SMSC: The pillars of Drama Education

SMSC: The pillars of Drama Education

SMSC stands for Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural education and as concepts I think they are four pillars of Drama Education that are often taken for granted. Just like anything that is taken for granted, we don’t speak about them enough. However, SMSC is rampant throughout the Drama Curriculum and we should take a moment to shout about them. Dramas ability to cover SMSC Education so thoroughly and so succinctly is one of Drama’s major strengths and justifications for its inclusion in the wider school curriculum.

Spiritual

Ofsted definition: Pupils’ spiritual development is shown by their:

  • ability to be reflective about their own beliefs, religious or otherwise, that inform their perspective on life and their interest in and respect for different people’s faiths, feelings and values
  • sense of enjoyment and fascination in learning about themselves, others and the world around them
  • use of imagination and creativity in their learning willingness to reflect on their experiences.

Drama, as a construct, does not happen without the use of imagination and creativity. The very nature of Drama being an abstract construct, only being a reality in rehearsal and in performance, where young people are shifting between being themselves and being someone else, uses imagination and does so in increasingly complex and creative ways. The facility in our own brains to imagine and play in role as someone else, to therefore be empathetic to whoever that is, to understand their faith, their feelings, their motivations and their values, whilst being in role as them, is incredibly powerful, moving and self-empowering. As such, it is naturally reflective of ones own beliefs, values and feelings because it is impossible to compare and contrasts one own life and experiences when taking on the role of someone else. Indeed, it is sometimes useful to draw on ones own similar life experiences to help understand the life experiences of those who you would otherwise not have been able to access or understand.

Moral

Ofsted definition: Pupils’ moral development is shown by their:

  • ability to recognise the difference between right and wrong and to readily apply this understanding in their own lives, recognise legal boundaries and, in so doing, respect the civil and criminal law of England
  • understanding of the consequences of their behaviour and actions
  • interest in investigating and offering reasoned views about moral and ethical issues and ability to understand and appreciate the viewpoints of others on these issues.

If a Drama is to exist while young people are in role it does so through research and understanding of the character that they playing. Whether that research is as a 5 year, watching their parents and then play-acting that in the playground, or as a Year 13 student painstakingly researching, interviewing and developing a character for performance. It is within that research that students really being to understand the moral and ethical issues within a character, the character scenario and the context within which the character is behaving. Students will develop an understanding of a character, who at value may seem unethical, immoral or criminal, once they have dug down into their psyche, their motivation and their backstory, will begin to understand that the characters actions are a product of their past. From that they will understand, that whilst this is in Drama, what happens in Drama is very often mirrored directly in real life. By studying Drama we become intelligent spectators who can distinguish not only between what is good and bad within a fictional context, but it also helps us to make a distinction between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ideologies in real life as well.

Spiritual

Ofsted definition: Pupils’ social development is shown by their:

  • use of a range of social skills in different contexts, for example working and socialising with other pupils, including those from different religious, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds
  • willingness to participate in a variety of communities and social settings, including by volunteering, cooperating well with others and being able to resolve conflicts effectively
  • acceptance and engagement with the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs; they develop and demonstrate skills and attitudes that will allow them to participate fully in and contribute positively to life in modern Britain.

It is rare for Drama, as a abstract construct of performance, to occur on its own. Even a Year 11 student who decides to create a monologue for their examined performance, will not do that in isolation.

At minimum, they will have an audience, to which they are bound together by an invisible, almost spiritual, connection where the actor, being in the role of someone other than themselves, performs to the audience. The process of performing should never be taken for granted, mocked or trivialized. The act of performing to an audience in role opens the actor up to incredible psychological and creative risk, so much so, that it is the risk taking alone that creates this connection and atmosphere between the audience and performer. If done well, the audience are constantly drawing connections between themselves and the character they are watching, realising their own thoughts and reflecting on their own experiences. The performer is always looking to create a response from the audience.

However, beyond that audience and performer connection, Drama does not happen in isolation, it is a team game. Whether that is in pairs or as a class of thirty. Students must not only demonstrate but practice good group work, which isn’t just listening and involving others but also having the common sense and empathy to take into account peoples different viewpoints drawn from their own individual religions, economic backgrounds and the such like. These group working skills, which are slowly disappearing from other subjects areas in the curriculum, are central to the study and creation of Drama.

Cultural

Ofsted definition: Pupils’ cultural development is shown by their:

  • understanding and appreciation of the wide range of cultural influences that have shaped their own heritage and those of others
  • understanding and appreciation of the range of different cultures within school and further afield as an essential element of their preparation for life in modern Britain
  • knowledge of Britain’s democratic parliamentary system and its central role in shaping our history and values, and in continuing to develop Britain
  • willingness to participate in and respond positively to artistic, musical, sporting and cultural opportunities
  • interest in exploring, improving understanding of and showing respect for different faiths and cultural diversity and the extent to which they understand, accept, respect and celebrate diversity, as shown by their tolerance and attitudes towards different religious, ethnic and socio-economic groups in the local, national and global communities.

Inherently Drama is a cultural activity. It is one of the oldest art forms and subjects of study. It was through Drama and Ritual Movement that early humans communicated and celebrated, something which humans have in every culture across the world since and still do so today. The Greeks used Drama as centre pieces of festivals to celebrate their culture but also to communicate their political beliefs. Drama was used to communicate and teach the bible for centuries. In more recent centuries, Drama has been used to question and criticise society, government and those in power. In good times, as a society we turn to Drama to entertain us and help us celebrate – Drama is a central element to our nations Christmas festivities. We also look to Drama to help us understand difficult, complex and often challenging issues.

Drama in the classroom is no different. We use it to explore different cultures, ideologies and philosophies and as such, it develops young peoples understanding and acceptance of different faiths, cultures and socio-economic groups in a range of contexts from the students own, their local region, nationally and globally. Drama in the classroom is a spring board into real life.

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