Practical Pedagogies 2016

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I had a great time at the Practical Pedagogies conference and was delighted to share an hour long immersive drama in education experience with some of my peers. The session was called: Storytelling the Curriculum: finding the humanity in the curriculum. After I returned I entered a challenging yet stimulating debate about ’emotion’ within learning. Its taken me some time to consider the challenges offered by the great twitter world but here it is.

The workshop I planned is one of my favourites to run because each time I learn more about the people in it; both real and imagined. Each time the session is run the participants reveal things to me that I had never considered and this tiny street, these people’s lives become ever more real to me. I’ll explain.

The workshop focuses on a street in Manchester called Chapel Street. During WW1 161 men left to participate in the war. Not all returned. Using some very simple DiE techniques this street and the people who were ‘left behind’ are discovered. There is very little ‘action’ in the session. It is of course active, there is productive tension but it is a series of freeze frames, thought tracking and some very short role play. In fact the participants say very little but imagine a lot. They are taken through a day in the life pre war, considering their reactions to a family member leaving for war (standing on the door steps/looking out the windows or turning their backs as there loved ones leave for war) and finally imagining that they receive news of their loved one through a letter. Afterwards someone tweeted that the content and indeed the session was highly emotional and that it was this that made it powerful and a rich learning experience. A concern was raised that to make something ’emotional’ is manipulative. The session however doesn’t aim for emotion, it aims for understanding. In order to have empathy and to begin to understand what drama offers is a ‘lived-through’ experience where you are invited to place yourselves as human beings in that moment, imagining that situation and those decisions.

Someone cried. To be honest I usually cry after this workshop. Not a self indulgent cry (I hope not anyway!) but an utter sadness about how it could have been, how I imagine it to be, the loss of those family members, the loss of all of those men, that war, that damned war, the war they thought would be over by Christmas. My personal aim for this workshop is that it brings to life the names etched on memorials. We see a memorial, see a list of names and then we imagine those lives. I am emotional but its not ‘oh dearism’. I imagine every time I see a memorial. I can fill a two minute silence with my meaning.

In this session the site was further revealed to me. The workshop is based on the terrace street and we build the homes along the street. But in this session we were in a small classroom and not a hall. Because of this each ‘house’ created was right next door to anothers. And what we learnt, what we realised, what we came to question was how thin were the terrace walls between each house? In a street where 60 households sent men could that mean that when a family heard the worst news possible that I, next door, would be able to hear? What does that mean for me when/if I receive good news? Do I stifle my joy? Do I still shout aloud that he is safe/he is injured but he’s on his way home? If I can hear next door what does that mean for me? And so we were left wondering and pondering questions about community and responsibility. And I left thinking about the impact of what is overheard.

But this was accidental. It was emotional but not planned for. The workshop however is constructed to leave space for these questions to arise, for these moments to happen. But other moments are carefully constructed to bring the participants into the moment, so that ‘they’ are present as themselves in the fictional world they have created. It may/may not be emotional but what it does intend is that they reflect on what they would do. One of the nodal points or not/but moments in the workshop focuses on when the men leave for war. The choice is given to the participants (who are in role as the family members of these men) to consider what they would do ‘if’ it were them. I ask them “If it were your son, brother, father would you go and wave goodbye on the steps of your house or would you say your goodbyes in private?”. Before I elaborate on the decision, build the space, clarify the nodal point I need them to bring themselves into the moment. It isn’t about bringing them ‘out’ of role’ its about bring ‘them’ in to the world. The aim is that they answer as themselves not in the role that they have spent time creating in the session. It’s done simply. “Do you have a brother?” I ask one participant. She answers by pointing at another participant in her fictional family group. “No” I gently say, lowering my tone so it is a more intimate, safe exchange “Do you have a brother”. She is confused for a moment but answers “yes”. I ask her what he is called. “John” she says. “John.” I repeat. The repetition and stillness after saying his name is essential. For by repeating his name we not only bring her into the space but him too. He is now one of the men she imagines is leaving. He is there on this street in Manchester about to leave for WW1 and he is also with us in this small classroom in a school in Toulouse. I ask one or two more and then to all “Bother? cousin? father?” Again stillness while they silently answer bringing each of them into the space with us. And then I ask the question again”If it were your son, brother, father would you go and wave goodbye on the steps of your house or would you say your goodbyes in private?”

After this moment had been played out in our story and we were reflecting one woman spoke that this was an ’emotional’ moment for her. She has two sons. It was emotional  she said because it was at that moment that she realised that her sons were old enough now to go to war, that their sons went to war, that her sons would have been going. As she talks she flips in and out of the fictional world, the real world and the historical context we are exploring.  Of course she factually knew that sons went to war, but now she knows what that means. Her sons are now old enough to go to war, to enlist and say goodbye, to walk down the terrace streets and leave in uniform just like those boys did from Chapel Street 100 years ago. Those boys became her boys and because of that we all understood more about war, about the people and about the human cost. Now this could be seen as manipulative. But this isn’t a John Lewis advert. Its not played FOR the emotion but does ask you to be there as you, in that moment reflecting on what your actions might be in those given circumstances.

