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Nurturing the creative workforce of tomorrow
There is a risk that subjects such as drama and art may be side-lined in schools. But with creativity sought after by employers, Paula Hamilton from the National Theatre explores how schools can ensure pupils benefit from drama and theatre production
The World Economic Forum states that by 2020, Creativity will be amongst the top three most important skills looked for by employers. The creative industries are one of the fastest growing sectors of the UK economy, with huge employment growth, and are vital to the lifeblood, identity and cultural output of our country. Despite this, there has been a decrease in the number of children taking Arts GCSEs since 2010 and the introduction of the Ebacc does not include a single Arts subject.
Combined with the squeeze on school budgets, there is a risk that subjects such as drama and art may be side-lined in schools or even disappear entirely from the curriculum.
Not only does this mean that a generation of young people miss out on creative experiences, it also has huge implications for the future health of our creative industries. In this climate it’s essential for the National Theatre to support schools and teachers as much as we can to enable them to offer their students opportunities to experience the arts.
The role of the National Theatre is to produce work which is for everyone and we are committed to reaching as many young people as possible across the UK. Through national learning programmes, touring productions and teacher training opportunities, we hope not just to inspire the talented theatre-makers and creative workforce of tomorrow, but to open theatre to everybody wherever they are growing up in the UK.
National Theatre in schools
A recent survey by the Sutton Trust revealed that 43 per cent of teachers said they had made cutbacks to ‘trips and outings’. Schools attendance will always be somewhat dependent on the productions being performed each year, however we have seen a decline in school visits over the past few years and are ever more aware of the pressures that schools are facing with the impact of budget cuts and time constraints that can prevent teachers from taking pupils to the theatre.
As part of our commitment to be a national organisation, we are committed to supporting schools that may not have access to a local theatre. Teachers at state schools across the UK can stream recordings of National Theatre productions directly into the classrooms for free. Through a new partnership with Bloomsbury and ProQuest, schools will now be able to access a greater range of productions through the National Theatre Schools Collection, launching in January 2020.
Iconic curriculum-linked productions including Frankenstein, Othello, Treasure Island and She Stoops to Conquer have been recorded in high definition in front of a live theatre audience, and are supported by specially designed teaching resources, created in collaboration with teachers and leading artists.
Partly in response to the decline of school visits to the theatre, last year the National Theatre toured a 90-minute version of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time directly into the school halls of over 60 secondary schools across the UK. This tour reached over 13,000 students across the UK, many who were introduced to theatre for the first time, and we will be touring this production to secondary schools on a 12-week tour again this Autumn hoping to inspire even more school children through theatre.
The specially staged production of Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel, adapted by Olivier Award-winning playwright Simon Stephens, is performed in the round. Being situated in the middle of the school hall, the audience can see the backstage and offstage activity happening in front of their eyes, from set changes to stage management and light operation, providing students with a glimpse into different aspects of theatre-making that are all vital to creating a professional production.
The show is followed by a Q&A session for students with the company and is accompanied with a learning programme that includes professional development for teachers led by the National Theatre as well as curriculum-based resources and workshops.
We know that participation in drama and the arts has countless benefits for children; a medium through which they can explore and express new ideas, develop empathy and curiosity, as well as learn collaboration and teamwork skills.
Ofsted’s new inspection framework recognises the importance of a broad and balanced curriculum and that the narrowing of the curriculum that we have seen has adversely affected the most disadvantaged children, with a new criterion of developing children’s ‘cultural capital’ added to the framework.
Taking part in a school play, for example, can have a transformative effect on children; helping them to develop self-confidence, use their imagination, express emotion and learn about themselves and their abilities. Our national programme for primary schools, Let’s Play, aims to transform theatre-making in schools and ensure that creativity is embedded throughout the curriculum.
Let’s Play provides everything that teachers need to create an outstanding piece of theatre in their school, including theatre-making training led by professional theatre artists, specially commissioned scripts, musical scores and backing tracks for original songs as well as curriculum-linked teaching resources and a teacher toolkit.
The school play can also be used as a learning opportunity across all aspects of the curriculum. Pupils can develop their literacy by creating character profiles and writing letters in role as the character they are playing, or even writing a press release about their production for the local newspaper.
Staging a play can also be an opportunity for children and young people to learn about backstage and offstage roles and understand how these are integral to creating a production. Teachers can assemble a production team to look after technical aspects such as lighting, music and managing the stage, as well as ticketing and seating the audience. They can work with their pupils to design and create costumes, sets and props by using recycled materials or searching local charity shops.
There are a many people working in backstage and offstage roles at the National Theatre and at all theatres across the UK and we know that creating a theatre production is a huge collaborative feat that involves people across different departments including lighting, sound, props, costume and stage management.
Through our national Connections programme, the largest youth theatre festival in the UK, we hope to shine a light on these important roles in the theatre industry.
With over 6,500 students taking part each year, youth theatre companies and school groups from every corner of the UK have the opportunity to stage one of ten brand new plays written especially for them by some of the most exciting contemporary playwrights and then perform them in a professional venue.
As well as performing, young people also take on a variety of backstage roles, including designing and operating lights and sound, designing costume and set or stage managing which all help to open their eyes to the huge variety of vital roles in the theatre industry, which they may not have realised were available to them, or even in existence.
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, has published a new briefing setting out the key actions needed to ensure children are at the heart of planning for any future coronavirus lockdowns