Strategies for the GCSE Options Process

I’m pretty sure that I don’t speak for myself when I share with you my dread of the options process every Spring. Each passing year seems to get more and more stressful. Every year the number of students needs to make a group viable seems to increase whilst at the same time every year there has been a decline in students taking Drama. Every year more schools drop Drama from the curriculum because of low uptake to GCSE. Every year you are wondering if it will be me that happens to?

When I started teaching this wasn’t a problem. The curriculum was wide and broad. Students had a huge amount of choice and schools had the finance and the willingness to support this. Such is the focus on a narrow curriculum and making those choices today that students are now coming into Year 7 saying what they will or will not take for GCSE! But, these are the times that we live in and these are the constraints we have to work within.

So I thought I’d share my strategy for recruiting students to take GCSE Drama. This is what I will be doing this year. But each year it seems to get harder, so no doubt that next year will be a different strategy.

The first is to create a ‘Drama following’. Creating opportunities within Key Stage 3 where students can access more than their lessons. But it is more than offering trips, clubs and productions. It is about creating a group of students who engage with Drama and invest their time and energy into it to get more from it. I have to say that I’ve often been a little against this because it can create an impenetrable clique which puts others who aren’t in that group from opting for the subject because they aren’t part of ‘the gang’. To make that work it’s about building momentum that draws students in and builds to the excitement of choosing the subject for GCSE.

The second is to take every opportunity to talk to parents as possible, which means attending every parents evenings and options evening. Although the momentum tends to come from the students, quite often it is actually the parents who want their children to take Drama. Many parents get that Drama can give young people the confidence and skills to communicate to, and be at ease with, the world around them.

Finally then it is down to the message that you get out to students and parents. I have three clear messages that I want to communicate. It depends on the audience as to what message or messages I give.

The first message is about employment skills and this year I will definitely be focusing to the quote: “The modern world doesn’t reward you for what you know, but for what you can do with what you know,” from Researcher Andreas Schleicher, who leads the Programme for International Student Assessment at the intergovernmental economic organisation OECD. Speaking to the Education Select Committee he said that technology advances the needs to maths skills will be second to those skills of leadership, curiosity, persistence and resilience.

The second message is the course and what we do in Drama GCSE. It’s an exciting course. Regardless of the method of assessment, Drama GCSE is a practical and exciting course. That should come across in your message loud and clear. It’s fun, enjoyable and engaging. I don’t hold back from the method of assessment either. Tell them from the onset that there is an exam at the end, but remind them that the exam is based on a practical study.

The final message, which is one that has worked for me in my school, is the support that studying Drama can have for GCSE English. The skills, understanding and perspective helps to support their progress in English GCSE. A self-driven piece of research I’ve been collating over the years, which has no real validity, is that students I’ve taught GCSE Drama to have generally done better at GCSE English than those who didn’t take GCSE Drama.

So, we shall see how this year goes. The official process has just begun for me with parents evening last week. So fingers crossed for another year of nerve racking few months.