When we find the humanity in the curriculum that’s when we really ‘learn’. We learnt. we learnt that boys went to war, that mothers said goodbye and that thin walls stifled our joy and allowed us to share in others grief. What humaness means and what it means to be human in this world is what this work is about.


You’re asking the wrong questions!

I was struck by an incident on a train recently which left me thinking about the eduction system (as always) but I suppose there’s also a shift in my thinking as my girl is coming up to school age soon.

I was on a train heading towards Hampton Court and was sat next to a family of four. They were clearly heading there and the dad had a guide book of some sort in his hands. He began asking the eldest girl questions about Henry V111. It began as a gentle chat and turned into a rather amazing game between the two.

“What was the name of Henry’s grandmother?” “what was the sister called?” “Was Lady Jane ever queen?” “Who was the son of…” “What was the name of…” excuse me as I forget the details of this family tree but lets just say the questions became more random. Well I say random but they were focused on one thing and one thing only. The recall of a family tree long long dead and the girl got every single question right! Don’t get me wrong, it was impressive. She was about ten years old and I can’t even remember the questions let alone the answers but so what I wondered? Why did it matter? As the questions progressed and he searched for something she surely wouldn’t know he was bursting with pride at this girls ability to recall. But I had to stop myself saying “You’re asking the wrong questions!!!!”

Take the question “How old was Edward V1 when he was crowned king?”. “9!” she cried! “Yes” he said before moving on. Wait a minute. A king at nine? how old are you? ten? Imagine that. Being crowned king! Is that something you would like? I wonder what it must be like to be so young with so much power? Would you want help to make key decisions? How would you know who to trust? What changes would you like to make if you were king now? Do you think you would make a good king? Do you think children could lead a country as well as an adult? etc etc etc.

The facts are great but surely just something this child was regurgitating in the moment, held momentarily in her head. But there is no connection, no meaning, no relevance. The facts become data. Something to be stored rather than something to be interrogated. Without the human angle, the deep questions that interrogate those facts they are surely pointless. So yes dad, be proud, she was amazing but I think, nope, I know, she is capable of much much more.


On the Shoulders of Giants

Standing on a giants shoulders can be a scary place. After all it is a long way to fall! On the other hand however the view is amazing. And so we find ourselves both scared of the great weight, power and might of those whose shoulders we trust ourselves upon but at the same time hardly notice the foundation we stand upon as our breath is taken away by the beauty of what lies before us.

There is a shift happening in the world of ‘applied drama’, process drama, theatre in education- terms we can debate and wrangle over a coffee. I’ve been to two conferences in the past couple of years that have highlighted this both in different yet concerning ways. The first asked us to ‘re-consider’ Heathcote and came just after her death. I went expecting that it would be focused on the ‘now’ time, how we could take her work, her legacy and what the future held because of this amazing woman’s contribution to our field. What we got instead was an anecdotal sharing that often fell in to a bizarre game of who knew her the best and at one point a very odd moment where people stood gasping asking each other if they had actually touched or seen a missing manuscript that had been located. Of course there was also a heavy sense of mourning and loss which was absolutely right and respectful but at no point were we addressed, indeed challenged with what now, what next, what beyond? Instead of re-considering it created a sense of distance between ourselves as practitioners and those giants whose footprints are mighty.

The second was a wonderful conference called Inspiring Curiosity penned as celebrating 50 years of the Belgrades Theatre in Education work. I sat and listened to the history, felt what a lucky and exciting time these people had worked within and also heavily thankful for the rigour, passion and commitment to this form that is accredited to them. (A form that has sadly been bastardised by many companies claiming they do ‘Theatre in Education’. If it’s three people in a hoody, pretending to be young people, telling them they shouldn’t do ‘drugs’, ‘have sex’ or worse at one I saw recently ‘drink and drive’ -played to a group of 14 year old mainly Muslim heritage young people- then its not TiE.) The conference made clear was was TiE and that this was about humanity, humanness, exposing and interrogating it- not finger wagging at young people. But there was also a real atmosphere of concern. There was genuine worry that TiE was dead, ‘hanging on by a thread’. That the form perhaps wasn’t even relevant in a ‘digital age’ and musings that perhaps it should be renamed what ever this ‘thing’ may be. It was despairing to hear and although truthful- no money, a government who are eradicating the arts as a privilege accessible only to the elite- I felt a great concern and alarm.

