Drama steps back into the limelight

The thespian arts have been neglected for too long, writes Colin Jackson.

Last year saw developments which, while still leaving much to be desired, hold the promise of a brighter and more secure future for drama in years to come. Drama's continued existence within schools has been more the result of endeavour in the face of adversity over the past few years than the result of a considered and unified approach to the subject by Government bodies.

Teachers have been spied smuggling the subject into their classrooms like contraband in the hope that it will not be spotted and confiscated by senior management or inspectors. Curriculum 2000 at last saw a fleeting, often ignored, yet significant recognition of drama within the revised English Order.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority signalled a heartening change in attitude towards the subject, including the launch of two significant projects, "Promoting creativity" and "Maximising the contribution of the Arts", and an acknowledgment of a neglect of oral language skills within schools.

The Artsmark award (www.artscouncil.org.ukartsmark) has to date rewarded nearly 400 schools for their holistic approach to the delivery of the arts. The award has had far-reaching implications for drama and dance, which have until now been unrecognised within the national curriculum as subjects in their own right and have therefore benefited from talk of minimum curriculum exposure time and subject-specific objectives.

Even the countless initiatives that at first sight appear to be at odds with the development of the subject have accidentally played their part in drama regaining its ground within schools. Teachers at primary level who have felt stifled by the constant focus on assessment have taken it on themselves to revitalise the curriculum by giving pupils opportunities for creative expression.

So we seem to be moving towards a promising and exciting time for drama in education. At last, teachers who have continued to have faith in the subject seem to have been joined by those who exercise control and influence over curriculum content and structure. Yet between these two bodies - the curriculum deliverers and the curriculum developers - there is a third significant player within our schools - the curriculum managers.

Senior management attitudes towards drama fall into one of three camps: those who embrace it and appreciate its worth; those who tolerate its existence for the added value kudos, "aah, drama, well done, carry on"; and those who ignore it.

If recent developments are to bear the fruits we are all so eagerly anticipating, the QCA reports into the place of the arts in schools and the promotion of creativity must result in statutory requirements for the delivery of drama.

Without the requirement on schools to offer opportunities for drama, we are in danger of creating a divide in education: between schools that embrace artistic and cultural development as an integral aspect of pupils'

development; and those that stifle their pupils' exposure to such opportunities. The enemy may then lie within rather than above.

Colin Jackson is drama consultant for the City of York LEA, a freelance trainer and advisoryinspectorate officer for National Drama. For National Drama membership information contact Teresa Matkowski,14 Edward Avenue, Eastleigh, Hants S050 6EG. Web: www.nationaldrama.co.uk

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