Drama is a very popular subject at my school but at every Year 9 parents' evening I spend my time telling the parents not how well their offspring have done but why drama would be a good choice at key stage 4. A lot of parents are convinced that other subjects are more important but Timothy wants to take drama. Some parents tell me that drama will help Timothy with his confidence or Stacy-May with her chosen career of famous actress, but most wait for convincing arguments from me.
Years ago, I was given a useful piece of advice: if you have anything to say, try to get it across on one side of A4 and put your information into bullet points; that way people will read it. I have stuck to this advice and used it for the presentation of the arguments for drama. The list was easy enough to compile:
* drama makes an enormous contribution to pupils' personal development;
* it gives pupils the opportunity to understand different points of view;
* it helps them form opinions;
* it develops important language skills;
* it develops a sense of commitment;
* it develops an ability to appreciate, appraise, plan and research;
* it develops perceptual and physical skills;
* the content of the lessons helps pupils understand the values, issues and cultures of today's world.
I looked at these arguments and was very pleased; they did not even take up a whole side of paper. I took the sheet to the first of the parents' evenings and showed it to the clientele. Reactions were mixed. One parent replied with a knowing "Yes," while another looked completely baffled. It was the parent who asked me: "What does drama develop tat an employer wants?" who made me consider my arguments again. I found myself summarising my listed points in one sentence: "In today's world, employers are looking for mature, creative people who can communicate effectively - precisely the skills that drama develops."
This simple sentence was what the parent wanted to hear. She agreed that her child should undertake a GCSE drama course. For next parents' evening I thought I would fire off my bullet points and replace them with my sentence. By the time the evening arrived I had thought some more and reduced my one sentence to four words: creativity, sensitivity and communication.
Creativity, sensitivity and communication are why drama deserves its place on the curriculum. Now I have them printed on one side of A4 in large letters. The three words are written on all my drama documents and included in all display work. The brief argument seems to work: the number of pupils taking drama at key stage 4 increases year by year. The simplicity of the argument helps everyone understand why drama is important and even leaves time in the five-minute parent slot to comment on how Timothy is doing in the drama lessons. The art, dance and music teachers in the faculty now use the same words to promote the importance of their subjects. They are right: those three words apply to all the arts. When the points are simple and memorable, the arguments work. When we make our arguments for the arts, let us use only these words: creativity, sensitivity and communication.
Brian McGuire is head of expressive arts at Bedford high school and assistant principal examiner in GCSE drama for Edexcel