So here is the problem. In both conferences there was a sense of the great giants being in the past. That these were the only giants and a group that is becoming extinct in an increasingly ‘digital age’ where the arts is being attacked. I think it is a tone rather than the words. The words seemed to be a focus on the past and the richness of the heritage that both DiE and TiE have, how lucky we are to have this to stand upon and now we are at a time where to do this work will be entirely difficult because of attitudes to the arts and the economy. But I don’t see it as a lost cause. Young people are being told in every sense that they are not valued. Grants have cut, tuition fees have risen, benefits cut, unemployment rife etc etc etc. We have to be careful that our tone is not the same. Instead I challenge us as a community to consider what an exciting time this is to be in, what a difficult, challenging yet thrilling opportunity this current situation this is. It forces us to make our work relevant, purposeful, effective and risky. Yes, there is no money really to fund it, schools want to squash the whole year group into the space so what are we going to do about it? Yes, arts has been cut from education which has become about testing and result driven so what are we going to do about it? I spoke to an amazing woman who was working on her own unique form of DiE and she said that the method she was working on “was wrong according to everything she read”. Yet in her classrooms, in those moments deeply held alongside her children she could feel the worth, the value and indeed the importance of what they were creating together. And I felt her value, worth and indeed excitement that what she was doing was new, fresh built securely on a foundation drawn from those giants but emerging into something new. Another key concern I had was a fear of the form and its relevance in a ‘digital age’. If we go back to the heart of our work- humanness- then it is entirely relevant. Young people use social media to connect to others, to explore their own humanity and to find their communities. Drama and theatre also does this. It always has. There is no need to panic and throw out the forms to adopt new technologies or bring in forms because they are deemed ‘cool’. Of course they are useful and can be exciting if used correctly – if they serve to enrich the experience, exploration etc. But we don’t have to throw a load of ‘stuff’ at a project just because it might ‘engage young people’. Its crass and kids can smell when you are trying to be ‘cool’. We shouldn’t be involved in selling an idea of what is ‘cool’ and what is not. Of course use these forms if they help tell the story, raise the issue, debate the nodal points but they should be conventions or support the artistry rather than a panicked attempt to ‘engage’. Surely we should be looking to connect instead of widening devisions by constantly saying we are digital ‘immigrants’ and you are digital ‘natives’. Surely these terms are not only offensive but also introduce a sense of separation, a sense of ‘othering’?

So I ask us as a community to look at the amazing students we have before us. They are excited about their futures despite the world telling them that there is no future (and the often confused faces of their friends and family saying “you’re studying applied what????”) We need to change our tone, challenge them to be excited about what will be a hard and difficult slog with our art. That when the path in front is so difficult that surely this reflects why there is such a need for it. No money, no arts, a digital age, a time where we are watching as hundreds of thousands of people attempt to make a better life for themselves and dying in the process, a time where boarders are being put up, where fascism is rising, where othering and blaming others for our misfortune, the economy etc etc is heard in very news report telling us of the latest cuts to public services? What a time to be starting out! You are desperately needed! We need you, your youth, your energy, your passion, your commitment. So instead of telling them that all hope is lost, that is too hard lets ask them what are they going to do about it and how can we help. Let’s make new giants. I think the time is ‘now’.

To My Daughter…

It’s begun already at your nursery and as we start the process of choosing a school for you we enter a process that challenges my practice, my pedagogy and my values in a way that is, to be honest, complicated! You see, it’s easy to have a set of guiding principals and views on education when they are not your kids. Don’t get me wrong, these have been researched, wrangled with, debated and reflected upon but I find myself in a new world of difficulty as a mum and, as I’ve said, it’s started already.

You see I hate the constant testing of children, the value and praise given as an object or the idea that achievement is proven only through the gaining of a certificate. I’ve spent my time with family members who claim they are ‘stupid’ or ‘uneducated’ because they didn’t get an O Level or left school at 15. This deeply held belief is simply not true. You know this as you watch them figure out a new piece of technology or play the most beautiful acoustic guitar but they have bought in to the ‘common sense’ idea of what is is to achieve. I spend my time teaching people who just cannot resist focusing on grades rather than learning within a subject area where it really won’t matter. They discard their natural ability to make connections, ignite a room, bring passion and energy because they didn’t get the highest grade even if they have gained so many skills. I watch and listen as I move through classrooms working with teachers who want to know if what we are doing will ultimatley raise scores on a test. I despair as I watch some Year Six children sat at desks spend a whole year practicing tests. Testing, levels and the reward for prescribed idea of achievement is bleeding the life out of education but there are many fighting for you.

I went to collect you the other day from your nursery. You’re 2. There was a file with your name on it so I opened it to be met by pages and pages of level descriptors and written statements from staff proving that you had achieved set markers that someone, somewhere had decided makes you normal or worse average! On one page was a handwritten statement about your progress. Your key worker raced up to me panicking saying and apologising profusely that it wasn’t typed up and promising me that she would soon and did she mention that she she was sorry? As I sat there I felt a mix of emotions between pride and annoyance. One part of me wants you to play. To be free. You’re 2 for goodness sake. Go get muddy, fall over, make a mess and laugh. I want your key worker to enjoy your company. I trust her to note that you are making progress, to care that you are but I want her to get to know you more than I want a ream of paper. Yet another part of me sits there, pouring over the pages to check if you can play with block independently, show a range of vocabulary etc. And it’s this tension that’s the problem. It’s this tension that I know I’m going to find difficult so we may have to muddle and work through it together.

