DRAMA IN THE CURRICULUM. By John Somers.
Cassell Pounds 13.99 0 304 32589 9.
I found the experience of reading John Somers's book rather like being on a package tour of what a tourist guide would probably call "our drama-in-education heritage".
After a brief introduction - the History and Rich Nature of the Heritage (strictly European, by the way, no echoes here of the "cultures across the world" or the new Order for music) - the author puts us on the coach and we are off. As the terrain opens up, we quickly find ourselves being whisked through the variegated landscape of school drama with chapters to visit on skills, the role of the teacher, texts, performance and so on. We make frequent, if brief, stops at features of particular interest (stage fights, costumes, problem drama, forum theatre, Shakespeare) and at the end we are given the case study of a radio play, researched by middle school pupils, to take home with us.
Unfortunately, when you are driving through it, heritage rarely comes in an intelligible order. Here, as one hurtles from hot-seating to puppetry, from concentration to rostra, it is difficult to decide where we are going and why.
While the author certainly covers his chosen ground, as readers we need a structure of understanding, a framework, to help us make sense of it all. Also, although Somers tells us a little about what is presented, like all good tour guides, he invariably leaves us panting to know more. What age-group? Is this primary work or secondary? Where does it fit? Where do we go from here?
The author's detailed knowledge of the national curriculum informs much of the book and is carefully used to locate drama both as an arts subject related to English and as a support for learning across the school. In view of this, it is perhaps surprising that there is nothing on progression or assessment, or indeed on how drama might be organised within a curriculum.
While the otherwise excellent chapter on Drama and Other Subjects is a mine of useful examples, there is only the briefest indication of how collaborations might work in practice. Does the drama teacher do science dramas, and if so how are these accredited within the new Order for science? Or does the science teacher do drama? I am not sure that simply advocating a "flexible approach" will be of much help to today's over-stretched secondary departments.
Drama in the Curriculum will be a valuable source of reference for anyone new to the peculiar way in which drama in schools has developed since 1945. It is comprehensive and easy to read. However, the book ultimately falls through the gap between theory and practice and may, as a result, leave both those seeking to understanding better what goes on in our drama classrooms and those who just want to know what to do with 8Z next week, frustrated.
David Hornbrook is performing arts inspector for the London Borough of Camden and an Associate Fellow of the Central School of Speech and Drama.