I read via an email that Mr Gove proposes to remove ‘soft’ subjects such as drama as G.C.S.E in pursuit of academic rigour.
The article provoked a number of responses in me. Initially it was anger. The continued assault on the arts subjects in schools makes me question how we are to really maintain a vibrant cultural community across the country. The less and less access young people get to art will ensure it becomes elitist. The retaining of Shakespeare as the beacon to which all drama should be compared too reinforces this and reduces all that is contemporary and brilliant about modern arts practice.
I believe schools are already pushed to the limits in the exposure a lot can offer their students – I believe this to be true as many of our youth theatre members who are not yet at G.C.S.E level cite that their drama provision is less than an hour or week, or every other term on their timetable.
I have tried to order my thoughts throughout the day around the subject to blog. Most of my work is in areas of economic disadvantage, areas identified as below national average in the arts or with vulnerable groups. I have seen countless examples this week alone of the transformative power of drama in my own practice. From the 8 year old who didn’t speak last term reading out aloud for an hour, to teenagers transforming into emerging artists beginning to integrate Stanislavski into rehearsal at 13.
Yet, I will simply share these…
On Wednesday, I sat in a rehearsal with a group of young people. One young girl who had a few weeks ago struggled with the idea of learning text because of reading difficulties confessed she was overwhlemed with stage fright was with me. It transpires she’d tried to perform before and had to drop out because of nerves. We had tried various things and she came back having learnt her lines inside out, by herself. I was directing her with some younger people who were struggling to bring the text alive. She jumped in with some suggestions of what she’d been doing at home and we worked collaboratively and the others bloomed. She then whispered to me that she had decided she wants to be a theatre director when she’s older. She’s looked into Drama G.C.S.E and has a plan mapped out via school. I let her direct the next part of the scene. She clearly demonstrated the potential to hear and see a story in the words on the page. Her direction picked up on the subtle nuances of the story, with an attention to detail which was impressive for a 13 year old. She may well be a theatre director, life of course may take her on a different course, but a G.C.S.E would be her stepping stone to a path of discovery that she should be entitled too.
On Friday morning, I sat in Anstee Bridge (a programme set up to support vulnerable students who are at risk of becoming NEET) as I am working with them to structure the confidence through creativity programme to allow students to gain an Arts Award of G.C.S.E equivalent. Over a morning, the girls who I worked with began to plan their independent arts project. This went from going to teach children how to sing to a full on Christmas workshop. Whatsmore, they pushed it further and have broadly speaking created a story where Santa’s sleigh won’t work because he is worried every one has forgotten the true meaning of Christmas. The children will then learn songs and create a card/music video that we will share with a local hospice to wish them a Happy Christmas – in the spirit of giving and receiving. It culminated with one of the girls singing to us – remarkable when in the personal challenge part of her award she cited it to be about having the confidence to sing in public. These young women were bright, intelligent, witty and funny – yet they’ve learnt to see themselves as failures in the pursuit of rigour already in schools.
These moments seek to simply remind me why drama is worth fighting for. Academics alone won’t make the world go around. Drama is a subject worthy on both a vocational and academic level. It should be championed across all aspects of the curriculum as a subject in its own right.
At the moment, I see children devise who can suggest two verbs in a sentence on a whiteboard but it comes out their mouth with the feeling of soggy cardboard. I see teenagers about to leave school who still can’t reflect on their own learning or practice. I see teenagers who have the capacity to be the next generation of UK artists. Drama (and art) fills all those gaps.
Sadly, all I see under Michael Gove’s relentless pursuit of rigour is more of the same and the foundations of the two tier society the Tory party seek to deny they champion.