Drama Matters: Does It?  

Drama teacher and member of the National Drama executive committee Zeena Rasheed puts forward a strong case for Drama in schools and urges you to act in its defence.

So why should we keep championing Drama, as an entitlement, more joyfully, and more powerfully than ever? Why should more arts lovers, liberals, politicians, educationalists, academics, creatives and businesses shout about Drama, join National Drama, support the Cultural Learning Alliance, and/or support their kids’ schools to keep Drama on timetables at KS3, support the local theatre, ask about drama in primary schools?

I’ll explain.

Drama matters, National Drama believes, as an entitlement for children in KS2/3; a joy, a challenging academic, physical pursuit, a hobby, a complex, contemporary art form that has been making sense of humanity for millennia, a professional path, and a way of telling engaging stories collaboratively in a rainbow of genres. Drama helps children learn content, a canon, language from William Shakespeare to Timberlake Wertenbaker, from Aristophanes to Caryl Churchill, and when children rehearse, they participate, using language and the drama medium as playmakers themselves. Drama opens the doors to historical, socio-political and personal stories that entertain, demand reaction, and transform. Think of War Horse, The Crucible, Girls Like That, Kindertransport, The Colour of Justice, Medea, East is East, Nirbhaya. Nothing else does this comprehensively. PE gets us moving, English helps us love language, History illuminates different perspectives, Music helps us communicate through performance, PHSE helps us understand controversy and socio-cultural problems – but only Drama does all of this as a living art form and amazing pedagogy that is accessible.

We know that championing Drama is the ethically, educationally right thing to do; right for children and learners, right for diverse and often fragmented communities and society. We know that learners should have entitlement to Drama as they do to Art and Music. This is true, despite the arts-free Ebacc obstacle, the wall that sustains the exclusion of Drama from the foundation subjects’ stable, and the disingenuous view that asserts that Drama is fine within English.

Take an issue like war. Learning about war through Drama explores its specific narratives, its roots, its reasons, what it costs, the circles that won’t square, the heroism, the loss, the actual people and the overarching context. The other arts definitely enable this personal and academic understanding, with empathy, with facts. Only Drama enables it collaboratively, making the story come alive with others, to an audience, and in rehearsal and workshop classes, with the framing devices of characterisation, through text, or a stimulus, and the prism of a genre.

With specialist teachers, making stories come alive, learners develop confident teamwork skills, collaboration with debate, leadership with compassion, aesthetics with inclusion, and really vital workplace skills: empathy, listening, organisation, imagination, risk taking, curiosity, enjoyment of work. This supports Bacc for the Future, urging an Arts strand in the Ebacc, the Alliance for Arts Education, and all Drama professionals. We think Drama matters because it is a unique, life enhancing, visceral, powerful, intellectual and creative subject that students are entitled to. This also supports a future workforce which is more diverse, successful and confident. Numerous business leaders agree that both the arts and STEM subjects prepare learners for work. For example, Eric Berridge (chief executive of Bluewolf, a global business consulting firm), urges the government not to dial down the importance of the arts to industry, as:

“The arts teach us to challenge, persuade, and argue. They give us our language through which we convey our emotions and thoughts. While STEM skills are necessary, the arts reinforce human-centred thinking that empowers businesses to sympathise with their customers in order to drive growth.”

I am not advocating that we teach Drama for its transferable skills – but they are a fabulous additional gain. Drama is an engaging, massive art form in its own right and our heritage. It does open the doors to historical, socio-political and personal stories that entertain and transform, it does support children to become empathetic, literate and confident, it does support vital workplace skills.

Our children have an entitlement – too often ignored – to Drama, because it matters of itself, as part of a broad and balanced education. Think of the last play, musical, film, or devised piece that made your senses sing. This is an entitlement. I love that Drama is a humanising, ancient, complex specialist art that makes an audience feel and think more. Full stop. Yes, drama students are encouraged to analyze, be creative, work hard – these are important extras. Access to the art form is what matters, and this should be equitable, and high quality, in schools.

If this resonates with you, whatever you do, and you champion Drama, as Drama, as well as a magical teaching pedagogy, then support this and pass it on. If you believe learners should be entitled to Drama provision taught by specialists, then please act.

What can you do? Join National Drama. Sign up a friend. Our conferences are brilliant, and that’s the participants’ feedback, not just my view. Come to the next CPD – ‘Which Board to Tread 2’ (29.9.18), or the conference, 20:20 Vision: Seeing Drama’s Future Clearly (dates TBC). Sign up to the Bacc for the Future campaign. Check out the Cultural Learning Alliance. Do write to your MP, your local schools, talk to your drama teacher, tell National Drama why it matters to you, campaign on social media. The more of us cheering and shouting for Drama the better – because, or course, it does matter.