Getting in on the acting

5th April 1996 at 01:00
DRAMA EDUCATION AND SPECIAL NEEDS Edited by Andy Kempe, Stanley Thornes Pounds 14.99.

A difficulty faced by any book directed at two distinct readerships - in this case, drama teachers and those who work with students with special educational needs - is that of translating for the benefit of one specialist audience the language of the other. Andy Kempe and his collaborators manage this adroitly. Mercifully free of jargon (although I did notice a "drama situation" and something called "role [sic] on the floor"), Drama Education and Special Needs has a refreshing, no-nonsense style, signalled at once by the authoritative editorial overview with which it begins.

The contributors tell their stories with appealing clarity. Gill Brigg opens her chapter on language by briskly delineating the levels of learning capability necessary before drama can start. Melanie Peter shows how the enactment of stories can be enriched and expanded by allowing pupils control of the narrative. Jan Beats and Penny Barrett show how simple drama techniques can be easily picked up and used by special-school teachers with no prior drama experience. Some accounts are rather prone to self-regarding anecdotage, but nowhere is the writing uninformative or patronising. Photographs and diagrams enliven the text.

Of course, this is a book about the therapeutic use of drama. It assumes that doing drama is "good" for pupils generally, and for those with special educational needs in particular. Thus it is no surprise that despite the provision of some helpful planning pro formas, the weakest parts relate to progression and assessment, issues no less hotly debated in special education than in mainstream schools.

David Hornbrook is arts inspector for the London Borough of Camden

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