Why studying drama can build confidence
Child’s Play As statistics reveal that fewer students are taking up creative subjects to higher levels, what will the impact be on the diversity of education curriculums and the professional world?
While not every drama GCSE hopeful will become the next Judi Dench or Gary Oldman, there is little doubt that studying drama at school can be revolutionary in developing confidence, allowing pupils to think creatively and introducing a bit of fun into an increasingly academic workload.
For this reason, many were concerned at the findings in the September 2017 report from the Education Policy Institute revealing students taking arts subjects to GCSE level in 2016 had fallen to the lowest in a decade.
Chair of The National Association for the Teaching of Drama, Liam Harris, explains that one reason cited as a factor in the reduction is the introduction of school accountability measures Ebacc and Progress 8, as they place smaller emphasis on arts. ‘Because of the progress measures and the way that schools are assessed, those progress measures then force schools to give advice to students or structure their entire curriculum offering in certain ways, which is often to the detriment of students having a full-on artistic choice or a full range of arts to choose from,’ Liam says. ‘So all of a sudden you’ll have music, art and drama in one option block, which means that students can only choose one of those things.’
As a result, he admits he’s been having a lot more conversations about what drama will offer students in a career, rather than students taking the course for passion alone. But Liam stresses: ‘Education should be about developing well rounded human beings, not just what the economy needs or what we want them to do in a workplace.’
This perspective is shared by extra-curricular programmes designed outside of the classroom to help a cohort of young and diverse actors fall in love with drama. These vary in scale, ranging from the National Theatre’s Let’s Play initiative to get Primary School students acting (which was launched by Sir Lenny Henry), to Open Door, a programme helping young people from minority backgrounds get places at prestigious drama schools.
Actor and founder of Open Door, David Mumeni, launched the programme in response to the narrowing talent pool the industry is receiving, which he feels comes partly from a lack of funds and limiting of opportunities early on. ‘The industry has changed very quickly over the last seven years,’ he explains. ‘And the infrastructure hasn’t been there to support young talent of quality coming up to meet the demand, due to cuts in the Arts, the Arts itself being taken out of the curriculum, rise of tuition fees, train prices rising, and audition fees rising.’
Open Door tries to make up for these inequalities on students with less resources and with over 200 recalls, 86 final rounds and 34 offers between their cohort so far, it certainly proves that the talent is there – it just needs to be nurtured. ‘We need to support young actors who may not know that they can access this training, or even that it exists,’ David adds. ‘It’s important they know there is a place in the industry for them.’ N
BELOW: National Theatre’s Let’s Play, launched by Sir Lenny Henry