School Papers

Following Gordon Vallins, another major practitioner associated with

Following the devastation of
World War 2 the city of Coventry refused to deteriorate in the ruins but
instead decided to re-invent itself. With its car manufacturing industry expanding
rapidly, its financial success ultimately led to the erection of the Belgrade
Theatre in 1958. The Belgrade Theatre was the first theatre to have been constructed
in over 20 years and for Coventry, it stood as a symbol of regeneration succeeding
the desolation that had consumed the city after the Second World War. Britain’s
education system also underwent fundamental transformations during this
revolutionary period. The Labour governments that led 1964 to 1970 agreed to demolish
the previous tripartite structure (secondary modern, secondary technical and
grammar) to make way for the new comprehensive educational system. Along with
the other earliest promoters for this new method, Coventry fortified its
identity as a city prepared and excited to undergo major transformation. Nevertheless,
the educational system was not alone in their change; the general outlooks on
both learning and schooling had also altered.

Theatre in education mirrors an
education that is centred around children and is experimental, its aim to
involve the younger generation both with and through their humanity and not
merely preparing them for the work market. It was only during mid-twentieth
century Britain that people began to challenge the previously reigning Victorian
notions of education leading to more socially productive and child concentrated
concepts being introduced. In 1944 the Education Act stated that ‘It shall be
the duty of the local education authority for every area, so far as their
powers extend, to continue towards the spiritual, mental and physical
developments of the community.’1
Despite this recognition, the formal acknowledgement that theatre may be a constructive
learning process did not materialise until after the Second World War.

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 In conjunction with the innovative educators
who had always relied on theatre to enrich learning practices were a small
group of theatre makers who were prepared to experiment with dramatic forms to advance
children academically. Brian Way was the founder of Theatre centre in London
and is also considered one of the most prominent practitioners involved in the
introduction of theatre into education. His organisation, established in 1953, established
work that challenged children’s artistic imagination through their involvement in
the storytelling process of theatre. Gordon Vallins, another major practitioner
associated with the establishment of theatre in education in Way’s theatre,
refers to a script written by Way ‘In the script of Pinocchio there was a
direction that said something like: Ask the children to go off and invent a
song…Brian would invite the children to do all kinds of things after the play:
ask them to write, to paint, make models, invent their own plays. So he was using
the play as a stimulus for even more creative work.’2
He highlights this as a moment of revelation surrounding theatre in education
and refers to how a child’s development can be massively effected through drama
and the arts. Appreciation that theatre could positively affect the social and academic
progress of children unrelenting grew in popularity and climaxed in John Newsom’s
report ‘Half our Future’, which was written in 1963 and argued that ‘Drama can
offer something more significant than the daydream… By playing out
psychologically significant situations, they can work out their own personal
problems. Here is one way in which they can be helped to reconcile the reality
of the world outside with their own private worlds… It is through creative
arts, including the arts of language, that young people can be helped to come
to terms with themselves more surely than by any other route.’3
This report was written two years before Brian Way founded the Belgrade theatre
in education Company and signified official credit that theatre was not just cultural
but also played a crucial part in child concentrated education.

There is a large body of evidence
gathered from studies that validates a correlation between theatre
participation and academic success. 
Numerous academic professors have investigated the impact theatre has on
a child’s development and learning with many of these academics leaning more
towards positive conclusions with their reports. As well as receiving higher
standardised exam scores compared to their peers who were not experienced in
the arts, the students who participate in the dramatics also frequently
experience enhanced reading comprehension. Attendance is often massively
improved and students commonly remain more engaged in school than their
non-theatrical equivalents. 
Establishments that incorporate arts-integrated programs into their
syllabus, even in areas of low-income, report high educational attainment.
Comparing the College Entrance Examination Board scores from 2001, 2002, 2004
and 2005 and personal questionnaires addressing individual’s participation in
numerous activities (counting theatre) the academic variances between theatre
involved students and non-involved students is emphasised. Students who
participated in theatrical performances scored an average of 65.5 marks higher on
verbal modules and 35.5 marks higher in mathematic modules in the SATS exams.
In 2005, pupils who participated in drama performances scored higher than the
average SAT score by 35 marks on verbal modules and 24 on the mathematics.
Along with these statistics there have also been independent reports of
increased concentration in classrooms alongside an upsurge in cognitive
connection to other subjects. Many academics have suggested that not only does
theatre in education offers alternate means of assessment it also offers
avenues of success for pupils who may otherwise not be successful and delivers
a means for aesthetic growth. It is also recognised that theatre in education
can support learning as it is noted that it offers an incentive for many students
to remain in school.

