The case for a separate department

21st November 2003 at 00:00
A pupil in the corridor was talking to a new student: "That's Miss, she teaches drama ... and she's stroppy". Both these things are correct. I do teach drama and I am very stroppy. I teach drama because 14 years ago I did a Primary PGCE, training me as a drama teacher. I am stroppy because I teach drama and over the years I have had to learn to argue, negotiate and beg for things most subjects take for granted.

I have found stroppy works well when arguing to be part of an expressive arts faculty, not the English department; when resisting having curriculum time eroded away or put on a carousel and having one lesson every other week; when explaining that a geography specialist with a keen interest in musicals would not be suitable to teach key stage 4 drama students; when negotiating to have the rats' nest removed and replaced with computers in my condemned-hut-of-a-teaching-space, which I insist on being called "The Studio".

Why is it that drama teachers have to fight their corner so desperately? Much of the population views drama as an irrelevant or "light" subject. We, who lead discrete departments, which have managed to break away from the yoke of English, would argue that it should be accorded the same respect as any other academic discipline. And, while there is common ground with English in the national curriculum and the KS3 literacy strategy, drama lessons deliver an entirely different set of skills and methodology.

The argument for a separate drama department headed and staffed by specialists is overwhelming. Students relate to and reflect their schools.

If they see that drama is a subset of English they will come to view it, and subsequently treat it, as a second-class subject. However, when there are drama teachers and a head of subject, dedicated spaces including a drama office, exam classes and performance exams, as well as regular performances of work conceived and rehearsed in lessons (not just the school show), then the whole attitude to the subject changes. It has clout.

Students and teachers are no longer seen as taking time out from a "real" subject to indulge in a little drama, but as people on a learning curve.

Drama is the most cross-curricular subject. Discrete departments can devote time to developing an ethos of co-operation and communication among the students. They are not involved in teaching acting per se, although that is part of drama. They are involved in helping students explore their world and indeed many other worlds. Educational drama is a way of looking at communication skills, techniques and devices.

Ninety-nine thousand students took GCSE drama last year. A-level theatre studies and performing arts are no longer a minority option. I know how hard teachers work to deliver their curriculum. One often sees articles in The TES about various schools benefiting from an "artist in residence", over something like a three-month period. Bear in mind that many schools have permanent artists in residence, in their teachers of performing and expressive arts. Perhaps, to get some recognition we should all apply for Arts Council bursaries in addition to our teaching salaries.

Or am I just being stroppy?

Rachel Ray-Choudhuri is head of expressive arts at Haggerston School, London

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