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Bravo for the difference that a bit of drama makes

Holy Rood is just a tad different from Stoneyhurst College, the citadel of Jesuit formation, where Charlie Youlten received his secondary education. Presented with the opportunity to embark on his teaching career at Ampleforth among the well-heeled elite of Catholic England, Charlie chose instead to move up-market to Holy Rood in Edinburgh. As the junior member of the drama department, he was destined to toil alongside two strong but supportive women, Frances Paterson and Pat Crichton. Since his arrival he has been drawn into performances beyond the normal gamut of drama courses, recently compering a soiree for senior pupils in a glittering gold lame jacket. Charlie is an unapologetic extrovert, who revels in the banter of such occasions. It is just as well he does, since such performances are part of the shared expectation of the uncompromising drama team.

Frances Paterson, appointed principal teacher of expressive arts before McCrone had time to get his jacket off, does not present as zany impresario or temperamental luvvy. Bright and resourceful, effervescent and organised, Frances knows precisely what her objectives are and her high aspirations for her charges are unequivocally embraced by her colleagues.

Pat Crichton is the most full-time part-timer I have come across. Combining the roles of chief executive's wife, mother of two and Holy Rood drama teacher with acrobatic versatility, she brings boundless energy and enthusiasm to her classes. As I pound the beat around the school, I often think I have come across a disruptive class, only to be reassured on encountering the vehement but fully controlled exhortations of Mrs Crichton coaching her pupils. The most discerning educational evaluators in the business, the pupils, vote with their feet and sign up for drama certificate courses in droves, aware that their chances of success will be enhanced by the determinatio of their teachers.

Examination results confirm drama's role within the Holy Rood curriculum. Their share of band A passes at Higher grade in 1999 was surpassed only by English and computing studies, while the percentage with Credit awards at Standard grade was seven times the national average.

The eloquence and confidence derived from drama is evident in the school's public events. Young people address large gatherings with self-assurance.

Holy Rood's expertise in drama has been enlisted by organisations as diverse as the Catholic Church and Lothian Education Business Partnership. The church invited Frances to help in the training of priests for pastoral work, while the EBP encouraged companies to link up with schools through a "talking heads" presentation, featuring Amanda Hunter of our sixth year and me. As we approached the venue, I fretted about Amanda coping with an audience of business people. I soon found as she shifted into performance mode, that I was the only rookie there.

"The subject is inherently attractive, with a strong social dimension," claims Frances. "People love to perform and to create. We emphasise the importance of group work from first year to sixth. The objective for the pupils becomes the success of the group as well as the excellence of the individual." The loyalty inspired in their young devotees testifies to the staff's success in fostering this sense of shared responsibility. The department can claim several professional actors among its graduates. Countless others can ply their diverse trades with greater self-confidence as a result of exposure to the Holy Rood drama experience.

We could spend an entire in-service training day disseminating the good practice in drama to colleagues, but then we would be in danger of making a drama out of an ISIS.

Pat Sweeney is headteacher at Holy Rood High school, Edinburgh

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