Don't avoid the D word

25th November 2005 at 00:00
Andrew Hammond calls for educational materials that take drama seriously in its own right, beyond "speaking and listening"

"We could call them interactive workshops or fictional case studies or, perhaps, imagined scenarios," says the publisher.

"Have you thought of 'experimental practices in a conceptual realm'?"

I say, dryly. "Or 'panoramic fantasies for the potential protagonist'?"


"Okay, how about..." (I take a deep breath) "I drama?"


A cursory glance through the catalogues and websites of primary publishers will remind you that the word "drama" continues to rankle with some marketing managers.

Some words seem to be more palatable than others. "NLS text-types" for example: there's a phrase that catches the eye of every discerning teacher.

Or "matching attainment targets" will always get them salivating. Units, outcomes, checklists and grids, word-level starters, and cross-curricular literacy - that's where it's at. If a mail shot can be adorned with the garland "Curriculum Content Registered Provider", the orders will be piling in before the ink is dry.

Forgive the cynicism. As a writer I often encounter a certain reticence when "drama" is raised at a publishing meeting. You can see why some may balk at the word. After all, where does it fit into a publisher's eminently saleable resource packs for primary literacy? "Speaking and listening" has recently entered most publishers' lexicons and I am delighted to see new resources being offered to support this intriguing and much-lamented attainment target. But is this drama?

Publishers certainly do their research. Focus groups, pilot schemes, trials and surveys all provide editors with portals into the classrooms of today.

They know what teachers need to feel comfortable and confident. And with so many targets and objectives ahead of them, no wonder teachers reach for bespoke resources that will help students attain the elusive level 4s.

Publishers will have their own reasons for avoiding the word "drama", but perhaps it's time to explode some of the myths.

Myth one: literacy resources must be cross-referenced with the termly objectives and text-types of the National Literacy Strategy for them to appeal to primary teachers.

Not true. The NLSis not a statutory requirement. It is a suggested framework, not a prescription. Provided educational resources are in line with the attainment targets of the national curriculum, which are broader and open to a more creative interpretation, they will be used by teachers.

Key stage 12 Sats may hang like the sword of Damocles over our heads, but "teaching to tests" and "being creative" are not mutually exclusive practices. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that drama raises self-esteem, engages a learner's interest and encourages independent thinking - factors that exert great influence over exam performance, one would think. The important thing is that new material excites and empowers teachers to interpret and deliver those attainment targets in a creative way.

Myth two: until drama becomes a discrete subject in its own right, rather than a perfunctory token in attainment target 1: speaking and listening, it will never feature greatly in a school's spending plan. Better to produce material that supports phonics or guided reading.

Again, not true. DfES White Papers, such as Excellence in Schools and Schools Achieving Success, require teachers to become more creative, autonomous purveyors of knowledge and skills. Through handbooks such as Speaking, Listening and Learning and Creativity: Find It, Promote It, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is keen to point out the benefits of welcoming creativity into literacy lessons. There is no doubt that any plea for schools to demonstrate how they are promoting creativity in teaching and learning will ultimately affect how they choose to spend their money.

Myth three: still reeling from having to prance across cold parquet in vest and pants when they were pupils, teachers may harbour a deep suspicion and fear of drama activities in the classroom. Such pursuits are at best embarrassing and may even be slightly subversive or anarchical at worst.

Not true. Rather than being subversive, drama can bring synergy to a classroom, and develop tolerance and empathy in those who practise it. And as for those "fearful teachers", as the QCA's English 21 Playback bears out, most of them are yearning for more opportunities to be creative in their classrooms.

One of the most daunting roles for many adults is indeed that of teacher, charged with the care and counsel of today's youth. Yet we teachers face this challenge constantly, and without fear; we step into different roles daily -pedant, counsellor, sergeant-major, friend. The teachers I know are courageous, daring, colourful and creative people. Let's produce new educational resources that recognise this. We're braver than you might think.

Andrew Hammond is literacy co-ordinator at St Andrew's School, Woking.

His books include: Tolerance and Empathy in Today's Classroom (Sage) and Mind's Eye: Speaking and Listening at KS2 (Rising Stars)

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