Your drama teacher is ill. What do you do? Your history lessons need an injection of excitement. Your PSHE lessons have not taken off. Can anyone help? Riding, metaphorically speaking, to the rescue could be a company called Bigfoot. Set up in 2000 by Karl Wozny, an actor who found himself teaching pupils in Brixton, south London, Bigfoot is now a flourishing agency, providing supply teachers (all Bigfoot trained) in London, Birmingham and Brighton and with plans to expand further.
About 70 per cent of bookings are in primary schools, but secondaries can be accommodated. A headteacher may request cover for sickness at short notice or for regular non-contact time, training days or planned absence. A typical last-minute primary booking would concentrate on guidelines for the literacy hour and numeracy hour, using drama skills to play number games and devise a piece of work based on the text used in the literacy hour.
Children are encouraged to invent characters, improvise scenes and re-write popular endings. Days can also be tailored for particular requirements.
Six two-hour living-history sessions are available, on Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt, Romans, Tudors, Victorians and the Second World War. Actors in role tell the story of their lives at the relevant period and show costumes and props before introducing timelines, exercises, worksheets, games and questionnares. The PSHE plans are equally specific, using roleplay, improvisation and other drama skills to explore topics such as racism, bullying, sex and relationships.
And if teachers in mainstream subjects wish to acquire or hone drama skills, Bigfoot runs in-service training to give them a new tool.
Participants receive a newsletter and access to the Bigfoot website which offers further ideas and games.
Carolina Giammetta is in charge of training Bigfoot practitioners and teachers who attend in-service days. She and Karl Wozny are well aware of the importance of behaviour management in teaching generally, but especially in drama. New Bigfoot practitioners are carefully supported, but now schools are starting to see that drama skills can help teachers understand and improve their own management of students.
Carolina Giammetta recently held a session with the entire staff of a London secondary school, using drama to help them improve behaviour management. "The first moments with a class are crucial. You can, for instance, have a regular system to get everyone's attention, a rhythmic chant perhaps. Children like rules - too much freedom is scary - but teachers are not always consistent. That is the biggest problem, lack of consistency."
Drama is a subject in its own right and a means of teaching other subjects.
It can help establish an environment where creative teaching can flourish.
Bigfoot can help with them all. And the name? Karl Wozny happens to take size 13 shoes. But he also hopes his practitioners will leave a big impression.