Drama teachers on the cheap

22nd November 2002 at 00:00
Two days before announcing her resignation, Estelle Morris unveiled a package of reforms designed to bring about what she termed a "pedagogy fit for the 21st century". The initiatives reveal just how confused the leadership of the education system is.

At a time when international league tables on a wide range of indicators, from post-16 staying-on rates through truancy and teenage pregnancy, are suggesting that as a society we are failing our young people, the proposed policy has been described by Doug McAvoy (NUT general secretary) as being like "asking the theatre sister to take over the brain surgery". There are to be 50,000 new classroom assistants, including a new elite - advanced classroom assistants - who will be able to take on teaching duties.

From the drama teacher's perspective this is baffling but perhaps not surprising. Three years ago there was an attempt to close down initial teacher training courses offering drama as a specialist subject. Drama was omitted when the national curriculum was introduced and, in GCSE and A-level reports, drama and theatre studies are subsumed within "other".

The Secondary Heads Association published the results of a wide-ranging survey of schools in 1999. Drama Sets You Free charts how young people recognise the importance of drama in enabling them to make sense of the world. The report ends by suggesting that this may have come about because of, rather than despite, the subject's exclusion from the national curriculum. Drama exhorts us to address the needs of humanity - not one of the aims of the national curriculum.

These contradictory experiences will have prepared us for the crazy notion that the science of teaching drama in the 21st century can be picked up "on the hoof" - that an adult without a degree in drama and without a teaching qualification can take over so that you can be elsewhere - perhaps reducing the mountain of paperwork imposed by other initiatives. No doubt paperwork will also be required to indicate what you intend to do with the time "given" and to evaluate your efficiency in achieving targets.

You may protest that this smacks of a government looking for teachers on the cheap to solve the staffing crisis; that it is another step down the road of de-skilling and downgrading teaching. You could be forgiven, because the cynicism flows from the DfES.

Teaching is a subtle, complex and sophisticated art. It is the most challenging and important work of a healthy society. Children need to become enquiring, challenging, thoughtful and independent citizens. The drama teacher is well placed to recognise the fact that education is based on a trusting relationship between teacher and learner; the teacher's knowledge of the learner's needs; and the teacher's understanding and knowledge of the world and the subject being taught. These principles are hard won and constantly transforming.

We must support the proposal for classroom assistants to be given a decent wage. Equally, we must resist the drive to remove drama teachers from the classroom. Our job is to teach drama. The classroom assistant's job is to support us. Without us there will be no more drama.

Guy Williams is Chair of NATD (The National Association for the Teaching of Drama). Email: guy@pwilliams50.freeserve.co.uk or visit www.natd.50megs.com.

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