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Drama teaching in schools ‘in crisis’, experts warn

Photo: Christian Bertrand/Shutterstock Photo: Christian Bertrand/Shutterstock
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Secondary school drama provision is in “crisis”, leading industry figures including playwright James Graham have warned.

They have claimed that cuts to drama in schools coupled with a shortage of new teachers is fuelling the problem, warning that a decline in the number of drama teachers at secondary level will result in the sector becoming less diverse in the long term.

Statistics from the Labour Party’s Acting Up inquiry into working-class actors in 2017 confirmed the decline, revealing there were now 1,700 fewer drama teachers in UK schools than in 2010.

Amanda Kipling, head of drama teacher association London Drama, said cuts to the arts in education were resulting in fewer drama teachers being employed.

Kipling, who is also PGCE programme leader for drama at Goldsmiths University in London, also said there was a shortage of new drama teachers being trained.

Speaking at an event organised by Art School, a company set up to improve links between the arts industry and education, Kipling said a shortage of suitable candidates for drama teacher training was causing a “dilemma”.

“I think [every teacher trainee] ought to have some life experience, and needs some industry experience, and [should be an] established practitioner in their own right,” she said.

“I’ve refused to lower the bar on that, and I’m under pressure to, because fewer and fewer people are attracted to teaching.”

Kipling said that when she began her job 10 years ago, more than 400 people would apply for the drama PGCE at Goldsmiths per year, whereas now this has whittled down to 100.

Successful applicants will often drop out for financial reasons, Kipling said. While maths and physics teachers in training can receive £30,000 from the government, this is not available for trainee drama teachers.

The London Drama chair argued that cuts to drama in schools was the main issue feeding into the lack of students wanting to train as drama teachers.

“Where [teachers] are leaving, schools are not replacing – they’re patching. And where their patching is getting too thin they are phasing it out,” she added.

Graham told The Stage that drama had been disappearing from state schools “by stealth”, urging the industry to “act now”.

“It’s a crisis that has been happening quietly behind the scenes, and people have not really noticed. There were warning signs and nervousness around the EBacc, where the arts subjects were not recognised,” he said.

“I have total sympathy with school boards who have to make cuts because of the squeeze on funding, but what’s the future of the arts going to be if the once great leveller of inequality – education – stops?”

Graham added that while there was already a noticeable lack of class diversity in theatre, it would take a while for the industry to see the full knock-on effect of the cuts.

“Where’s the next me going to come from? We are all missing out if we don’t have the biggest range of voices in theatre,” he warned.

Meanwhile, director of learning at the National Theatre Alice King-Farlow said the theatre was concerned about the continuing marginalisation of drama in secondary schools.

“Between 2010 and 2017 there was a 24% drop in students taking drama GCSE and the risk is that the lack of specialist teachers being trained to teach drama to the highest standard will lead to further schools completely cutting drama from their curriculum,” she said.

She argued that cuts to drama would ultimately affect the diversity of the industry’s workforce, adding that the National was committed to “making the case for the value of drama in schools and to supporting them in every way we can.”

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