The mouse that roared

17th November 2000 at 00:00
'Teacher in role' is a powerful strategy, says Francis Prendiville of National Drama

For a teacher who has used drama throughout my career, the recent report from the National Foundation for Educational Research and the Royal Society for the Arts, Arts Education in Secondary Schools: Effects and Effectiveness, linking drama with pupils' increased self-esteem and improved social skills, was warming to see.

For those of us who use drama, the introduction of the national curriculum was rather like having an important part of our work banished beyond the city walls. Drama was not regarded as important enough to be a discrete subject but it did find its way into the programmes of study for English. Under this camouflage we had to creep back, like a Trojan mouse, and sneak under the city's great gates.

At the risk of misplaced optimism, I detect that while the gates have not been flung wide open, they are at least ajar. Perhaps at last the efficiency of drama as a means of delivering the breadth and range of content knowledge within the national curriculum, as well as developing social skills, is being recognised. A good example of drama working to bind together the curriculum is the use of its most distinctive strategy, "teacher in role".

This is central to the way that I work with children aged three to 11 and it is just as successful with older pupils. As part of a research project I have been working with eight and nine-year-olds on the Victorians and the "ragged" children. Using role I am able talk to the class as Edward Fitzgerald, an assistant of Dr Barnardo; Thomas Barnes, one of the photographes employed by Barnardo; and, as a means of raising issues of class and social stratification, as a "fictional" wealthy gentleman who accidentally comes across the children sleeping rough.

This way of teaching, when used appropriately, binds the curriculum in an engaging and powerful way. The teacher as "artist" gives back the creative dimension that has been sucked dry by a curriculum high on attainment targets and weak creative methodology.

To use teacher in role does not demand the ability to act in a theatrical sense; all that is required is the willingness to take the work seriously and adopt a particular attitude, to be yourself but with an interesting viewpoint. This generates dialogue between you and the class and you can step in and out of role so that you do not abandon being teacher; the class will accept this quite easily.

If we are serious about putting the arts back into teaching we must invest in training for continuing professional development. This will give teachers the chance try out methods such as teacher in role and to open up a debate among colleagues. After seeing teacher in role being used for the first time, Ben, aged eight, said: "It was like real life. It knits together like threads in jumpers. They go together and they make one big thing. It was really fun!" Francis Prendiville is a senior lecturer in drama at St Martins College, and co-author with Nigel Toye of 'Drama and Traditional Story in the Early Years' (Taylor amp; Francis pound;14.99). He is a member of the executive of National Drama, 14 Edward Avenue, Eastleigh, Hants SO50 6EG. Web:

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