Ex­pres­sive arts key to con­fi­dence and more

A suc­cess­ful play or con­cert, like a good sports side, re­lies on tim­ing, sup­port and delivery, and that’s why ex­pres­sive arts pro­vi­sion should be the best it can be, says Elaine Lo­gan

The Scotsman - - The Scotman 200 -

As the head of a vi­brant sec­ondary school and an English and drama teacher, I wit­ness ev­ery day the full range of learn­ing styles and abil­i­ties.

I started teach­ing in Fife Re­gion in the eight­ies and at that time the council was a pi­o­neer in Ex­pres­sive Arts Ed­u­ca­tion. Drama teach­ers were per­ma­nently em­ployed and there was, rightly, a be­lief that the skills learnt on and around the stage were in­trin­sic to child­hood devel­op­ment.

It is with a heavy heart that I now watch the di­min­ish­ing re­sources in Ex­pres­sive Arts ed­u­ca­tion. Hav­ing per­formed on stage since I was five years old I ap­pre­ci­ate the unique feel­ing of enor­mous emo­tional re­lease this en­gen­ders. Drama is all about build­ing re­silience and con­fi­dence. It is one of the few classes where pupils are not trapped be­hind desks, able to freely ex­press them­selves. Stu­dents tell me that they are ex­hausted af­ter a drama class and are, for that mo­ment, purely de­pen­dent on their think­ing skills.

For­mer pupils read­ily dis­close their mem­o­ries of school pro­duc­tions. Like­wise, for me, the most mem­o­rable mo­ments at school were the mu­si­cal theatre per­for­mances.

Best-sell­ing nov­el­ist and director, Stephen King, com­mented that: “Di­rect­ing teenage ac­tors is like jug­gling jars of ni­tro-glyc­er­ine: ex­hil­a­rat­ing and dan­ger­ous.” What a won­der­ful anal­ogy and one with which I whole­heart­edly agree.

What is so vi­tal is what pupils ex­tract from the pro­duc­tion ex­pe­ri­ence. Hav­ing pro­duced nu­mer­ous plays and mu­si­cals, for me, the most re­ward­ing out­come is watch­ing the pupils’ imag­i­na­tion and con­fi­dence grow.

Our re­cent school pro­duc­tion of Ever­est at the Ed­in­burgh Fringe achieved this. Tech­ni­cal abil­i­ties were high­lighted; car­pen­try skills demon­strated; artis­tic tal­ent shown; cos­tume de­sign and cre­ation shone; re­hearsal timetabling; prompters and sound engi­neer­ing proven.

Work­ing on a pro­duc­tion is the ul­ti­mate team chal­lenge. When peo­ple talk about teams in schools they tend to men­tion sport. A suc­cess­ful play or con­cert, just like a good rugby or hockey side, re­lies on ex­cel­lent tim­ing, out­stand­ing sup­port and very sharp delivery.

Any space can be utilised for art, music or drama and, through im­pro­vi­sa­tion and role-play, chil­dren ex­plore many so­cial is­sues.

Sadly gov­ern­ment in­vest­ment does not re­flect this en­thu­si­asm.

The cre­ative and cul­tural in­dus­tries is the fastest-grow­ing sec­tor of the econ­omy – in­ject­ing an eye­wa­ter­ing £77 bil­lion into the na­tion’s purse – while teenagers turn out in their thou­sands to music fes­ti­vals.

Surely a wa­ter­tight ar­gu­ment for in­vest­ing in, and con­tin­u­ally en­cour­ag­ing, the Ex­pres­sive Arts in ed­u­ca­tion? The chief music critic of the Times, Richard Mor­ri­son be­moaned that: “I wish gov­ern­ment min­is­ters would have the grace and hon­esty to stop blath­er­ing on about the ‘suc­cess story’ that is Bri­tain’s cre­ative and cul­tural in­dus­tries. It’s like King Herod re­joic­ing about im­proved crèche fa­cil­i­ties in first­cen­tury Judea.” A salu­tary thought as I visit lo­cal pri­mary schools to fa­cil­i­tate drama work­shops and re­alise from speak­ing to staff that many pupils have very ad hoc ac­cess to qual­i­fied drama teach­ers.

Scot­land’s cre­ative young peo­ple de­serve ac­cess to the best Ex­pres­sive Arts pro­vi­sion that a small coun­try can pro­vide. ● Elaine Lo­gan is War­den (Head Teacher) at Gle­nal­mond Col­lege in Perthshire

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