Knowledge Based Curriculum and Drama: Moving with the times.

Just writing the phrase “Knowledge Based Curriculum” sends shivers of fear and anger through my spine. To think that we have moved into a world where knowledge over skills is the key to creating policy and curriculum is a hideous testament to how far we have come on this journey of reform. A curriculum which is based on how much a student has learnt.

These are the times that we live in. Whilst I want to beat these reforms away with a massive stick, protest against them and sign as many petitions as I can, the current reality is that (unless those protests make any difference) these changes are here already. I fear that not keeping up with the changes will affect Drama just as adversely as the reforms themselves. So, looking ahead without my buried inside a whole, a “knowledge based curriculum” seems to be the way forward from here.

I hate to mentioned Nicky Morgan on a blog site about teaching Drama in UK schools, but here we go. She set out, in a speech given in January 2015, her plans for this knowledge based curriculum. If you can dare to do so, you can read the full speech here. To be far, she doesn’t completely disregard skills based curriculum and, although she doesn’t mention Drama specifically, she does state that the Arts have a place in schools (I know that she has said that all along whilst at the same time squeezing it all out through the narrowing of options choices for the Ebac, so how much of what she says can be trusted – but that is a different matter and argument for other times).

She makes the case that previous curriculum have focused too much on skills and not enough on the knowledge – she argues that balance needs to be readdressed – I’m worried that that balance tip the other way and be focused on knowledge alone.

At this point, let me introduce to you the Michaela School in North London, some of you maybe familiar with it. Here is a link to their website and here is a video introducing themselves:

If you looked on their website I’m sure you will have noticed that they don’t offer Drama on the curriculum they do offer Art and Music (so all is not lost).

They have a particularly interesting, and some would say extreme, perspective on the way education works. As an institution, they do not do any sort of group work or personalised learning and they have a no-excuses approach to behaviour which is extreme in application but effective in practice (learning in an environment of fear comes to mind) but their claim is that even in Year 7 students can make up to 5 levels of progress in reading in their first year at the school.

Pupils are taught the background and context of what they are learning so that they can understand and make connections easily.  History, for example, is taught chronologically so that pupils are able to grasp the key facts and have a strong understanding of the subject. Pupils sit biannual exams, in January and in June, otherwise they have weekly quizzes in subjects.

It appears to be, quite simply, that black and white. Just knowledge. I don’t see English can be taught like this. Looking at the curriculum page for English on the school website, they teach grammar, spelling, punctuation, structure and context (which are all important elementsf the study of English). However, readers responses, feelings, emotions are not mentioned (explicitly).

This worries me. This style of curriculum. This focus on knowledge. I fear that schools will solely focus on the knowledge aspect and forget the skills. I hate to quote Nicky Morgan, but in that speech she does say that young people need to gain the skills and attributes that we all prize and the knowledge base to put those skills into action. It is the developing of skills to help apply the knowledge that I can’t see evidence of in the Michaela School website.

Perhaps it is there – but it isn’t explicit on the information they publish.

What has this got to do with Drama? Well, this is the current future of UK education and unless we find some way of getting on board with this at the same time as maintaining the ethos of Drama, there isn’t going to be much room, and even less justification, for Drama to be on the curriculum.