This week something unusual happened. Something that hasn’t happened for a long time. Not since the early to mid 2000’s, which is over 10 years now! I first found out about it via twitter in a tweet which I think most of you will have seen by now. At first I was dubious. I had to pinch myself. Some good news that involves Drama in British Schools in a favorable and positive light! I immediately had to retweet it myself!
Then I took time to think about it. My thoughts were positive but twinged with doubt. Why suddenly, after all these years in the UK of the Arts being downgraded through budget cuts, Attainment 8 and Ebacc, are the Government suddenly including Drama in a headline tweet to sell their new policy?
In a speech to the Church of England Foundation for Educational Leadership conference on the 7th January (published 7th February), Dominic Hinds (UK Education Secretary) laid out his thought that developing character and resilience is as important in the future success of young people as academic qualifications are. He has established that there are 5 foundations for building character which has been turned into this handy graphic used in their tweet.
Immediately in this opening statement about the policy you can see the lines being drawn between the two. The idea of character development and academic qualifications are presented as two different things. That the subjects mentioned here, Sport, Drama, Music, Art etc… are in some way different to those that are ‘academic qualifications’. You may think I’m being picky here about these definitions but what worries me about the 5 Foundations of Building Character policy is that focus is on Drama, and the others, as being additional to the curriculum. It does place Drama firmly in the place of extra curricular activities.
It worries me that this policy will give schools the authority to remove Drama from the curriculum altogether on the proviso that it is available at an extra-curricular level. Which is what has happened in so many primary schools. That has changed the way Drama has been delivered in Primary Schools because many schools buy in clubs that run it, or ask a keen (but non-expert) teacher to run the sessions. There is no need for a dedicated teaching space or equipment, as clubs can be run in school halls or classrooms after school has finished. Its status as a club will not be widened to everyone but chosen by a few who want to take part.
I know that Amanda Spielman, Ofsted Chief Inspector, has said that their new framework will look at helping schools deliver “a broad and rich curriculum which gives [students] the knowledge and skills that will set them up for success in further study and the world and work”. Although Ofsted won’t define what a broad and rich curriculum looks like, I don’t think it is a massive stretch to argue that Drama should be a part of the curriculum. However, is this enough of an argument to stop further potential removal of Drama from the curriculum?