I have made reference before to my passion for the arts, and particularly for the arts in education.
Over the last few weeks I have been involved in some really quite wonderful activities; indulge me, if you will, and allow me to explain.
I accompanied a group of year 10 students to the theatre to watch a really challenging version of “A Clockwork Orange.” These arguably disengaged, disadvantaged and largely apathetic teenagers had the opportunity to face some interesting political, social and moral conundrums based on watching the performance. Afterwards, they were able to discuss the intricacies of the production itself, the nuances of the dramatic choices, and debate the ethical conundrums thrown up by the content of this seminal play.
I have been directing the school play. Students who otherwise struggle to stay focused on academic studies, have volunteered their own time to stay behind at the end of the school day, learn lines, be choreographed, be taught songs and engage in discipline, respect and socialising with their peers.
I am currently using the forum of “drama workshops” to engage with year 6 students in a Primary School. These 10 year old pupils will be leaving the comfort and familiarity of their school environment in 10 months and heading to secondary education. Used to being top dogs and one of a class of around 28 in a school population of around 250, they will be entering a strange, unfamiliar environment where they will be one of a year group of around 200, in a school housing 1500+ older students. Part of my role is to go into their classes, and gently ease them into this transition process which, for most, is frightening. In these classes, I use drama and art. Conventions that allow them to be at their ease, to express themselves in ways they are not usually able to, and explore themes, theories and issues using methodology that is “off the page” and a little bit removed from their normal school experience.
Past feedback has demonstrated that these workshops make a huge difference to the confidence and anticipation of these young people. In a positive way.
So, why am I banging on about this? I’ll tell you – because Mr Gove in another spectacularly stupid and ill-thought out move, has decided that drama is a “soft option” and shouldn’t be included in the curriculum.
A soft option?
In my small and inconsequential personal history, I have used drama both in and out of a school setting, to explore and teach subject matters including (but not limited to) the following:
abortion, bullying, transgender issues, cross dressing, pregnancy, adoption, the romans, time machines, Shakespeare, mountains, geography, riots, HIV, medieval theatre, ancient Greece, French, german, physics, classic literature, capital cities…. I could go on and on.
In addition, the sessions that I have both led and participated in, have encouraged creativity, confidence, self-esteem, public speaking, modified breathing, voice control, physical control, emotional transference, and many other bonuses that cannot be replicated within academia.
For those reasons, both tangible and additional, drama should be considered not a soft option, but a necessity. However, I recognise my bias and appreciate not everyone shares these views.
But how about this?
We live in a society which enjoys access to TV shows, soap operas, dramas, panel shows, comedy shows, films, theatre, gigs, performance. We applaud all kinds of media, TV presenters, writers, actors, producers, camera operatives – an endless amount of people, roles, media and presentation.
So, do we think they would have got there without access to the arts? Do we think actors would train at drama school, without first experiencing GCSE, or even Key Stage 3 drama? Do we think TV presenters, public speakers, film directors, playwrights, screenwriters and countless roles within the media would exist without exposure to the necessary goods?
Of course not.
Our arts and creative industry is enviable across the globe. We are the home of Shakespeare, of Pinewood, of the West End, of the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony.
We are theatre and film and performance. And we must never forget that it starts with your high school drama class.
And it doesn’t end.
Mr Gove, take your soft options and shove them. The Arts will not be moved.