I’m going to work hard but I may get it wrong at times. You see I don’t want you to measure your worth with a sticker or think that good behaviour is the be all and end all. When you’re on the cloud and others are in the swamp (or whatever public behaviour management ‘strategy’ is used) I want you to be able to recognise and empathise with how others may feel. I’ve seen those on the ‘top’ gain a great sense of self worth from being so high on a ladder pitched against their classmates but your self worth mustn’t come at anyone else’s expense. When you come out of school with a sticker for ‘being good’ I will be struggling hard no to discredit what you may have done so thats it’s detrimental you but this type of reward system is horribly flawed. It’s meaningless, empty, commercial, consumerist. I’ve just come from having a moment with your granny who wanted to buy you some stuff from a shop despite having given you presents the day before. We live miles away and it’s a habit she is falling in. I don’t want you associating her with ‘stuff’ because ‘stuff’ is meaningless, valueless. I want you to learn the value of things. No, in fact I want you to decide, make a choice what you think the value of things are and this is the most difficult aspect of all. I don’t want you indoctrinated into the system’s idea of achievement or my own. Blimey, this is complicated!

I want you to embrace learning, relish in the challenge, push yourself and be ok with failure. If you are in the swamp or haven’t been publicly awarded credits on some whiteboard avatar version of you for all to see then I don’t want you to worry. For your worth, knowledge is not that. It cannot be defined in the amount of stickers you’re given, the amount of points you get, data, numbers, certificates, money, objects, stuff, house, car, bank balance, looks or clothes size…oops there I go!

Every time you do well in one of the hundreds of tests I will be challenged. You see I trust that the teachers know what they are doing but whatever level, score, rate, number, piece of data your learning is distilled into is not the value of you. I will attempt to resist showing off that you are this level of reader, writer or whatever on Facebook because to do that supports what this Government want. It helps support them bringing in more and more testing. Makes it normal, Accepted. Parents complain on one hand but on the other sit looking at the scores with pride or despair.

It will be hard as in the centre of this is you. So all I can do is help you to question it all. To ask questions, to seek, be curious, explore and to then ask more questions. For you will need to decide what is or isn’t important. How I will encourage you to ‘do your best’ and ‘just be happy’ will be tested in itself and who knows if I will pass!

Your mum x

A Response to the continuing attack on Drama in schools

I was going to write a new post on my response to the recent, continuing and sustained attack on Drama and arts within schools. Then it occured to me to actually ask some ex students of mine. People I had met as young people about to embark on adulthood. I asked them one simple question “What has drama done for you?” and this is their reponse.


To find out that drama is to be cut from the curriculum and to be considered a soft option is quite frankly upsetting. School is really important for providing an education to young people, enabling them to access all parts of the curriculum from sciences, math, English, the humanities and the arts. For me it’s also about creating good, wholesome, well-balanced individuals who have the right mind set and skills to go out into the world and make a positive difference.
To a certain degree we can do this through other subjects, some more than others, however for me drama is a place where students are free to explore, imagine, express and question in a safe environment looking at various topics and situations.

I was a painfully shy student at primary school and don’t remember having much access to drama here but we did have the yearly nativity. I do remember I had a few lines as an angel and my parents being so proud after practicing it with me each night so as not to stumble over them. Without knowing it, in this tiny sometimes overlooked production I was learning vital skills for my adult life. Confidence of speaking in front of others, speech and language development i.e. projection and diction and working with my other classmates taking visual and auditory cues.

Drama gave me the chance to express and find a voice within myself. It gave me the confidence to stand it front of people and portray a character I had taken time to understand. Drama I think is typically learning about life, giving students the opportunity to explore a topic or situation and looking at the characters in it. Other subjects to me just didn’t make sense. For example I wasn’t engaged in math’s as you either understood the formula or you didn’t. There was no real exploration there and I felt the lessons weren’t tailored to get me interested!

In Drama I had space to breathe and think and it excited me performing in front of others. My other lessons didn’t give me that freedom as drama did. They felt regimented and rigid; they didn’t interest me unless it was a practical session, which for the majority they were not. I felt supported in drama by my teachers and parents with positive reinforcement. Something I maybe wasn’t getting from other subjects I didn’t feel as much connection to.

Also watching as opposed to ‘doing’ drama is a great way to understand the world around us. When education is taught through something engaging, real and raw (as theatre can sometimes be) then it makes more of an impact and promotes motivation.

Drama helped me learn about the world around me, it helped me with my confidence in speaking with others socially and in professional situations. It helped me when presenting myself to others to convey a certain attitude or manner and helped me communicate more effectively. I think it has made me a more creative thinker, which helps me problem, solve in all aspects of my life. I am now committed to inspire my community through theatre for positive changes.

