Why We Need to Keep Drama in School Curriculums

  • Abbie Harris

Simply:

1)      Theatre is not as popular as a career choice anymore because of the widespread attitudes of the government and school officials.

2)      There is a lack of publicity for theatre-related careers because of the attitudes stemming from heavy emphasis being placed on a knowledge-based curriculum.

Less simply:

The latest gadgets have been making staying at home a more favourable alternative to going out to the theatre for too many people for years now, and the average cost of tickets makes it difficult for a lot of families to go and see shows. But something that I believe should be embraced even today is the Christmas pantomime. “Although some may not view the arguable decline of the pantomime as a loss, these colourful performances will have been many children’s very first experience of theatre. Without such an opportunity, there is little other obvious occasion for children to be introduced to onstage entertainment.”[[1]] Children and young people are no longer experiencing this Christmas theatre tradition, and so a lack of interest and appreciation for the arts is taken into school, where the government is doing nothing to help this situation.

In the run up to the general election in June 2017, the Labour party claimed, “Arts Council England has lost, in real terms, £7.2m grant-in-aid since 2010, while Creative Scotland has lost £4.1m and Arts Council of Wales has lost £4.5m.”[[2]] The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said: “Labour will reverse Tory cuts to arts expenditure and set out a bold and inspiring policy programme for the arts, building on our proud cultural heritage.”[[3]] Labour promised that under their government they would “introduce an arts pupil premium for every primary school pupil in England, […] aim to increase the proportion of GDP the UK government spends on arts and culture to match the European average. [And] consider whether dance and drama should be made national curriculum subjects in their own right.”[[4]]

Unfortunately, the Conservative party won the election, so the cutbacks being made to performing arts departments in both primary and secondary schools are likely to continue. Eradicating these departments altogether, especially in secondary schools when young people have to explore their own identities and cope with exam stress, would be to the detriment of students everywhere. With so much to worry about, providing students with some form of creative outlet should seem vital to school authorities. “Theatre is a great outlet because not only is it a fun and exciting activity, but it’s also something which allows for you to develop skills which you never knew you had before. Co-operation and self-confidence are just a few among those skills. In fact, studies say that drama improves academic performance, meaning better test scores, better attendance records, and improvement of reading.”[[5]]

Keeping arts programmes in schools would benefit future generations of students enormously. Being part of a production encourages creative thinking, communication, provides the sense of escapism that so many young people will yearn for during their student years, and helps our younger generations achieve more in school, thus making them more employable. “Studies show that in 2005, students involved in drama performance outscored the national average SAT score by 35 points on the verbal testing, and 24 points on the math testing.”[[6]] Nevertheless, performing arts and other creative subjects are not seen as priorities by those in power. Creativity is disappearing as more and more emphasis is placed on a knowledge-centred curriculum, and it will eventually lose its place in schools altogether if nothing changes. So, what does this mean for the theatre industry?

The ever-growing lack of interest and appreciation for the performing arts will inevitably lead to less and less people pursuing careers in the theatre industry. This decline will stem from students who feel that, thanks to the pressure from the government, school officials, and a national curriculum that favours knowledge over creativity, they must place their focus on academic subjects if they are to stand a chance in the fiercely competitive world of employment. In a letter to Justine Greening in 2016, the Secretary of State for Education at the time wrote, “If you and your colleagues were honest about this you would boast, “Of course we’re squeezing the arts out. In the competitive world of globalisation, we need English workers, professionals and managers to have knowledge of the best that is known, not some vague nonsense about making your body look like a tree or what would happen if we painted grass so it looked purple.””[[7]] The generations of the future are being force-fed the attitude that theatre can only ever be an amateur level hobby, which makes my blood boil.

There also seems to be a serious lack of publicity for opportunities relating to performing arts and related sectors.

U-explore.com is an online platform, which provides extensive information about a multitude of different occupations. The site does delve into a lot of detail about theatre-related careers in terms of what the respective jobs entail, and what the qualifications needed to apply for them are. However, it does not give any information regarding apprenticeships and volunteering placements that would help people who want to enter the industry via a different route. I last checked the apprenticeship finder page on U-explore on September 12th 2017 and found it to be completely blank. The search engine could not locate a single apprenticeship in the whole of the United Kingdom.[[8]] The same can be said for Unifrog.org.

The Unifrog website is live and is supposed to be kept completely up to date, with new university courses and apprenticeship opportunities being added as and when they emerge. When I selected the “technical theatre, lighting, sound and stage” and the “community arts” apprenticeship frameworks, however, only two intermediate level options (equivalent to GCSEs) were found. Even with the filters “all distances, all start dates, all types”, Unifrog was only aware of two arts-related apprenticeships when I last checked the site on September 15th 2017.[[9]] I sincerely hope things have changed in almost two years.

I know that there are more opportunities than this in existence: Grand Futures Leeds “is a network of 15 arts, heritage and education organisations across the city that are working together to increase the number of arts training and career opportunities available to young people in Leeds.”[[10]] There is a link to a live PDF document on their website, which is updated monthly and contained information on nineteen apprenticeships, work experience placements and further training opportunities last time I checked (September 17th 2017). Nineteen as opposed to two and this is just in one Northern city. So many more opportunities like the ones listed on Grand Futures Leeds will exist across the rest of the country; they are just simply not being noticed.

This publicity problem links back to the lack of interest. It is my belief that opportunities surrounding the theatre industry are not getting enough attention because young people are seemingly being discouraged from taking it seriously.

 

References:

Newgas, J. (2016). He‘s Behind You! Where have all the pantomimes gone? – The Gryphon. [online] Thegryphon.co.uk. Available at: http://www.thegryphon.co.uk/2016/12/02/hes-behind-you-where-have-all-the-pantomimes-gone/ [Accessed 25 Nov. 2016].

Brown, M. (2016). Jeremy Corbyn promises to reverse arts spending cuts. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/aug/25/jeremy-corbyn-arts-pupil-premium-primary-schools-reverse-spending-cuts [Accessed 6 Sep. 2017].

Why Drama Budgets In High Schools Should Be Raised. (2016). [Blog] OnStage Blog. Available at: http://www.onstageblog.com/columns/2016/8/15/why-drama-budgets-in-high-schools-should-be-raised?rq=school [Accessed 4 Nov. 2016].

Rosen, M. (2016). Dear Justine Greening, Michael Gove attacked school arts openly not on the QT – Michael Rosen. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/dec/06/justine-greening-michael-gove-school-arts-michael-rosen [Accessed 8 Dec. 2016].

U-explore.com. (n.d.). U-Explore :: 2.7.8.12. [online] Available at: http://www.u-explore.com/launcher/v2.7.8.12/flash/Launch.aspx [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017].

Unifrog.org. (2017). Student - Unifrog. [online] Available at: https://www.unifrog.org/student/apprenticeships/long-list?distance=off [Accessed 15 Sep. 2017].

Leeds.gov.uk. (2014). Grand Futures Leeds | Leeds Pathways. [online] Available at: http://www.leeds.gov.uk/leedspathways/Pages/grand-futures-leeds.aspx [Accessed 15 Sep. 2017]

[1] (Newgas, 2016)

[2] (Brown, 2016)

[3] (Brown, 2016)

[4] (Brown, 2016)

[5] (OnStage Blog, 2016)

[6] (OnStage Blog, 2016)

[7] (Rosen, 2016)

[8] (U-explore.com, n.d.)

[9] (Unifrog.org, 2017)

[10] (Leeds.gov.uk, 2014)