The scene changes
The Robinson report of 1999, All Our Futures, said: "no education system can be world-class without valuing and integrating creativity in teaching and learning." For many teachers, however, the tension between an assessmentdriven curriculum and a creativitycentred one remains insurmountable.
"I know drama motivates learning and that creativity and imagination are a vital part of that process, but I need to get children through Sats. It's all too risky and I haven't the time."
This desperate remark from a primary teacher will be echoed in classrooms across the country. It is essential that drama methodology, which matches the way the brain learns best and supports creativity, needs to be officially recognised and developed in schools. Drama in education encourages lifelong learning and engages children in activities which develop understanding. It has potential far beyond the present development of speaking and listening or theatre education.
Norfolk County Council in partnership with National Drama, the leading professional association of drama educators, has launched a project which will explore the links between drama, learning and creativity, as well as the effect of working in role on learning and creativity. D4LC is the snappy shorthand for Drama for Learning and Creativity. It is already penetrating many Norfolk schools. The launch conference on October 21 in Norwich was vibrant. There was an exciting atmosphere generated by the 60 schools of all types, including a pupil referral unit and special school which is taking part in the D4LC pilot across Norfolk throughout this year and next.
Teachers in D4LC schools receive drama planning support and evaluation funded by Norfolk County Council and provided by National Drama and Norfolk's advanced skills drama teachers. Additional funding is being considered for this first in-depth drama action research project by a national drama subject association in partnership with a local authority.
The research will be classroom based and focus on drama specifically in relation to its impact on creativity and learning. This long overdue project is firmly underpinned by recognised research methodology. It will be a catalyst for curriculum change and encourage educators in all sectors.
Further funding has been secured from Nesta (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts). Its learning director Grant Bage says: "Everybody wants creativity in classrooms and this project will show a whole range of innovative practitioners achieving just that.
Drama teaching methods have so much to offer learners and teachers, with Nesta's help, D4LC can spread that message."
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority English team has sent a statement of support for D4LC and is considering its possible contribution to the development of English 21: "The effective teaching of drama engages pupils, deepens their responses to literature and develops their thinking and communication skills. We welcome this initiative's focus on exemplifying how drama can best be used in English and across the curriculum to encourage creativity in teaching and learning."
The DfES has also asked to be kept informed of D4LC's progress.
D4LC has every child's wellbeing and learning at the heart of its philosophy and wants to convince the profession that imagination is essential to learning. The launch conference workshops signalled the kind of thinking and practice that will be available to Norfolk teachers and then disseminated nationwide.
Pam Bowell's key stage 1 workshop explored how drama can foster learning and creativity in maths. Children become residents at the foot of a mountain. Their livelihood from tourism was suddenly threatened by dreadful noises from the mountain. They discover giant's footprints (sugar paper cut-outs). Using non-standard units of measurement they help a cobbler make quiet shoes for the giant.
The teacher in role as giant gratefully receives the shoes and they decide he needs new clothes. This leads to investigation of the ratio of foot length to body size, with the drama again providing a real reason to think creatively and solve problems.
Joe Winston's KS2 workshop based on Blodin the Beast by Michael Morpurgo combined drama, English and visual art. The narrative lent itself to group movement and vocal sound to explore the meaning of specific sentences, sequentially performed. Shanga the wise old man confronts Blodin the Beast with the help of a boy, Joe, in role as Shanga is weaving his life's work.
Participants have to imagine what this might be as Joe skilfully avoids answering their questions. Staying in the village weaving while family and friends flee from the beast seems foolhardy, but Shanga insists he must keep weaving. This spellbinding workshop examined the story, reflected on contemporary political analogies and put Joe's excellent keynote on creativity into practice.
Judith Ackroyd's KS3 workshop on bullying enabled participants to explore intimidation and empathise with both bully and bullied. Eye contact, physical proximity, movement and sounds were looked at through drama about group power with frightening images from the playground and boardroom.
Working from a drama plan, "Where's the blame?" which uses the opening scenes from David Calcutt's The Terrible Fate of Humpty Dumpty Judith invited teachers to focus on the minds of the gang, the bullied Terry, and most significantly the responsibility of silent observers. D4LC is at the cutting edge of educational thinking. The partnership of a local authority with a professional association should drive the practice and thinking embedded in its rationale straight into classrooms and affect all children in the next decade.