Drama completely changed my life. I was relatively quiet in school and bullied almost every day for being a “boffin”, or not fitting in with everyone else.
Drama lessons in school were the one place where I would never get bullied; the few hours a week where I was safe and could “be someone else”, and because of this, it was the one (non-traditionally academic) subject in school that I wanted to continue further.
In my teenage years, studying drama, working in groups and being encouraged to perform did wonders for my confidence. It enabled me to communicate and relate to people in a way that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise, and my drama teachers in particular, were some of the most creative, engaging and supportive role models I’ve ever been lucky enough to have in my life.
I went on to study Media and Performance at degree level, which has only help to further bolster my confidence and develop transferable social and communication skills that have helped me in job interviews and in the workplace; I work face to face with members of the public for Museums Sheffield, where the ability to effectively interact with people from all backgrounds is essential.

As opposed to the once quiet, shy little girl I once was, I am now well known for being quiet outgoing, friendly, approachable and talkative in the workplace.
I really wouldn’t be the person I am today if I’d never been given the chance to study drama and the performing arts and I firmly believe drama lessons are a necessary positive factor in the education and personal development of children and young people.

At GCSE level I chose to do Drama as it was a subject that I was naturally good at and really enjoyed. Truthfully, I saw it as an ‘easy’ option to ease the pressure from the rest of my STEM subjects I had also chosen; of which I found I possessed a lesser natural ability to excel in these.

As I progressed to A levels, again, I chose Performing Arts along with Math’s, Physics and Geography with the same view to keep a subject that I actually enjoyed – for what is life if you do not enjoy it? The reason for my other choices was that my chosen career path, at the time, was directed to the armed forces. Unfortunately, I started to fall behind in Math’s and Physics as the teachers failed to capture my imagination and maintain an interest in the subjects. The support to maintain the effort I needed to put into these subjects was either nonexistent or too old fashioned to help me. I dropped both subjects and picked up English Literature in which I excelled. I ended up leaving college with brilliant results in all the subjects that I completed. Not only this, but the teachers from Geography, English Literature and most of all Performing Arts, inspired me well and truly to become the successful person I am today. I would like to add that I am still in touch, on a regular basis, with both my Performing Arts and Geography tutors.

I can wholeheartedly say that, the only reason i embarked on my adventure to University was because of my Performing Arts tutor. No one in my family had ever been to university and it was an unknown and daunting notion. Those three years of my life studying Contemporary Theatre and Performance shaped my future. The degree enabled me to build upon my confidence, taught me organising skills at an international level, negotiation skills, how to actively think outside the box and the ability to push myself in many aspects. Without this degree I would 100% not be in the job I am today. I am a 24 year old woman who earns 28k inclusive of company car; soon to rise with my recent promotion. I am doing a job where the average age is around 35 and I owe it all to drama. I know many people my age who did mathematical, engineering and scientific degrees that cannot even get a job! Not surprisingly when they have the personality of a pea. I feel i am at an age now where i can reflect on my past choices, this said, i know that i would not have been well suited for a career in the armed forces and would hate to think that is where my path had been manipulated towards because girls should be ‘pushed into science and math’s courses’

It cannot be underestimated how a young mind can be inspired by the subject of drama and how it can influence many lives. I know that I was on a dangerous path at school after getting in with the wrong crowd and the extracurricular I attended with Drama kept me away from that trouble and gave me an outlet for my creative mind. Had i been channeled into the STEM subjects and forced to maintain them at A-level and further them at university I would not be in the position i am now as i would not have been able to achieve the levels required.

I cannot fathom why anyone would consider campaigning to remove the subject and describing it as ‘soft’. The world’s history is saturated with art, drama, music. It is what makes us human, the very notion that separates us from machines. It is understandable that companies require engineering candidates or that there is a demand for more science teachers. But using Drama as a scapegoat is unacceptable and wrong. The risk of our children losing the ability to communicate on a personal and face to face level is high as it is with the rate that technology is developing; can we really afford to take away the one thing that gives our children the platform for expression?

Throughout my time in education I have always had a passion for creative subjects. In 1996 my primary school organised a school trip to see ‘Oliver!’ in Manchester. It was my first theatre trip and still remains one of my most vivid childhood memories. I was captivated by theatre then and have been ever since; which is surprising, considering I was an extremely ‘shy little boy’.

Where PE enabled peers to excel and find their release, drama offered me a three-hour window each week to learn how to express myself, without judgment. Drama could essentially be likened to the study of human psychology: learning about yourself and others – vital things to do, particularly whilst in a safe environment like school. It also gave me a whole array of skills that I now use daily such as research and presentation skills. The most vital being good communication skills. Rehearsing for school productions taught me the importance of time management, teamwork and opened up my creative mind, helping me across all number of other subjects.

As an actor the notion that drama is considered to be a soft option leaves me frustrated. A-Level I studied Biology, Chemistry, Drama and Physics. I obtained four A grades. It is worthy to note that both at GCSE and A-Level, I always found Drama by far the most challenging. Learning about all the different practitioners, genres and techniques of acting was, for me, very testing and required lots of revision.

