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Practical, special and open to all

Mark Howell-Meri calls for national curriculum status for drama

Anew heading, "Drama" appeared in the Curriculum 2000 English Order, once more raising the debate about the place of drama within the national curriculum.

In the vast majority of schools, drama is a practical art separate from English. Reports from the Office for Standards in Education (The Arts Inspected), the Secondary Heads Association (Drama Sets You Free) and the RSANFER (Arts Education in Secondary Schools) agree that drama is best taught as a practical art and therefore deserves subject status separate from English.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's own figures show twice as many students take drama than music at key stage 4 (see Table 1.3 at

Sixth-form practical drama is equally valued. Key stage 3 drama is a compulsory separate arts subject in many UK state schools. It teaches the skills, knowledge and concepts needed for higher examinations in drama, not English. Practical drama's absence from the national curriculum could well account for OFSTED's reports that KS3 drama has a patchy standard. It is generally the case that secondary schools have two music specialists (one for KS3 and another for KS4) working with just one drama teacher.

Curriculum drama has continued to grow as a subject since 1989. It has certainly not been cut back everywhere or in all areas. Exam boards report more young people taking drama examinations every year. Value-added results are often excellent in drama. This is the main reason we have achieved the new paragraph in the English Speaking and Listening requirements.

The National Association for the Teaching of English recently held a conference called "Cracking Drama", to launch its book of the same title and to celebrate the "new status" of drama in English. Martin Tibbets, the association's chair, is wrong, though, to declare on NATE's website that "Drama is now a subset of Speaking and Listening". Try telling Max Stafford Clark that. Or John Godber and Hull Truck Theatre Company. Or Frantic Theatre at the Battersea Arts Centre. Or Trestle Theatre Company. If drama is partof English the school drama specialist must attend English meetings about SATs and English literature rather than meet with their arts colleagues. How will our careers develop in an English department?

On the other hand, the new national curriculum paragraph might also be helpful. It legally requires schools to teach practical "movement", "techniques" and "performance". But the levels of attainment in Speaking and Listening make no reference to the word drama. A new programme of study with new levels of attainment is urgently needed - and some Hampshire teachers are voluntarily writing one now for their own use. In fact a model for this already exists in Drama in Schools, a report published by the Arts Council of Great Britain in 1992. This national curriculum-style document, written by a team of drama specialists, was sent to all headteachers and heads of English or drama as a model for timetabled performance-art drama. It covers primary to post-16, with opportunities for teaching and assessing during timetabled lessons, including improvisationrole-play, theatre visits, working with professional performers under three attainment targets of Making, Performing and Evaluating (or "Responding to") quality drama.

The picture now seems clear: figures from SHA, QCA and the exam boards prove that drama is a popular and growing practical art subject which teachers, children, parents, headteachers and governors all want to see as a national curriculum subject with national levels of attainment. When drama is taught best it is organised in separately funded departments with specialist rooms (including lighting boards and sound equipment) with specialist teachers qualified in the practical arts. The best departments have strong links with art, music and dance. But whether part of English or of a new compulsory arts curriculum, drama must be a practical, special experience for all young people, not just a few.

Mark Howell-Meri is head of dra-ma at Mallory School, Bromley. 'Drama in Schools' (Arts Council of Great Britain, 1992) is now out of print but will be available on the web in a month's time at:

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