Cultural Learning Alliance

Art should be the fourth ‘r’ alongside reading, writing and arithmetic

Sir Nicholas Serota
Director, Tate


Request for your help: Should Drama be taught in schools?

Published 21 August 2012

Responses needed urgently.

The Department of Education (DfE) is asking for your opinion on the place of Drama in the National Curriculum.   

The DfE has published a draft of the new English Primary Curriculum and is asking for stakeholder responses from the sector. This is in advance of a more formal consultation in the autumn.

In contrast to the current Curriculum, the new programme makes no specific mention of Drama. It also seems clear from a recent letter to Tim Oates, (Chair of the Expert Panel that contributed to the Review) that Drama will not be included as a subject in its own right in primary schools.

It is likely that there will be no statutory provision for Drama in primary schools in the future.

The CLA has been in discussion with the DfE on this issue for some months. As a result officials have asked us to survey the Alliance on the place of Drama in the National Curriculum and to present them with a summary of our thoughts. 

We strongly urge all our signatories to take part in this online survey and to send it out through your networks. We know that many of you are already in discussion with the DfE and will be making your own detailed responses, however this is an excellent chance for us to supplement these submissions and present the joined-up voice of our wider alliance membership.

As ever, we need to move very swiftly on this to maximize the impact of our response and to make sure that our submission is considered in the development of the next draft. We are therefore asking for responses as soon as possible, but by 10:00am on the 7th of September at the latest. 

We know that this is an extremely busy time for everyone, and that many of you will be away, but if you can prioritise this task then it will make a real difference. It should only take about 15 minutes to read the documents (they are fairly short) and a few minutes to respond.

In addition to the survey questions, we are also collecting brief statements from leaders, practitioners and young people from across education, learning, theatre, business, industry and culture. We are asking colleagues for a few sentences outlining their position and feelings on this issue. It would be particularly useful for head teachers, teachers, directors, CEOs, chairs, artists and employers and young people to comment. You can use the textbox on the survey to do this or you can e-mail us directly at


To help you respond we have prepared the following briefing:

Which elements of the National Curriculum are we talking about? 

This particular consultation relates to the English Primary Curriculum only (Key Stages 1 and 2).

The DfE has yet to publish any information on the Secondary Curriculum for English and we have not yet had any indication of the other subjects that will be statutory at Key Stages 3 and 4.

The Cultural Learning Alliance, Darren Henley and many others have urged for Drama to be included as a subject in its own right across all key stages. This now seems very unlikely at Primary Level and we therefore need to respond to its omission from the English Curriculum.

What is the current status of Drama in the National Curriculum?

You can read the content of the current English National Curriculum here (Key Stage, 1, Key Stage 2 and Attainment target level descriptors in a menu on the left)

The current curriculum is separated into ‘Speaking and Listening’, ‘Reading’ and ‘Writing’ (though it specifies that all should be integrated). In the ‘Speaking and Listening’ section there is a specific heading for Drama and the knowledge, skills, understanding and breadth of study expected at each level are detailed. For example:


Key Stage 1

Knowledge, skills, understanding 

To participate in a range of drama activities, pupils should be taught to:

  1. use language and actions to explore and convey situations, characters and emotions
  2. create and sustain roles individually and when working with others

  3. comment constructively on drama they have watched or in which they have taken part.

The range should include:

  1. working in role

  2. presenting drama and stories to others [for example, telling a story through tableaux or using a narrator]

  3. responding to performances.

In addition to thse specific Drama sections the whole programme includes references to play scripts and to skills, knowledge and understanding that supports drama development.

What is the status of Drama in the new Draft English Curriculum? 

You can read the new draft curriculum here

The new draft is separated into ‘Reading’ and ‘Writing’. There is no ‘Speaking and Listening’ section. The curriculum is presented as a table, with a statutory programme of study outlined on the left, and non-statutory guidance and notes in the right-hand column.

There is no separate section for Drama and it is not mentioned at all in the statutory section of Key Stage 1. It is briefly mentioned in the guidance section for Year 2 but only within the context of its contribution to writing:

Drama and role-play can contribute to pupils’ writing by providing opportunities for pupils to play roles and improvise scenes, including those involving fictional characters (note 88)

It is also alluded to in the ‘Grammar’ section of the Key Stage 2 statutory programme but only within the context of discussing characters rather than enacting them:

discussing dialogue in narratives or characters’ language in drama [note 118]

In the ‘Comprehension’ sections of the ‘Reading’ programme, scripts are mentioned as texts to be read aloud but not also as the basis of developing theatre performance.

What are the other issues we need to be aware of? 

Working with our steering and advisory group we have prepared a document that lays out some of our main concerns and priorities for the National Curriculum Review as a whole. You can read some of the extracts from this document here.


I want to respond, but cannot access the online survey.  

Please do answer the questions below and e-mail your response through to us at


Name of organization:

Do the aims for the new Primary English Curriculum set out the right teaching and learning priorities for English?

If not, how could they be changed and why?

Does the new Draft Primary English Curriculum facilitate Drama teaching and learning in every school?

If yes, what new opportunities does it offer?

If not, what barriers does it create?

If these draft proposals became the curriculum would you expect that, none, all or some aspects of Drama would be taught effectively in the English curriculum? 