So often my peers science peers would have no knowledge of current affairs and the current global issues that can be covered through theatre. Productions require masses of research into the subject matter of the play. Whilst at school no other subject ever required me to go off and research how our Government is run, how cancer can place strain on a family or how to organise an event.

One might argue that drama can be studied outside of school. I agree, it can. I attended many drama clubs. However it was only because of studying it at school that I felt obliged to travel and pay the expensive membership fees for out of curricular drama clubs, which I might add, are few and far between. Studying it at school also allowed me to learn the theories behind drama and take part in theatre trips which just aren’t possible at most drama clubs.

I have no shadow of a doubt, that had I not studied drama, I would not be the well-rounded, informed individual I am today. No surprise then that, that ‘shy little boy’ is now a confident working actor.

Keeping the art in schools and education is important, as every child has different personalities, different abilities and interests. What performing arts did for me; Throughout my life I’ve found reading and writing hard with dyslexia. As a low self-esteem teen I believed I could do nothing and be not be good at anything, either have close friends, until arts became alight! Drama wasn’t in the school I was in so that option wasn’t there, but if it had of been I probably would of found school easier. I turned to arts of drama, I absolutely loved every single day! To start with I have a good understanding of the history that I think we all should be aware of anyway, so interesting stages of history. I learnt a lot about myself. Yes I’m not in the theatrical job line now, but because of drama, it made me who I am today, the confidence in me to believe and try whatever it is I wanted to do. I would have never of tried to do the courses that I’ve done and have the courage to put myself forward for any challenges. I try my best and achieve. I would never have done this if arts wasn’t a part of my past! I love and respect all types of arts, theatre will always be in me! I’ve visited different places and experience things within my interests that I would have shied away and never seen. I thank everyone I ever met and had involvement in the course. Been able to act and shout out expressions on the stage, perform out in the open and entertain was an amazing development step of life. I now have two beautiful children that I adore and still believe that my confidence change was a part of this. My education, my job, my courage, my belief in myself and how I stand up tall with my head up high and happy.

There’s no denying that creative activities are loads of fun. They can be colourful, loud and sometimes brilliantly glittery, but they can also be challenging, focused and bloody hard work.

As someone who works in the arts sector, both with an organisation and on a freelance basis, it’s really tough to find the words to answer questions like ‘why are subjects like drama and art important at school?’ They’re not important: They’re essential. Here are some of the reasons that came to mind.

1. Confidence
This must be the most common answer. Spitting out that first line in front of the whole group/class/school just gets that tiny bit easier each time. Your voice becomes louder, clearer and that bit more self-assured, which very quickly becomes the case in other classes and on other platforms as a result. In my case, it was a confidence I wanted to support others to find.

2. A Better Understanding of the World
What informs scripts, performances and artworks? The world: As it is and as it has been. People: The things they say, do, feel, think about, argue about, care about and fight for. The English language: its complexities, oddities, beauty and faults. The best literature, the most interesting theories, the most frustrating politics. Don’t tell me the arts are ‘soft’. That’s some serious hard thinking.

3. Empathy
What goes hand in hand with a better understanding of the world? A better understanding of the person next to you, the person living next door and the person being shown on the news. If a better understanding makes for more understanding people, that’s fantastic. If a handful of those people turn their empathy into actions that make their school, town or world a better place, even better.

4. Imagining other possibilities
The place that you live in can become overly familiar, predictable and, as a result, dull. You can come to expect and accept the way things are; even the things you would rather have another way. The arts provide freedom to pick apart, question and play. They give time and space to imagine and explore all there is and all there could be; however achievable or bonkers. Whether the little boy gets to find out what it might be to fly to the moon or the teenage girl has opportunity to explore a character who’s having a really hard time too, surely both experiences are equally valuable?

I was someone who worked very hard at achieve A’s and A*s in all subjects at GCSE level. I was strongly encouraged by my college to pursue academic subjects and chase the possibility of Oxford or Cambridge. Instead I chose fine art, performing arts, music technology and philosophy. I now work as a project coordinator for an arts organisation that work with and support artists internationally. As a freelance artist, I work with communities to explore the things that matter to them and find ways to initiate change where they can see something being better or different. Would I have the confidence, empathy, understanding or imagination to do any of that without studying drama? No.

Another Brick in the Wall

A copy of a post I wrote for the Save the arts Campaign.

