I simply cannot sit back and watch you dismantle Arts education in schools. I only qualified as a teacher (of English and Drama), last year and my work is far from done. This blog post has been difficult to write. It has been difficult because, back in 2003, receiving my ‘A’ in GCSE Drama, I never would have imagined that its future was under threat. I never would have imagined that I’d be spending a day during half term defending the place of Drama in schools. It just doesn’t make sense.
As a child, I was very shy. Growing up, I didn’t know I wanted to be a teacher but I always had a passion for the Arts. I took dance lessons from the age of 3 and attended a weekend stage school until the age of 16. I was also a prolific writer of stories and I went on to study Drama and Creative Writing at university. I have always found learning liberating. The imagination and passion of my Drama teacher in particular transformed the classroom into a place where I could aspire to be anything I wanted. Central to her teaching was the recognition of my potential as an individual. Being treated as one helped me find my own voice and gave me the confidence to express myself openly, without fear of criticism. I realised I wanted to become a teacher while at university, when I devised a community arts project and led a series of creative writing workshops in local secondary schools. During my PGCE, I created a Theatre in Education piece, which toured secondary schools in South East London. It’s an experience I will never forget. I absolutely love making Drama with young people because in Drama there are no obstacles to what you can achieve. Our imagination is the most powerful tool we have. It was wonderful to watch these students creating something that they could be proud of. Many of these schools were in socially deprived areas, where a trip to the theatre was rarely (if ever), an option. For me, this made our project all the more powerful. If Drama is abolished from the National Curriculum, then it becomes the reserve of the elite and I’m not comfortable with that, Gove. Drama is for everyone.
The study of Drama equips students with a vital life skill in the ability to communicate. Drama also animates the English classroom and allows students to grasp social, historical and cultural contexts outside of their familiarity. While students may not necessarily grasp the Elizabethan slander, “do you bite your thumb at me, Sir?” it is likely that they will relate to the universal theme of feuding families. You see, Gove, Shakespeare’s words were not written to remain static on the page. They were written to be performed and brought to life.
But let’s forget the Bard for a moment. Surely we can all agree that a good education should prepare students for the ‘real world?’ The moment a student walks out of the school gates for the last time, he or she will be competing with thousands of others to realise their ambitions. They will need to speak clearly, loudly and with expression to make their voice heard. They may enter a profession in which empathy with others is an essential trait. (It’s no coincidence that after gaining my degree in Drama, I spent several years working in the community to support adults and children with learning difficulties). They may choose to follow in the footsteps of British greats who have forged a successful career in the creative industries. They may be the next Stephen Fry, Danny Boyle or Dame Judi. Whatever that young person chooses to do with their life, they will need the conviction to see it through. If I didn’t believe with absolute certainty that the study of Drama in school can empower children with the confidence to succeed, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post. It’s the reason I teach. I’d go so far as to say it’s a little bit magical.