Claire Odell, Head of Drama at Northampton School for Girls describes their approaching to teaching drama and why they choose OCR’s drama qualifications.
We have a team of three drama teachers with over 15 years experience of teaching drama in schools and local theatre between us. Our students have access to a well-equipped drama studio and the community theatre.
We are keen to give our girls a broad drama education covering not only the key issues which affect them but the key skills we feel are important in life outside school — risk-taking, presenting and confidence, communication and teamwork, creativity and imagination.
We pride ourselves on a strong KS3 curriculum which provides the drama skills for those students who want to move onto our creative and inclusive Drama GCSE and exciting Drama and Theatre Studies A Level.
Drama is more than just learning in the classroom and we enjoy taking students to the theatre regularly. We also have an engaging extra-curricular programme including a musical every other year, scripted plays, performing arts festival and Shakespeare — this year involving the Shakespeare Schools Festival.
We have planned the curriculum so that years 7, 8 and 9 have one single lesson per week and learn the basic skills to succeed in drama.
In years 7 or 8 we focus mainly on practical skills in workshop style structured practical lessons. We start with Mime in our Silent Movies scheme of work, before moving onto voice including Stanislavskian techniques, and then onto more abstract movement skills and stimuli work. A particular highlight is using Shaun Tan’s illustrated books; we especially love The Red Tree. We also look the issues affecting young girls such as bullying, e-safety and self-image.
Year 9 is structured towards promoting Drama GCSE and bridging the gap. The focus moves onto written tasks such as, Role on the Wall and scriptwriting and they begin to look at the actor, designer and director roles separately.
We also introduce them to the key styles and practitioners in Drama: with Frantic Assembly’s devising physical theatre workshops and moving onto the basics of Artaud, Stanislavski, Boal and Brecht.
We continue year 9 with a mini-devised unit and a mini-scripted unit, mirroring the GCSE course.
We are excited by the approach of OCR’s GCSE (9-1) Drama qualification, we’re particularly pleased to see it has refined many things and scrapped the controlled conditions.
The introduction of a theatre review in OCR’s specification has enhanced our students’ review writing and made their practical skills and ideas much richer. We’ve also enjoyed taking our Year 10’s to as many theatre performances as possible.
We have bridged the gap from KS3 with introduction schemes looking at key genres in theatre including Thriller, Drama and Abstract - pairing this with pieces of theatre our students have seen this year; Woman in Black, a live recording of Lovesong by Frantic Assembly and Billy Elliot.
For unit 1, we initially found it daunting to have 10 stimuli and discussed ways in which we could structure and support students to choose the stimuli. We paired students off and each group presented an introduction to one of the stimuli. We could then group them based on their personal choices of which stimuli they felt they would like best.
Once a year, we arrange for a theatre company to give a one day workshop to our GCSE students — this year Splendid gave them an introduction to Brecht.
We’ll focus on unit 2 in our double lessons and unit 3 in the single lessons up until after the performance exam. We have chosen to use Girls Like That by Evan Placey for the performance text and Find Me by Olwen Wymark for unit 3 as we feel it suits our girls.
We have always found co-teaching at A Level with two teachers is the ideal way to give students the best all-around experience of Drama - we all have strengths in different areas and we find we also cross over nicely.
We feel the new OCR GCSE (9-1) Drama qualification works perfectly alongside the new OCR A Level in Drama and Theatre Studies because of the skills taught, the ability to review and performing using devised and text bases.
For unit 1: Practitioners in Practice we chose to study Grotowski for his actor training and Artaud for his clear style. These two, alongside Metamorphosis by Steven Berkoff, gives our students a really strong grounding in the abstract style of theatre as well as the actor training skills of creating an in-depth and believable role.
We’ll strengthen the abstract base we gave them, using Sweeney Todd for unit 4, using one lesson per week to introduce students to this part of their exam. The remaining lessons will be approaching Text in Performance where we are looking at Girls Like That to suit our female only class.
With numbers of students taking Drama dropping nationally we’ve considered merging the new A Level with the AS Level to accommodate some students. We plan to teach them side-by-side, prioritising the areas covered in the year 12 exam with the year 13 exam preparation and having separate groups doing slightly different things for the performance section. We feel it is important to support our students in achieving the best grade possible in whichever option suits them best.
People have said to me countless times recently that ‘the arts are dying’, which is ridiculous. We might have to fight for our place, but they will never die as people will always need to be entertained — to laugh, to cry and immerse yourself in someone else's ‘life’ as an escape from your own. What we do here is nurture creativity, have fun by exploration and we escape the everyday."
— Claire Odell, Head of Drama