When considering how to formulate my response to this it occurs to me that both of the subjects do not require (for the most part) children sitting behind desks. Of course the best classrooms will encourage kinesthetic, active participation however in a basic and practical sense the sports hall/field and drama room are often the only spaces where children’s learning is directly related to the physical. Here children interact physically, move around spaces, develop spacial awareness, explore their own bodies as well as, (shock, horror!), explore theoretical models in practice. To be contained each day, every day with only breaks or lunch times to be physical in a space isn’t good, isn’t ‘human’. We are, after all, physical beings so why create a curriculum where there is no opportunity for our brains to be directly engaged with our bodies? As I watch my 14 month old daughter play I watch her explore her body, test it, see what it does, see how it feels to jump, spin or even simply be still and feel the wind on her face. She is clearly learning about her environment and her self within it. Does this stop when you become a teenager? Isn’t that a time when there are huge changes happening in the body and to the body? The physical nature of both subjects is vital at this age because it helps children connect with their body which is theirs, for the rest of their life. To remove the two subjects where they are not linked to a desk stinks of control, stinks of passive receivership of a dictated curriculum, ideology, stinks of “sit there and shut up”!
As a drama expert and someone who works in schools supporting teachers to develop drama in their classrooms I know the power of it and have a deeply held set of beliefs and values as to its use and purpose. That’s right Mr Gove people actually pay me to help them do MORE drama in schools, MORE exploration of the curriculum through drama, MORE DRAMA! Not less! Why? Because it makes every single aspect of the curriculum accessible, relevant and purposeful. Because it allows learning to be hung off a story. A narrative. Stories are what we are made from, stories are how we define ourselves, bond and share. Stories and narratives unite us and go back to our deepest roots. Stories are part of our humanness and as Edward Bond says drama is about exploring our humanness, our humanity and what it means to be ‘human’. Drama offers a chance to explore this through story, through character and by doing so we understand ourselves, others and our world better. It allows us to explore our own ethics, values, why people do the things they do, what motivates, drives and informs people’s actions and decision making. Drama is a space where through exploring others stories or creating their own children come to understand more about themselves, this world. To deprive children of this opportunity is dangerous. Don’t we need more empathy? More understanding in a world that is full of differences, challenges and changes? Don’t we need more humanity? Active participation? Considered decision making? Drama gives children the chance to voice ideas, try on values and challenge preconceptions. Many children site that their drama teacher ‘wasn’t like other teachers”. I would argue that they are but its the space that is created, the freedom of conversation, the co construction of the lesson and the focus on self and others that drama allows that is special. PSHE, Citizenship, History, Literacy, public speaking, group work, negotiation, team work skills, independent thinking, self management, logical thinking, problem solving are all intrinsic within a drama classroom. But then perhaps thats the problem. Who wants a generation of opinionated, passionate, outspoken, active, eloquent and confident young people? Sit down. Shut up. Listen. All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.

D Day Memoirs

I am very lucky that my grandad had begun to write his memoirs before he died. Whilst he didn’t complete them, his time serving as part of World War Two was captured.

Here is his extract that tells of his experience of D Day. ( It also captures his wicked sense of humour and wonderful disregard of authority!)

“After a few weeks the whole unit was moved to London and we were housed and worked in blocks of requisitioned flats in Westminster known as Ashley Gardens. Our work was of course “Top Secret” as we were planning the order of battle and (vitally important) the allocation of landing craft to the numerous assault and follow up units. I should explain that at this stage of the planning (early Spring 1944)

it was by no means certain that sufficient craft would be available for the troops. The Navy was desperately short and it is now generally known that without Churchill’s personal appeal to Roosevelt the whole operation would have been jeopardised. The American difficulty was that Admiral King, the American Naval C-in-C in the Pacific reckoned that he was very short of the craft necessary for their island hopping campaign against the Japanese and therefore he refused to cooperate with the loan of any craft whatever for the D-Day operation. Churchill recognised the danger, flew to Washington, and persuaded Roosevelt to get King to hand over the necessary landing craft.

On the subject of security, it always seemed rather strange to some of us that , although we naturally worked in uniform, we also always wore our regimental badges and of course badges of rank. We used to troop out of our block of flats twice a day for lunch and supper in a requisitioned ABC Cafe hard by Victoria Station. Any intelligent ‘enemy 5th columnist’ could have stood at the cafe entrance, made sense of the military insignia and obtained a fair idea of the order of battle!

Again, some of our offices including my own were on the fifth floor of the block of flats and were directly opposite the long side of Westminster Cathedral. Naturally, members of the public were freely admitted to the Cathedral and , on payment of a small fee were able to take a passenger lift up to the roof of the clerestory where they could perambulate at will with excellent views of the whole district.

Our office windows were immediately opposite this public perambulation and it was time before one of us realised that the large scale map of the whole landing area , bearing clearly marked details of the troops to be involved, could be studied in detail by any ill-disposed person standing on the Cathedral roof and armed with a pair of binnoculas. The map was moved and blinds were drawn!!

As the planned assault date approached we were all dispersed and moved to secret “concentration areas” to wait for the signal to wait for the ˜landing craft.

I was in camp just outside Felixstowe Harbour and our group of ships were to move down the East coast and run through the “Pas de Calais” before concentrating with the rest of the shipping just south of the Isle of Wight. This manoeuvre was designed to add weight to the powerful radio deception plan that in fact did much to persuade elements of the German High Command and in particular Hitler, that the main assault would be coming in the Straits of Dover.