Research also reveals that
participation in the arts encourages dependable attendance in students and
there is a clear correlation between drop-out percentages and a learner’s level
of engrossment in the arts. Pupils deemed to be at high risk for leaving school
mention drama studies as a colossal motivation for remaining in education.
Results have demonstrated that students who remain involved in dramatic
subjects are, on average, three times more likely to be rewarded for excellent
attendance than those who are not.

English and comprehension are
also immensely improved through theatre in education. From learning to read as
an infant to studying the works of Shakespearian literature in depth, theatre
can play a substantial part in the continuous growth of a student’s
comprehension abilities. Studies suggest that the physical presentation of a
piece of text and other theatrical activities influence the students perception
of the work performed and the experiences also aid them to acquire a better
understanding of other pieces and of language generally. A sequence of reviews
on theatre in relation to education exposed a constant casual connection
between performing works in the classroom and the progression of a wide
selection of vocal skills, containing notable increases in recall and
comprehension of written material. It has been recognised that performances of
Shakespearian literature help to better pupil’s understanding of other
complicated subjects for example both mathematics and science. It is also
reported that theatre within the education system helps to improve a child’s
memory through the learning of lines and directions when on stage. This process
of memorising also requires concentration and often build focus within the
students in other areas such as school and sport.

In addition to the construction
of social and communication skills, participation in theatre courses has
revealed an overwhelming improvement in student’s self-esteem and confidence
concerning their other studies. Secondary school students who are heavily
immersed in theatre exhibit a higher self-concept than those who are not
involved. Playwriting new work and theatrical demonstrations of existing pieces
can often help to improve an individual’s self-esteem and communication
abilities in secondary schools. Through performance students can recognise
their possible success and grow in confidence. Since the employment of the No
Child Left Behind Act, there has been a widespread focus on the closing of the
‘achievement gap’ between students that vary in capabilities, socioeconomic
ranking and geographies amongst other influences that may impact a child’s
educational achievement. Theatre, and other artistic subjects, confront this
problem by catering to a variety of styles of education and aiding pupils who
might not otherwise take major concern in their schooling. In addition,
research proposes that theatre courses have an exceptionally constructive
impact on ‘at-risk’ pupils and children with learning difficulties.  A study published in 1999 quotes theatre
performances, curriculums and extracurricular activities as a cause for ‘gains
in reading proficiency, gains in self-concept and motivation, and higher levels
of empathy and tolerance towards others’ amongst the youth of low-income areas.
Theatre endeavours can expand and help to preserve social and linguistic
abilities of students with complications and remedial readers. Improvisation
can also contribute to the development of reading attainment and attitude in
underprivileged pupils.

Projects fashioned within the
Belgrade Theatre are renowned for their innovative revelations into the impacts
of theatre within the education system. The initial company formed in the
Belgrade Theatre involved several practitioners including Gordon Vallins and
each of these participants would perform and also teach. This ultimately led to
the introduction of the term actor-teacher, a suitable reaction to the new collaboration
between theatre and the education system.

The first Belgrade’s Theatre in
Education programme started in 1965, when the company toured an infant level
piece titled ‘The Balloon man and the Runaway Balloons’, a primary level piece
named ‘The Secret of the Stone’ and also a secondary level piece titled ‘The
Higher Girders.’ Each piece aimed to investigate the theme of responsibility. Vallins
outlined the infant piece in his report. ‘This consists of two sections: (a) a
twenty-minute lesson when two classes are taught simultaneously in separate
classrooms. This includes the telling of the story, the creation and recording
of three sorts of sounds (i) the blowing up of balloons (ii) the air being let
out quickly and slowly and (iii) the sound of wind and waves: These sounds are
used later after the break in (b) the thirty minute happening when the two
classes come together in the hall and (i) They act being balloons (ii) they
learn the balloon-man’s song (iii) they act the story, being in turn balloons,
a train, a fairground roundabout, children at the seaside and finally balloons
again, when they rescue the balloon man after his boat has overturned in a
storm at sea.’ 4

1 1944
Education Act, Part II, 7

2 Gordon
Vallins, personal interview, 7th September 2010

3 The
Newsom Report: Half our Future. 1963

4 Gordon
Vallins, Interim Report, September 1965

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