Drama teaching is in a precarious state despite its proven record in helping pupils' confidence and teamwork, says a survey by the Secondary Heads Association.
Only half the 700 schools in the sample had independent drama departments and 15 per cent had none at all. Almost a quarter had no head of drama, while fewer than three-quarters of teachers were qualified in the subject.
Although much extra-curricular drama is flourishing, the subject is marginalised, especially in boys' schools - where, the report argues, it is particularly needed.
Drama Sets You Free calls for the subject to be made a compulsory part of the national curriculum. The report, released this week, was published as a follow- up to the association's 1995 investigation into the state of the arts in secondary schools - Whither the arts?
The report was launched at the Royal Society of Arts in London by the actor Sir Derek Jacobi, whose latest film, Love is the Devil, in which he portrays the artist, Francis Bacon, is now on release.
He recalled how his East London boys' grammar school rated sport above drama, but nonetheless had a flourishing dramatic society. "I loved school; I acted all the time." Drama brought the school and home closer together, he said, as parents became involved in productions - making costumes, sets, or tea. "Everybody connected - they had to think about other people, which is a vital part of education."
Judith Mullen, president of SHA, said: "Drama has lost out in the curriculum as everyone is busy chasing qualifications; but we're told by industry that communication is vital. What better way is there of teaching communication but through drama?" The report also noted that:
* drama helped pupils' self confidence, teamwork and understanding in other subjects and personal and social development; * boys' schools, particularly, grammars, were least likely to have a discrete drama department; * a quarter of schools had no separate capitation funding for drama; * a minority depended wholly or partly on revenues raised by school producations.
The association wants to initiate a debate about the place of drama in schools to ensure it gets a higher profile in the new curriculum orders, and it warns the Teacher Training Agency not to dilute the subject.
Drama Sets You Free, SHA, 130 Regent Road,Leicester LE1 7PG, Pounds 8.
Visit the TES's new Theatre for Schools website - a listings and review service to help teachers find productions.