Dorothy Heathcote was widely acknowledged as one of the true visionaries of drama in education. Her radical repositioning of the teacher’s role away from traditional hierarchies towards facilitating engagement and exploration as a fellow artist, transformed the point and purpose of drama in British schools.
Born in Steeton, West Yorkshire, on August 29, 1926, she left school at 14 to work in a woollen mill before being encouraged at 19 to study drama with Esme Church (who bluntly disabused her of her notion of becoming an actress) at the Northern Theatre School in Bradford.
Following peripatetic teaching work and directing amateur productions, in 1951 she joined the teaching staff of the Durham Institute. It was there she began to define and refine an approach to teaching that met with controversy by rejecting conventional orthodoxies.
She moved to Newcastle University in 1964, from where she broadened the scope of her work into hospitals, residential care homes, and young offenders institutions. For the university’s medical school, she pioneered the use of dramatic reconstructions in the training of doctors, and further expanded her influence into teaching workplace skills to managers of British Gas, the NHS, Volkswagen, and the Crown Prosecution Service.
In 1971 she was the subject of a BBC documentary, Three Looms Waiting.
On retiring from university duties in 1986, she moved to Derby, from where she continued to teach and write. Her notion of bestowing the “mantle of the expert” on children continues to be widely employed in the classroom. Earlier this year she was awarded an MBE. She died, aged 85, from a blood disorder on October 8.