There has never been a better time to redesign children's theatre in Scotland, a Stirling conference was told last week. Lucy Vaughan, a drama lecturer at Telford College in Edinburgh, said that with the imminence of constitutional change, "the initiative is ours - let's dream a little!" More than 120 delegates were brought together at the MacRobert Centre by the Scottish International Children's Festival to discuss their vision of theatre for children and young people for 2005.
The conference decided to set up a task force, drawn from delegates, to lobby the new Scottish parliament, the Scottish Office, local authorities, voters and all political parties to give more recognition and funding to theatre for children and young people, as well as to drama created by young people.
Calls were also made for more drama teachers, more child-centred training of theatre practitioners, a network of dedicated "children's theatre centres" across Scotland and more use to be made of drama as an educational tool across the curriculum.
Muriel Romanes, actress and Scottish Arts Council drama committee member,tackled educational issues head-on by demanding that education be seen as "sexier" than it is generally conceived to be.
"The perception of the word is so important. We need to reinvigorate it so that it becomes much sexier," she said, arguing that theatre practitioners should not only be encouraged and funded to visit schools, but their work should be integrated into the curriculum.
Her call for more drama teachers was widely supported. Brian McGeoch, South Lanarkshire's arts education co-ordinator, said every secondary school in Scotland should have a drama teacher. While the conference expanded this to include primary and nursery schools (they had been told "to dream"), McGeoch spoke of the need to develop drama as a discrete subject, as well as a cross-curricular platform for promoting English language skills, personal and social development and early intervention. He added:
"Children's first taste of theatre should be a right, riveting experience of the real thing."
On the down side, one delegate complained of schools which were using theatre companies solely to entertain, while another warned of the danger of Higher English and Higher drama being conflated by local authorities wishing to reduce the number of courses.
Tony Reekie, the director ofthe Scottish International Children's Festival, argued for a pilot scheme of seven children's theatre centres, to produce children's theatre and serve as places of training for professionals.
A call was made for the Scottish parliament to appoint a minister for children and set up an arts education forum to promote practice and develop understanding of how arts do, and can work, in education.
It was resolved that future conferences should include teachers other than drama teachers as well as pupils themselves.
The new "sexy task force" is to be chaired by Liz Moran, the MacRobert Centre's director, and will also include Tony Reekie. Observers are to include Sylvia Dow, the Scottish Arts Council's senior education officer and its drama officer, Annette Greenfield.
The theatre for children task force can be contacted through SICF on 0131 554 1304.