.
Barriers to Drama
There are several barriers to implementing or embedding drama:
Lack of specialist teacher training by universities for new primary teachers
Lack of confidence in NQTs and long-serving teachers in teaching in new ways
Lack of understanding in the difference between drama and theatre – it is not about doing a show once a year, although drama is a part of that
Lack of support from SLT who perhaps do not understand or do not have confidence in teaching arts/creative subjects, or teaching STEM subjects creatively
This lies predominantly in seeking access to good CPD for teachers to learn the skills of teaching drama, of listening to pupils, and in finding creative ways to teach across the curriculum.
Combined with this is collaboration with external partners and specialists who can provide support to both children and staff, providing inspiration, guidance and helping to champion and embed good practice.
Advice includes making connections with local theatres, accessing their resources, seeking CPD for your school and others, seeing performances, etc.
This lies predominantly on the affect a restricted curriculum has on children’s development. Some long-serving teachers are set in their ways and can teach drama as a tick-box exercise. One example given was of doing hot-seating once, and thereby claiming to have ‘done Drama’.
Another example is that putting on a Christmas nativity, or an end of year play, equates to teaching Drama. Drama is of course a part of that, but it is about doing theatre, which is different.
One teacher highlighted that while the National Curriculum only includes one paragraph on Drama, as a statutory document it doesn’t explain how the curriculum should be taught. While short, this paragraph does say pupils have a right to access drama, and so there is an opportunity to use that to justify the curriculum within school, and how they teach it. She doesn’t use the National Curriculum to define the school’s curriculum, they use the National Curriculum to justify the school’s curriculum.
There are grave concerns regarding the lack of play, and while ‘catch-up’ sessions are nothing new, current Covid-related catch-up programming is likely to restrict the curriculum in many schools further, whereas it could be an opportunity to invest in creativity and play, and to use these techniques to support the rest of the curriculum, making pupils stronger and more confident in addressing other subjects.
There were a few suggestions:
Once concern raised is also a possible step forward for action: There is a prevalence or demand for ‘evidence’ of the benefits of drama in education. Drama as a teaching practice could never end – it is a subject in its own right but, like literacy, it can be used to teach all subjects. It is therefore difficult to assess and process data in a chart or graph to show benefits, which teachers can use to ‘prove’ they’ve done a good job.
The focus should therefore be on assessing the overall improvements to children’s welfare, stability, developments, relationships and achievements through the use of drama. There is a critical mass of anecdotal evidence supported by many front-line teachers experience over many years on how drama has been transformational. While there are clearly issues to be addressed on how to gather and present that data, there is a strong voice in support of drama practice which should be listened to.
Other suggestions include:
CPD and engagement with head teachers and SLT through unions, presenting evidence and case studies on the benefits of a creative curriculum.
Working with unions to fund CPD with Mantle of the Expert and other specialists
Uniting networks and more associations concerned with these issues to improve advocacy, as the DTEA is already starting to do
Observation: Perhaps unions can be classed as associations and be brought on board as members of the DTEA?
Parent pester power: engage parents in the debate to call for more drama and creative teaching of their children.
On behalf of the DTEA, I thank all the teachers, and DTEA members, for their contribution to this consultation. I was awestruck and inspired by their amazing stories, and their achievements in embedding drama into their school's curriculum and teaching practice. I am very grateful for their openness, honesty, and willingness to support the DTEA as we work with our member associations to find resources, opportunities, and new ways to advocate for improved status of drama on the National Curriculum.
As we move forward with this consultation process and speak to more teachers working in Key Stage 3, and with industry organisations who want to work with and support schools in this area, I hope we will be able to call on you again to guide us as we work together to transform more school communities through drama.
‘All pupils should be enabled to participate in and gain knowledge, skills and understanding associated with the artistic practice of drama. Pupils should be able to adopt, create and sustain a range of roles, responding appropriately to others in role. They should have opportunities to improvise, devise and script drama for one another and a range of audiences, as well as to rehearse, refine, share and respond thoughtfully to drama and theatre performances.’ National Curriculum.