Key Stage 3 Drama: Stepping stones from Process to Product

I want to start with this question, what does Key Stage 3 Drama mean to you?

I want you to take a moment to consider the answer to that question. The answer might come from anywhere. It might come from being a teacher of Drama or it might come from your own school experiences. What does Drama taught to the ages of 11 to 14 mean to you?

I’ve said this before, I have always found Key Stage 3 very difficult.

Let me expand on this a bit more. My background is in theatre and acting as a young student and, when I went to Drama School to study Drama and Education, my focus on the role of Drama in Education was that of an actor and developing the skills of performance. I don’t want to throw up in the air the old process / product debate, but it was raging when I was a student and I very much fell on the product side.

As such, I’ve never struggled with Key Stage 4 or 5. The curriculums I’ve planned and taught to this 14 to 18 age range has been practitioner and performance focused, building up skills and knowledge in preparation to create performers.  I recognise and appreciate the (for the want of a better word) softer skills that performance helps develop and I fundamentally believe in teaching the art of making theatre, and studying the theatre of others, makes people better people and equips them with the skills they need to make a success of themselves in whatever field of employment they go into the future. I’ve written about that before and you can read that here.

Despite this I have found, and still find, Key Stage 3 difficult to master. I’ve never been able to find the right pitch for the ideas and content I want to teacher. When I adapt the kind of work I do with GCSE for Key Stage 3 students I find that they can’t access it because of a variety of reasons such as maturity, contact time or understanding. When I try to use more explorative schemes of work I find that I don’t teach them well and, as such, the students don’t access them very well either.

If we consider for a moment where out students come from before Key Stage 3, their experience of Drama at Primary School has often been varied. However, essentially their experience from Key Stage 1 and 2 has been that Drama is a tool used to learn things through – such a role-play. So in Key Stage 3 teachers need to take students from the process based model used at Key Stage 2 (and play based at KS1/EYFS) to the product based focus of GCSE and beyond.

Let’s take a closer look at what Drama is supposed to look like at Key Stage 2, here the English curriculum prescribes drama content which must be taught at primary.

  • All pupils should be enabled to participate in and gain knowledge, skills and understanding associated with the artistic practice of drama.
  • Pupils should be able to adopt, create and sustain a range of roles, responding appropriately to others in role.
  • They should have opportunities to improvise, devise and script drama for one another and a range of audiences, as well as to rehearse, refine, share and respond thoughtfully to drama and theatre performances.

By the time students get to Key Stage 4, the subject requirements build on this knowledge;

  • Pupils need to develop a sound knowledge and understanding of drama and theatre and to be able to analysis and evaluation of the work of other theatre practitioners and theatre makers.
  • Pupils need to participate in the process of creating a devised drama performance, as either an actor or designer, to an audience. Pupils also need to be able to analyse and evaluate their own work.
  • Pupils need to interpret and perform (as either an actor or as a designer) scripts for performance to an audience.

Essentially these three areas of knowledge are the same three things: Knowledge and understanding of drama, creating, and performing in, a role and participate in both devised and scripted performances

I’ve simplified this in this image here, taken from a CPD Session on Arts Curriculum and Assessment at Key Stage 3 which I offer.

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Mastery is the key to progression here. There is no magic content that will help students travel through from Years 6 to 10, but a development of their skills and knowledge of Drama and Theatre until they become masters of their drama.