National Drama: The Primary Initiative

This course gave me lots of useful ways in which drama can enhance my English teaching;

The strategies will enable me to explore the curriculum in more creative ways and make my lessons more accessible for all the children in my class;

We need whole staff CPD in Drama, with drama specialists leading workshops in year groups;

These are just three of the numerous comments that have been expressed by primary teachers after attending ND’s courses. These courses have taken place in Nottinghamshire, Leeds and Birmingham and represent the first phase of National Drama’s ‘Primary Initiative’.

The premise

The whole premise of this project is to provide teachers with the opportunity to explore how drama provides children with opportunities to explore, engage, perform and reflect within a process that is characterised by collaboration. It is a project that explicitly focuses on teaching drama in the primary classroom. At this stage, the project does not directly address mandatory requirements or assessment targets.

ND’s support for this major project is in recognition that, with one or two exceptions, there has been an absence of drama CPD opportunities for primary teachers in recent years. ND’s aspiration is that this investment in both time and resources will support and inspire teachers to develop their skills in drama teaching and stimulate a greater awareness of drama’s learning potential.

Project design

The project design resulted from discussion within the ND Executive. The design attempts to support schools by addressing three of the constraints that they are currently facing, in respect of drama CPD:

  1. Finding finances for supply cover and fees;
  2. Addressing the difficulties of teachers being away from their classroom and children;
  3. Needing to develop knowledge and skills in teaching drama.

Thus, the design is based upon a half-day event with a minimal fee of £30.00 per attendee. ND provides two nationally recognised primary practitioners to enable teachers to opt for either a KS1 or KS2 workshop.

We approached schools who we thought might be willing to host the course free of charge and, in return, we offered them the opportunity to register their own teachers free of charge. However, recruitment has not been easy due to difficulties in accessing contact lists. We also discovered that some academy chains would not support CPD that had providers who were outside their chain.

Specific aims

The aims of the half day are:

  • To introduce drama strategies to teachers who may be new to drama;
  • To create opportunities for teachers to experience drama as a pedagogy;
  • To highlight the learning potential of teacher and pupils working in role to explore a negotiated context;
  • To engage teachers in a drama experience that deepens their knowledge of drama skills, conventions and form.

The teachers have, without exception, responded positively to the workshops. They have relished the opportunity to participate without the constraint of an assessment framework. They have enjoyed the freedom to be creative and imaginative in their responses. The plenary did ask them to reflect on how the drama experience might benefit their teaching and, again, teachers were determined to try-out the newly discovered strategies with their children. We did ensure that each course participant left the workshops with resources that would enable them to introduce and develop drama in their own classrooms and schools.

The structure of the afternoon begins with all of the participating teachers introducing themselves and identifying the one question that they want to know more about during the afternoon. These questions have varied from ‘How do I start?’ to ‘How do we assess drama?’ The questions are recorded and re-visited in the final plenary. Then the whole course, tutors included, engage in a workshop that explores the theme of ‘Friendship’, using strategies and conventions that are possible in the classroom. This practical and economic exploration establishes the nature of the theory and practice that informs the whole CPD.

Following this short introduction, teachers select a more extended and in-depth 2 hour workshop, designed for either KS1 or KS2 children. Content for these workshops has included published stories such as Hansel and Gretel, Where the Wild Things Are and The Wreck of the Zanzibar. One tutor chose to illustrate how a curriculum theme, the Great Fire of London, can be taught through drama and one selected an environmental topic based upon The Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay, a true story about children who made instruments from their rubbish dump. The tutors provide teachers with lesson notes, stimulus material and a compendium of drama conventions that can be used in their schools.

An additional aim

The ND Executive also identified the need to ‘sow the seeds’ for the growth of a new community of primary practitioners with the capacity to facilitate CPD experiences nationally. This was identified as a current need that is resulting from the consequences of recent education reform, which is failing to acknowledge 60 years of developing knowledge, expertise and legacy. Drama education is currently in danger of being denied to future generations of children.

Thus, the project is endeavouring to include and offer mentorship to practitioners who are keen to extend their experience and develop their drama specialist skills. In addition, curriculum drama will be ‘better informed’ by regular dialogue in which theory and practice is shared amongst primary drama practitioner-specialists.

How is the timing of the project being viewed?

The timing and context of the project may well prove to be both appropriate and opportune. As one Executive Head teacher commented:

This opportunity is timely, with a change in rhetoric from Ofsted and the  government … more schools understand that they have greater flexibility around their curriculum choices… we have an opportunity to grasp, to get the arts back into primary schools.

Ian Robinson Executive Officer The Oak Partnership Trust

The tutor team

The tutors have also had cause to reflect upon the impact of their work during the three days. Their comments are revealing. For one the workshops have caused her to reflect upon the way she approaches teacher professional development;

It’s really provoked me to think deeply about the drama work I do with schools and to question elements of it, especially how you introduce drama to those with little experience/understanding, without reducing it to an interactive learning strategy or a tool to help them to write a good report/instructions/formal letter!

For another, the benefits of the teacher-in-role strategy were reinforced by a participating KS1 teacher who made the following statement, in his workshop;

It felt like a big step in terms of going out of your comfort zone but the benefits of children’s increased attention and an ability to control the class from within the role far outstripped the embarrassment factor.

A third tutor commented on how valuable teachers’ find drama when working with children whose English is their second language;

Drama enables children with little or no English, as well as those who need different learning styles, with an accessible route to learning

The seven tutors who make up the project team are as follows:

Patrice Baldwin: National curriculum consultant, educational author, and the Drama Editorial Expert for Sir Jim Rose’s proposed primary national curriculum.

Pavla Beier: Independent Drama Specialist, based in Leeds.

Juliet Fry: Artistic Director at The Play House Theatre in Education Charity, in Birmingham.

Rachel Gartside:  Education Associate Practitioner at RSC.

Anthony Haddon: Artist practitioner for theatre and drama projects for children, young people and community audiences.

Bhavik Parmar: Senior Education Officer at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre.

Deborah Pakkar-Hull: Artistic Director of Theatre Company Blah Blah Blah, Leeds.

An invitation

This project will run until July 2020. There are future workshops planned for Bury Portsmouth and London. However, if you are interested in hosting a workshop in your school, or in brokering one within your geographical area, then please contact me at the Email address below, or through the ND Magazine.

The final word comes from a tweet from Carr Manor School in Leeds, following the CPD:

All the children in Year 6 have been using drama to explore the feelings and relationships of the characters and creatures in their Class Reading Book.

Dr Geoff Readman Project Director Cert. Ed., Advanced Diploma in Drama, MA, PhD Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.


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