Is a knowledge rich curriculum detracting from what we can achieve in Drama?

What we want to achieve in teaching Drama to young people is to create a well-rounded and educated person who can understand and critique to narratives that take place around us. So that they are not just passive consumers but able to break down what is communicated to them and be able to communicate effectively their own narratives.

Remember that Drama is all around us. It plays a major role in our lives. We experience real-life Drama in the form of our own personal experiences. Our experiences day-to-day, the key moments in our lives and the minor quiet moments. We experience the lives of those around us. Our families, friends, communities, and our society. We come across the Drama of others in news and current affairs. We encounter fictional Drama in film, television, and Theatre. We find it in the books we read and the social media content we follow. In fact, Drama is in every contact and connection we make. The concept of Drama is all around us.

So yes, in this content knowledge is essential. Let’s take a look at what the Key Stage 2 National Curriculum says about Drama.

It says:

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.

English programmes of study: key stages 1 and 2 (publishing.service.gov.uk)

To summarise, at Key Stage 2 students are expected to gain knowledge and understanding of drama, participate in performances and respond thoughtfully to theatre. This is not Drama as a pedagogy. This is not Drama as a means of developing confidence or life experience. This is Drama as a subject. So knowledge is vital.

Does that mean that knowledge is the only outcome? Well, no. Of course not. Students will naturally improve their confidence, their group working skills and their leadership. Those so called ‘soft skills’. Which is ironic as they are anything but soft! They are hard. But they are also, almost invariably, the one thing that SLT will pick up on and run with. But those soft skills are present across the curriculum. The sense of accomplishment in completing a history research project with a partner is just the same as in Drama and builds those same skills. To simply build your curriculum around the successful development of these skills does our subject a massive disservice. Soft skills are a very happy by product of teaching Drama but they are not a reason to teach Drama.

We teach Drama so that students can have a lifelong love of theatre, film and television. One that doesn’t just exist on a passive level but allows them to interrogate, understand and engage with the construction and creation of what they are consuming.

So when people ask, is a knowledge rich curriculum detracting from what we can achieve in Drama, my answer would be that they probably have the wrong idea of what Drama is. Drama as a subject in Secondary School is not a pedagogy. Its purpose in the curriculum is not to develop communication skills, learn about issues relating to the students or help them find their place in the world. The purpose of Drama in the context of teaching young people at Secondary School is to learn about the structure of Drama and the vast subject of Theatre. At the core of the subject is a practical activity, for Theatre is a practical undertaking. No different from Music, Art, Sport or Design and Technology. Teaching young people, the different genres, styles and forms of performance involves actively doing them. It involves emulating, interpreting and incorporating them into the student’s repertoire. But it also involves the study of them, looking at them academically. Comparing and contrasting them verbally and in written word. Working in groups, pairs and individually to analyse and evaluate their potential, their use, and their impact. To be successful in the subject students need to be able to spend an equal amount of time reading, making, theorising and writing about theatre. As such, we as teachers need to be able to curate and construct our curriculum to reflect that.