Where are the women? Our subject specialist outlines actions for change arising from a drama teacher forum at the Royal Court Theatre.
When I first saw a tweet using #WhereAreTheWomen, I was expecting to read an article discussing the choice of set texts in all boards' new drama specifications, and, essentially, a critique exposing how poor all our choices were. What I actually found was a teacher forum event hosted by the Royal Court Theatre.
The panel chaired by Royal Court Theatre Artistic Director Vicky Featherstone to discuss the lack of female playwrights present in the current GCSE specifications. The panel included playwrights Lucy Kirkwood and Bola Agbaje, director Lyndsey Turner, Molly Bertrand, Drama Teacher, Corelli College, and Holly Barradell, Drama & Education Consultant, Trinity College London Exam Board. The attendees included teachers from across London schools, Royal Court staff, playwrights and a representative from exam board OCR (that was me!)
I was really interested in hearing a range of opinions and so I signed up; with the intention of sitting quietly at the back and listening, without revealing that I was responsible for one of those set text lists. This was a good plan until I arrived. The previous week I had presented the new OCR specifications at National Drama’s ‘Which Board to Tread?’
event. I was instantly recognised and so I joined in the discussions right from the start. It was very interesting, starting with a talk about the panel’s involvement with the early DfE consultations and working with Ofqual as a subject expert. I was able to give my perspective on the reform process and share my experience of working within it. I was also able to update the other delegates on where the exam boards are in the process, working on the new specifications and content (including what can and cannot be changed at this point). The two playwrights on the panel gave their views on the new lists and accounts of how they experienced drama in education.
After the discussion we broke into groups and came up with actions. Having explained that it was very unlikely that the new specification set text lists would be changed at this point, the focus was on supporting teachers and raising awareness. I wanted to write this blog to share how I plan on supporting the actions which were raised at the end of the forum.
The resulting actions for change were:
• A database should be created with a catalogue of new writing that is available for teachers to access.
This is something that is in development. As part of the OCR specification we are creating the Drama Text Management Service. This is a web tool which allows teachers to easily check that the plays they have chosen for each component meet all the requirements to meet Ofqual’s conditions for new Drama qualifications. This is run from a text database which we are currently building. Teachers, practitioners and theatre lovers can submit their favourite plays for inclusion on the database using our ‘suggest a text’ tool.
Another source of plays is also available online. TreePress is a new service which officially launched on Love Theatre Day and connects directors, actors, playwrights and publishers together. Scripts and performance rights can be bought online and downloaded and the database is growing daily.
• The exam boards’ consultation with drama teachers and theatres to select set texts should be formalised and the process of choosing set texts should be made more transparent.
I like this idea. This was my first reform project and I consulted on texts with as many teachers and practitioners as I could in the time available; however I could not have reached every drama teacher or theatre in my consultation. At OCR we host a subject forum and this is the usual place for our consultation with industry, although again, not everyone who might have liked to contribute may have had the opportunity to do so. I am really keen to hear any suggestions on ways to consult with a wider range of people in the very time-sensitive context of developing new specifications.
When we created our set text lists I looked closely at the representation within the plays. I wanted to ensure that there were a range of strong male and female leads, a mix of classic and new plays, and texts which would challenge students, whilst also demonstrating the knowledge and understanding they would be assessed in the exams. A number of excellent plays were not chosen for them exam, as I believe they would make great student performances. It is important to note that all the set texts on the lists for all our Drama qualifications cannot be chosen for the text performance assessments. It is important that a range of texts are not included as set texts and therefore are allowed to be performed for visiting examiner assessments instead.
Another consideration was the routes through the qualification. Although there are a number of set texts on the list, students will only study a small number of them – usually only 1 or 2 from each list. For example, OCR’s GCSE (9-1) Drama, AS and A Level Drama and Theatre can be completed by only studying plays written by female playwrights, should teachers want to take this route. At GCSE, teachers can chose a play such as A Taste of Honey for the performance assessment and Find me for the set text. At AS, students can study Necessary Targets and Oh What a Lovely War from our conflict theme, and the same texts can be chosen at A Level. Both Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine and Bryony Lavery’s Stockholm are options for the ‘Deconstructing texts for performance’ component at A Level.
Teachers then choose one play at AS and two at A Level for the non-exam assessment (one of the two at A Level can be the AS choice if co-teaching). These can be plays by female playwrights such as Polly Stenham, Andrea Dunbar, Lucy Kirkwood, April De Angelis, Sophie Treadwell, Nina Raine, Lucy Prebble, Bola Agbaje, Lucy Caldwell, Ella Hickson and Claire Dowie to name a few.
Of course, at all levels, we would encourage teachers to use their professional judgement and a range of criteria to choose appropriate texts for their students, as they do already. The point is, we would not want to exclude any category of playwright from the choices teachers have, whether that’s based on gender, or a multitude of other criteria.
• A theatre consortium should be formed that can offer the exam boards and teachers ideas and support on current plays and practitioners that could be included on their syllabi.
Yes! A fantastic idea, and I would be very happy to be involved with a project like this. One of the resources I intend to develop to support the OCR offer, is a catalogue of performance texts as suggestions for teachers looking for new scripts to work with in their lessons. I have had interesting discussions about this and it is something that there is an interest in. Watch this space.
• In the meantime, teachers should be encouraged to teach around the set texts and devising modules using diverse new writing.
This is a really important point. The set texts for the exam or the text chosen for the performance assessments are not the only plays that can be looked at during the course. Students should be encouraged to explore the subject and read a range of texts. This also links in nicely with the point above and is definitely something that I can support throughout the lifetime of the new specifications.
• A subsidised project should be established by the exam boards where writers/ editors are commissioned to make resources around practitioners to be made readily available online to teachers.
OCR actually has a programme like this already up and running. Each year I make a plan for the resources provision required for each specification and I am allocated a budget to create these resources. I have a range of developers from practitioners and teachers to examiners who are commissioned to create these resources. I have asked on social media for suggestions on which practitioners teachers would like resources for and the suggestions have so far been the likes of Stanislavski
, Artaud and Berkoff. I have a range of ideas for current practitioners too and I am working on making links with these companies to collaborate on resources. All our resources contain our ‘Thumbs’ feedback logos where teachers can provide feedback or suggest new resources. These e-mails are then shared with all the subject teams to help plan resources in the future. You can actually e-mail direct any suggestions or feedback to email@example.com
or to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
All in all I was very pleased I faced my fear and attended this event. I met a number of people with the same passion for theatre and for education as I have. I very much look forward to helping drive these actions forward and working with theatres and practitioners from industry to continue supporting teachers to create the best Drama courses for their students in the years to come.
Subject Specialist for Drama, OCR