So there we were all ready to sail in a Landing Ship Tank and only waiting for favourable weather before we could move over the “Start” line. My own task was slightly complicated in that although a Staff Officer on 1st Corps Headquarters I was ordered to land with 30 Corps Headquarters so that I could be what was described as a “Live” link between the two in the event of breakdown or enemy jamming of communication. In other words I was to be used as a messenger boy between the two generals in the event of total radio disaster. For this purpose I was to land with a jeep and driver and report to the forward HQ of 30 Corps as soon as possible. The officer I was responsible to was the “G2” Major John Lewes, now the Marquis of Abergavenny. When I eventually achieved contact he turned out to be totally charming and most helpful in every way.

As to the actual landing, that was very nearly disastrous. Not because of the enemy but due to the absurd craft on which I was supposed to reach the shore. I should explain that the LAST being fairly deep draught vessels were only able to go inshore a certain distance in the comparatively narrow waters. The bows were designed to open up not unlike a modern channel ferry and then the troops had to disembark into smaller crafts of all sorts. In my case I had to take my jeep onto a steel raft called a “rhino-ferry”.

All went well and I manoeuvred the jeep safely onto the ferry at same time as fellow officer Charles Ferrel with his jeep. (Charles also had a liaison task, in his case with the advance headquarters of the 6th Guards Tank Brigade). We looked around and noticed all sorts of heavy vehicles were being coaxed onto this ferry most of them being graders and bulldozers, required to be some of the first elements to land because their job was to create advance air landing fields for the RAF.

After we were all aboard the ferry Charles and I noticed that the sole operator of this unwieldy craft was a very worried looking Lance Corporal from the Royal Engineers. Loaded with our two small jeeps and about fifteen huge bulldozers this extraordinary craft was merely powered by two small outboard motors. I later discovered that the only trials that these ferries had had were in calm Scottish lochs – quite another thing from the stormy waters off the coast of France on D-Day. However, the Lance Corporal did sterling work and very very slowly he managed to get our bucking and bouncing craft closer and closer to the shore. At this moment I suddenly realised that the gale was steadily blowing us further and further up channel and away form our proper landing place. Naturally the latter was in the cleared beach area – beyond this there were continuous stretches of heavily mined shoreline and it was obvious that unless we could reach the cleared area we should all be blown sky high as we touched the coast.

What saved us can only be described as “the hand of God” in the shape of a powerful naval cutter which had been blown of course by a particularly large wave and its bows had crashed into our remarkably solid iron flanks . The cutter’s bows were stove in and , much to the dismay of the crew they had to lash up to our hideous craft.

With the added power from the cutter we just managed to counteract the drift up channel and achieved a landing on the cleared area of beach with about ten yards to spare before the mines began.

The enemy was still around in the air to a minor degree and one or two scattered planes dropped the occasional stick of bombs but these were not nearly so worrying as the sea had been.

The next chapter in my D-Day saga prompts me to remark that many observers in the past have noticed that the English, when they go to war, sometimes seem to get their priorities strangely confused. This thought has occurred to me as I place on record the hilarious confrontation that took place very soon after we had beached our hideous ‘rhino-ferry’ and were confronted with the difficult problem of how to get the huge bulldozers and graders off the craft and safely onto the shore.

The unloading ramp was at one end of the rectangular ferry platform and on a normal beaching programme all that had to done was to lower the ramp to the ground and the vehicles could just move off. In our case, however, we had been quite unable to beach our “bucking bronco” normally and the only way we would get her ashore was sideways and slightly tipped up at an awkward angle . The result was that it was only possible to get the vehicles off by building up a ramp of some sort on the long side of the ferry and by judicious reversing and manoeuvring we hoped to be able to squeeze them off one by one.

Charles and I explored the beach for a little way on either side of our landing point and – hey presto! what did we find but a large pile of long roles of Sommerfeld Tracking. (this was the steel perforated ‘carpet’ material used by the RAF when contriving emergency landing strips on soft ground).

We got the men together and then with great enthusiasm, we began building up a suitable ramp with the roles of tracking. We were doing fine and were just beginning to ease off the first bulldozer when I glanced along the beach and saw advancing upon us a tall and immaculate officer in beautifully creased battle dress wearing a regulation service cap graced with an impressive red band and carrying a smart little swagger cane under his arm. He wore the badges of rank of a brigadier.

He advanced upon me “who’s in charge here” he demanded.

“I am”, said I, deliberately omitting the “Sir” on the basis that it is no use meeting trouble half-way and this was undoubtedly trouble!

“What on earth do you think you are doing?”

“Getting these vehicles off the ferry so that they can get on with their job as soon as possible”

“But”, said he with great finality “ do you realise that you are using Royal Engineer stores?”

“Yes” I said “and we are absolutely delighted to have found them”

“In that case I must have your Army rank and number” and he pulled a little book out of his pocket and inscribed my particulars. Not to be outdone I asked for his name but he only deigned to declare that he was the beach commander!

Some people may wonder how we did win the War!”