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Acting in a responsible manner

Chris Lawrence argues a moral case for drama education

How will drama survive the severe curtailment of our great tradition of child-orientated learning? Is it better off making a break for it as a subject in its own right, unfettered (but still endangered) or continuing to shelter within the core curriculum under English but, after the recent review, with improved status?

In its brilliant little book, Drama Sets You Free, (its title, significantly, a quote from a child), the Secondary Heads Association offers the most powerful advocacy for drama as a means of fulfilling issues at the heart of the Government's agenda: "Morality and civic responsibility cannot be taught didactically; to be effective they have to be felt. What better vehicle could there be than educational drama?" The book reports on a survey into the state of drama in secondary schools undertaken by the SHA with financial support from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the Esmee Fairbairn Charitable Trust.

It also offers a ray of optimistic sunshine: "The hugely positive message from this report, however, is that drama is alive and well in the majority of the nation's secondary schools. The obvious question, 'Why?' is not easily answered. Maybe it is partly, perversely because drama is not a mainline national curriculum subject, saved from the grey bureaucracy of grinding assessment, detailed prescription and constantly changing rules."

But what about primary schools? Here the picture is not so rosy. The "grey bureaucracy" is grinding away at all the arts. While some make a powerful case for drama being at the heart of literacy and, thereby, of the literacy hour, finding the teacher trained enough and confident enough to deliver such a programme within the limits of such prescription is the real problem.

Meanwhile, on current Government plans, only 14 per cent of new primary teachers will have specialised in any arts subject. In 1999-2000 only one per cent of the estimated student numbers for all Teacher Training Agency funded courses were allocated to art, music, dance or drama. This is worrying - if the trend continues, the vicious circle will keep turning, with the predictable diminishing returns.

Chris Lawrence is editor of "Drama" magazine, available from London Drama at Central School of Speech and Drama, Eton Avenue, London NW3 3HY.E-mail "Drama Sets You Free" can be obtained from the above address, or from the Secondary Heads Association, tel: 0116 299 1122. Price pound;8

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