The purpose and aims of a Drama curriculum

These notes come from a discussion at the Drama Teachers’ / MTL meeting on 28th March 2018.  Discussions built on responses to the following paper, which group members had been asked to read in advance of the meeting.  O’Toole, J., & O’Mara, J. (2007) Proteus, the giant at the door in Bresler, L., (2007) International handbook of research in arts education. Vol 16 part 2. London: Springer. Pp203-218

We also briefly looked at some definitions of ‘curriculum’ as a starting point, including Eisner’s definition that “The curriculum of a school, or a course, or a classroom can be conceived of as a series of planned events that are intended to have educational consequences for one or more students.”  

We developed a schema based on our discussions.

  1. A central question about the living (operational) curriculum.
  2. Four key elements that interact with each other in the curriculum: teacher, pupil, subject and context (space).
  3. Framing considerations: ideas about the purposes of Drama and of Education; ideas about curriculum; structures that impact on curriculum; the nature of ‘messy subjects.’

We argued that all of these schematic dimensions are in constant and dynamic interplay with each other.

  1. A central question about the living (operational) curriculum.

“Are we killing the curriculum or bringing it to life?”

For example, are we undermining Drama’s distinctive qualities due to the pressure to make it all about formal written outcomes?  How do we resist this?

  1. Four key elements that interact with each other in the curriculum.

Where do we start?  How can we describe the ways in which these elements are in tension with each other?  How does each impact on the other?  How does each party see the other/s?

  • Teacher. Is it the teacher that makes the curriculum.? Drama as a space with a ‘different’ teacher/pupil relationship and power dynamic (perhaps this has something in common with learning outside the classroom?)
  • Pupil. What influence does a pupil have on the curriculum?  What do pupils want from it?  How do they see curriculum?  How far can the curriculum follow the pupil (i.e. as personalised learning)?  To what extent have pupils internalised oppressive norms (anecdote: “I’m a Level 4”)?  Constructivist versus positivist approaches: knowledge transfer versus knowledge creation.
  • Subject. What are the key qualities of Drama education?  Questioning? Enacting?  How can existing theory and paradigms inform our thinking about this (e.g. Brecht, Bond, Heathcote)?  Is there something distinctive about a Drama curriculum or does what we say apply to all curricula?
  • A centralised curriculum (such as the 2014 National Curriculum) tends to start with subject knowledge and skills, but this ignores other elements (context, pupil, teacher).
  • There is a question about relevance and we could map this onto a continuum from issues-based Drama to ‘pure’ Drama. What strategies can we develop about how to frame ‘pure’ Drama, such as a Shakespeare play, so that young people can feel and understand its relevance to them? When we look at the ‘canon’ of ‘great Drama’, what does it exclude (and how does this impact on young people)?
  • How do other teachers see Drama? Do we sometimes need to ‘fake’ outcomes to meet external expectations or to ‘hide’ Drama as something else within, for example, CPD?
  • Context (space). How do pupils see different spaces, for example as they move from a formal class set-up to the Drama Studio and vice versa?  How does this relate to formal classroom organisation?  And to how pupils may see teachers differently in different contexts?  Are there implicit power relations involved?  How is all of this impacted on by the broader educational and social context, including structures and the ‘hidden curriculum’ of the school?
  1. Framing considerations:
  • Ideas about the purposes of Drama and of Education.
  • Ideas about curriculum. How do we understand ‘curriculum’?  What models and options are there, as well as the Gove/Gibb version based on E.G. Hirsch’s theories about ‘core knowledge’ and Matthew Arnold’s 1869 dictum that it is about “the best that has been thought and said.”  We seem to be saying that it is the enacted (living, operational) curriculum that really matters.  Does this require greater teacher confidence? Is there an issue here about teacher capability?  And what about accountability?
  • Structures that impact on curriculum. For example, assessment, performance measures, school protocols, data.
  • The nature of ‘messy subjects.’ Subjects like Drama can be hard to assess, exploratory, individualised, protean, hard to pin down.

 We then moved on to relating our own research ideas to the curriculum discussion.


One thought on “The purpose and aims of a Drama curriculum

  1. The next Drama Teachers’ and MTL group meeting will be on 23rd May at 4.30 pm

    This meeting will build on the exploration above of the aims and purposes of a Drama curriculum, in the lead up to the event on 16th June

    Talking of which, Third Act: Becoming Somebody Different is booking up fairly speedily, so if you are intending to be there and have not done so yet, then please do book yourself on at:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s