When planning a dance course many teachers say that the most difficult part is finding suitable music. But even the most exciting and stimulating music will not increase the children's understanding of what they are doing if there is no clear framework.
Dance resources fall into two categories. First, there's the inspirational variety which offers a range of creative ideas, different stimuli and a number of movement possibilities for the teacher to select, structure and find music for, all of which needs a lot of time to prepare. Then there's the ready-to-use kind that offers a structured framework for the five to 14 age group, with sets of lesson plans appropriate to ages and stages, notes for development and evaluation, and music - all of which can be put straight into action. User-friendly packs of this sort are particularly popular with primary teachers.
A dance library that combines both approaches helps both experienced and inexperienced teachers. It is a shared resource that is constantly changing and extending as new materials and variations are added.
In secondary schools the choice of framework is usually determined by whether dance is an equal or token part of the PE programme. Where there is a strong dance element, there is usually someone responsible for producing curriculum courses, and this seems to depend on interested individuals. Unfortunately, this means that valuable resources can move with them if the teachers leave the school, and the opportunity for the department to benefit from their course development and build-up of ideas is lost.
All schools in Scotland should have a pack called Pathways into Action, produced by the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum for physical education 5-14. This includes dance ideas from Primary 1 to Secondary 1, a video, teaching notes in lesson format and music composed specially for each topic. But the pack is often not thoroughly explored. Hopefully, this will change soon with the introduction of the expressive arts-infused curriculum.
I recently wrote to all 32 authorities in Scotland to find out what national and local resources were recommended and what advice is available to teachers. The results were haphazard. As there are no longer any specialist dance posts within the advisory or support services, the letters found their way to the PE adviser, educational development officer, sports and leisure officer or expressive arts co-ordinator.
Only 12 of the councils responded. But, of these, a few regions, such as the Borders and Inverclyde, have produced 5-14 dance resources by creating a working party of specialists, advisers and classroom teachers - a good way of utilising dance expertise in an area.
In the former Strathclyde Region a three-person team of dance development officers (including myself) produced the Dance Box, a crate consisting of an introductory booklet, two packs with tapes, a 5-14 video, and a dance differentiation section from PE pack and tape. This used to be available to all schools in Strathclyde, and many in the area still use it. Dance Box was developed as a start-up kit, obtained through in-service training sessions, which - like a tool box - could be added to and more sophisticated ideas collected as the school programme for dance progressed and the teachers' experience grew. It was highly praised by teachers and seemed to be a move in the right direction.
Many councils still use resources produced by dance tutors or dance artists-in-residence when they were in post. Most of these were prepared with future developments in mind through further inservice. But the overwhelming evidence is that dance is not given the same amount of attention as other PE activities and other areas of the expressive arts.
Maggie Singleton is a freelance dance consultant.