Early call for dramatists

23rd February 2001 at 00:00
Schools are stepping up their efforts to recruit drama teachers, reports Andy Kempe.

It seems that the curtain is rising early this season on the search for drama teachers. An unusually large number of advertisements has already appeared in The TES jobs section. At the University of Reading (one of just nine training institutions offering PGCE drama as a main subject) a third of the current group of trainees has already been interviewed for posts. This situation is hardly surprising though given that last year so many schools were left calling "More! More!" when there were no more waiting in the wings.

In the week following last May's resignation date, The TES carried 78 advertisements for Main Professional Grade drama posts. Yet all bar a handful of those in training had, by that date, already been offered jobs. In September dozens of schools were still hunting for supply teachers able, or at least willing, to teach a subject which many dread.

From the start of summer term 2000 to the end of September, Reading University was handling telephone calls daily from schools seeking drama specialists. Frequently the headteacher called in person, emphasising how much drama was valued in their school, what superb facilities they had and how spectacular their GCSE results were. Sadly though, there are just not enough drama teachers to go round.

GCSE drama candidates now top 90,000; around 10 per cent of those will go on to take a related A-level. The recently revised English national curriculum programme of study for speaking and listening explicitly states that all pupils should be given opportunities to progress in their knowledge and understanding of drama.

Pupils are also required to read and write different types of plays and understand how the text is interpreted in performance. Add to this drama's recognised efficacy in tackling personal, social and moral education (and an inreasing hope among many headteachers that the drama department will absorb some of the new citizenship requirements) and it is not hard to see why well-trained drama specialists are in such demand. Recent Office for Standards in Education reports reveal that, in the main, drama courses attract well-qualified students and equip them with all the knowledge and experience needed for the multifarious demands of schools.

Alas, the nine specialist PGCE courses only train around 250 of these highly prized experts each year - although this number is supplemented by a few BAEd and SCIT schemes.

While the shortage of maths, science, ICT and foreign language teachers has been a cause for concern, the desperate shortage of trained drama teachers has gone unrecognised. The Teacher Training Agency (TTA) does not set a specific target for drama courses: drama is filed under "Other" along with a plethora of so-called "minority" subjects. As a result, the TTA has no means of knowing exactly how many drama specialists are trained annually.

Employment in the creative industries has grown by 34 per cent in the past decade. There are plenty of other places for drama and other arts specialists to go. Our world demands effective, imaginative communicators; leading companies increasingly take the emotional and aesthetic needs of their employees into account. To have no overall strategy for the training and retention of drama teachers is either wilful negligence or commercial suicide.

Headteachers at least are wised up to their pupils' needs; this year, they are getting in on the act early.

Andy Kempe leads the PGCE Drama Course at the University of Reading. His books include 'Progression in Secondary Drama' (written with Marigold Ashwell, Heinemann, 2000), which is reviewed on page 17, and 'Learning to Teach Drama 11-8', written with Helen Nicholson, to be published by Continuum in May.

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