Changes to the drama GCSE syllabus mean that teachers can show pupils recordings of theatre performances, rather than taking them to the theatre
Pupils will now be able to pass drama GCSE without taking a single trip to see live theatre performed, under new guidelines issued by exam boards.
Theatre groups have attacked the exam boards’ decision, saying that, now that a visit to the theatre is no longer required by the syllabus, teachers will struggle to make a convincing case to senior management for taking pupils on such trips.
From September, taking pupils to see live theatre will no longer be a requirement of drama GCSE, in the syllabuses laid out by exam boards AQA and OCR. Instead, teachers will be able to show their pupils a recording of a play, such as those produced by National Theatre Live and Digital Theatre.
Karen Latto, OCR subject specialist, said: “Nothing beats live theatre. However, OCR is committed to equality of provision for all our students.
“The flexibility to include digital theatre productions is in place to ensure that every student can access live theatre, regardless of the constraints of affordability or geographical accessibility. It’s an option designed to expand access to live theatre, not replace it.”
But theatre companies have attacked the decision, claiming that it will in fact discourage teachers from taking pupils on theatre trips.
Catherine Greenwood, learning associate of the Unicorn Theatre in London, said: “It does send an alarming signal. We’re all obviously worried about the pressures on teachers.
“There’s all the organisation around taking pupils out of school. And we’re very aware that schools are having a squeeze on their budgets. All of that makes it incredibly difficult for them to make the case to bring students out to the theatre.”
And Alice King-Farlow, director of learning at the National Theatre, in London, sai the theatre produced its recordings of productions in order to help pupils who might struggle to access live theatre.
But she said: “We see this as a valuable addition to the experience of live performances, not as a substitute.”
She added that seeing live theatre performed was “essential to the study of drama at GCSE and essential to a rounded education, regardless of subject”.
‘Limiting and lazy’
And Aine Lark, chair of the theatre education body National Drama, told The Stage newspaper that she thought the new guidelines presented “a restrictive, limiting and lazy approach to teaching”.
She added: “It is exceptionally shortsighted of any exam board to validate a course in drama that encourages a sit-at-home approach to learning.”
But Jessica Lober Newsome, AQA’s head of drama, pointed out that seeing a live performance at the theatre was not a compulsory part of the previous drama GCSE: pupils could have chosen not to answer a question from the section on live theatre.
“Drama teachers don’t need us to tell them to take their students to the theatre – it’s what they do,” she said. “This GCSE gives students a better understanding of theatre than ever before and we’re just making sure we don’t discriminate against the handful of students who can’t get to a performance, through no fault of their own.”