A new Ofsted inspection framework has been in place since September 2019 and now gives great emphasis to the curriculum. By July 2021, schools need to have (or be on track to provide), a curriculum that is, ‘at least as broad, overall deep and ambitious as the national curriculum’.
Ofsted research revealed (unsurprisingly), that many primary schools have been narrowing their curriculum, to give extra teaching time to nationally tested subjects, often at the expense of the arts. As Drama is not a national curriculum subject, it easily becomes a curriculum casualty.
Ofsted is conducting ‘Deep Dives’ into a few national curriculum subjects during each primary inspection. These inform their judgements about the overall quality of education provided by the school. Drama gets just a few bullet points in the current English national curriculum, so won’t get its own ‘Deep Dive’ but is more likely to be reported on within English now, especially if the school clearly articulates that Drama is an important part of their planned curriculum, for example:
‘Across the school, teachers use whole-class books to ignite pupils’ interest and ‘drama for writing’ to understand the feelings of key characters from the text. Pupils in Year 5 shared their learning from ‘Street Child’ and told me that they really enjoy the drama activities that help them to write imaginatively.’ Short inspection of Clifford Rd. Primary School, Ipswich (January 2019)
Many primary schools are still reviewing, broadening and enriching their curricula. This could be an opportunity for schools to strengthen their drama provision, within and beyond English. Drama can be a great way of teaching History and PSHE, as well as improving speaking, listening and writing. Reading always gets a ‘Deep Dive’. Most schools have mapped out a curriculum that includes high quality texts. Drama can be a powerful way of entering, exploring and understanding texts.
What is Ofsted likely to find?
Ofsted will probably find a great deal of disparity. Many schools have little or no drama planned into their curriculum and fewer still will have a good drama curriculum in place. Many will have after-school drama clubs (often using external providers). Most probably put on an annual play (usually at Christmas or after the SATs). Some schools may have a drama-trained teacher but most won’t have attended recent Drama CPD. Few schools will have had recent, relevant, whole school drama training. Drama is often happening in some classes and not others. Many teachers just use a few drama strategies in English lessons and others have ceased to.
What would Ofsted ideally find?
Ideally, schools will have a drama policy and curriculum, with a statement of intent (arrived at collaboratively). There would be a Drama Subject Leader, who has attended recent, relevant Drama CPD. The drama curriculum would provide continuity and progression of learning throughout the school, in and through Drama. The subject leader and teachers will know, understand and be able to articulate what the school’s drama curriculum consists of and its intent. All teachers will be implementing it in practice, through sequentially, well-planned lessons. All children will have well taught drama lessons and can attend drama clubs. All teachers will have at least had some recent basic drama CPD. The Drama subject leader is released to work systematically with teachers, offering teaching support and feedback. They will be gathering evidence of the impact of the drama curriculum on learners and reporting it to the headteacher, teachers, governors and to Ofsted if required.
A primary drama curriculum
The national curriculum offers no framework or programme of study for primary drama. Schools might find it helpful to revisit the politically ill-fated primary national curriculum that Sir Jim Rose proposed in 2009. It contains a primary drama framework that offers continuity and progression, (within ‘Understanding the Arts’). It could at least provide a starting point for a school wanting to create their drama curriculum. Available at https://tinyurl.com/DTAu1JimRose
Growing Cultural Capital
Ofsted inspects, now, how schools are making children more knowledgeable about culture and are growing their ‘Cultural Capital’. For drama, this might include planning in theatre visits, bringing in theatre groups and workshops and possibly developing links with cultural industries.
‘…inspectors will consider the extent to which schools are equipping pupils with the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life. Our understanding of ‘knowledge and cultural capital’ is derived from the following wording in the national curriculum:
“It is the essential knowledge that pupils need to be educated citizens, introducing them to the best that has been thought and said and helping to engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement.”
Schools could extend this passive, retrospective definition of Cultural Capital by creating a curriculum for the future that helps children become the creators of culture too.