Government overrules exam boards that ditched theatre trips

School pupils watch a performance of The Merchant of Venice at Shakespeare's Globe. Photo: Amit Lennon School pupils watch a performance of The Merchant of Venice at Shakespeare's Globe. Photo: Amit Lennon
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The government has stepped in to reverse a decision made last year that said GCSE and A level drama students would no longer be required to see a live theatre performance as part of their course.

New syllabuses published in 2016 from exam boards AQA and OCR decreed that pupils no longer had to be taken on a theatre trip as part of drama courses, and schools could show a recording of a play – from National Theatre Live or Digital Theatre – instead.

However, the Department for Education has now issued new subject content for drama that includes explicit requirements regarding theatre trips.

Students must “experience live performance where they are a member of the audience in the same performance space as the performers. This may be a professional or amateur, but not a peer, performance”.

The initial decision to remove the requirement of live performance from the syllabus was met with intense criticism from the theatre industry, with actors including David Harewood, Meera Syal and Zoe Wanamaker claiming the guidelines could mean that schools might avoid theatre trips altogether.

Speaking to TES following the new announcement, exam board AQA said it had taken the initial decision to allow recorded productions in order to make the subject accessible to those “who can’t get to a performance through no fault of their own”.

“We’ll work closely with the DfE and Ofqual to see how we can still do that,” a spokesperson said.

The move also means schools could have to submit evidence to exam boards that this has been carried out, as part of new plans by Ofqual.

The exam regulator said the proposed changes would result in “some additional administrative burden for exam boards, schools and colleges”.

“Schools and colleges will need to complete the new annual statement, and exam boards will need to collect them,” it said.