Would Drama also need to be placed a) additionally or b) alternatively elsewhere in the curriculum?

If so, where should it sit?

Does the content outlined in the draft Programme of Study for English set the right expectations for 5 to 11 year olds, taking account in particular of the expectations set in high-performing jurisdictions? If not, what expectations do you think need to change and why?

If the Programme of Study were to focus on fewer things in more depth, what do you think should be prioritised any why?

What would be the practical implications for schools of teaching this Programme of Study, including the training requirements for teachers?


Failure to promote and teach drama to our children is just as bad as destroying their potential to excel in life. We stop identifying and nurturing talent. We stop building confidence. We stop providing choices and opportunities for children to propel in life. In a nut shell, we kill the education of a child because drama is life. It helps children to explore and become creative, participating, learn and grow.
Ephson Ngadya 21 August 2012
In Northern Ireland Drama is a statutory and discrete subject in our curriculum from foundation to KS3 as part of the Arts Learning Area together with Music and Art and Design. It is an essential, positive,valuable and enjoyable aspect of our curriculum. As Arts Education Advisor I have fought to get drama into our classrooms. It has been an uphill battle but now it is being taught in all our schools.
Arthur Webb 22 August 2012
I have already filled in the questionaire sent out by London Drama. The following are my additional comments. Having worked in drama and education (and dramatherapy) for over 40 years, I have witnessed the gradual erosion of drama in schools and the opportunities for children to be a part of their culture through participating in drama and ritual. We have lost the drama advisors, then advisory drama teachers; most drama teaching has been subsumed under teaching English or Life and Social Skills. Drama has been given a lower status that teaching music for example. There is less and less funding for drama projects. And now the proposal is to excise it from the new curriculum. There is evidence (Vygotsky, Needham and a host of others) that drama enhances learning of all subjects AND that is important for personal, social and cultural growth in its own right. Authorities keep talking about the need for citizenship but how else can it be taught effectively? My prediction is, that if drama teaching is enhanced at teacher training, then emphasised as a teaching medium across the curriculum together with 'drama in education' and 'social drama' projects, there would be an increase in literacy and numeracy. There would also be less anti-social behaviour and less need to have dramatherapy for emotional and psychological difficulties. Drama is a preventative medium to strengthen emotional and social intelligence as well as resilience. I am not the only person to have published many books and articles on this subject!
Dr Sue Jennings 23 August 2012
The reliance of the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies upon the dramatic and dance democratic expression of the artists and volunteers is a very clear statement of the success drama and dance bring to community. Against this backdrop of government funded sport festival it appears a very unlearned stance to remove the democratic right of children and learners to acknowledge drama and dance as areas that are permanent features of human learning and experience. There seems to be a danger of hypocrisy.. to rest on the skills and gifts of those who learn and express well in these subjects and then to remove these subjects from a public place within a national curriculum. Many people in fact most people can use their dramatic skills alongside their non-dramatic skills to great effect. Take a look at Brian Cox ..Dr.. or Neil Armstrong..astronaut! Orperhaps their main subjects should not have been allowed a name of their own...
Moira Prosser 27 August 2012
With drama comes creativity, confidence in students own opinions , beliefs and abilities. Drama has and can make the difference to a young persons life. Making students understand the need for team work, listening and questioning, exploring and understanding the world and everyone in it! Without drama on the curriculum to aid our children to become exceptional in all areas , I truly believe the country will suffer.
Hannah Bounds 28 August 2012
Over the last few days, I've been contacted by a number of headteachers and others involved with NET's work each expressing growing concern about the proposals for the new primary curriculum. CLA's reservations about the virtual non-inclusion of drama (Important as that, alone, is in the proper and rightful learning for young children) is but one indication of these concerns. The proposals will effectively redesign the primary curriclum and reduce it to a detailed description of content in only three subjects, each of these to be inspected by an impoverished and narrow focus on the recall of 'facts'. There is little in the proposals that allow for the development of personal capability, the growth of responsibility and the joy of creative learning, all of which - and more, of course - is fostered by the opportunities for drama. Unfortunately, it would appear it is not only the the loss of drama that is at stake with these new proposals but all of those elemental experiences which enable the development of a 'rounded' and well-educated young person.
Richard Howard 29 August 2012
As a current Cambridge student who runs a small theatre production company, theatre has been invaluable to my learning experience and was what involved me in school, and in studying. Having taught drama on three continents and seen the joy it brings to children of all ages, and the direct way in which it connects the individual to their learning environment, I am appalled at this new draft curriculum. Drama is something deserving of study in its own right, but as a complement and a way in to many other forms of learning. It explores some of the most fascinating aspects of humanity, is creative, enjoyable, and embodies what teaching children should be about - creativity and caring, not a narrow focus and dry texts.
Tom Powell 04 September 2012
Having worked as a Family Therapist in Child Mental Health for nearly thirty years , those children who have been given the opportunity to learn and experience drama in all forms are better able and equipped to cope with emotional and social challenges and relationship difficulties. Drama exposes children to the feelings and experiences of other people and teaches empathy and develops sensitivity to others in a way that no other subject can.
Gillian Norman 05 September 2012

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