With recent news reporting government plans to axe the popular drama GCSE from the curriculum, or cut the practical aspects of the course down to 30%, there’s been much controversy over the value of the subject in our schools. Secondary school drama teachers have warned against the dangers of reducing the emphasis of drama in schools, and there’s been a definite surge in support for the subject over the last year.

Those against the plans have dubbed the proposed changes a ‘cultural apartheid’. They suggest that if drama is taken off the curriculum and only offered as an extra – something which the students must attend in their own time and pay for out of their own pocket – there is an increased chance that only children from more affluent backgrounds will take part in the arts.

On the other hand, there are those who’d like to see the subject taken off the GCSE syllabus completely. Whether it’s because they view drama as a subject not worth teaching or a waste of students’ time, or because they’re of the belief that drama should be made a core subject in schools, meaning students would still get to take part in the subject, but wouldn’t have any formal exams. In this case, there’s a worry that if the pressure of exams is taken off a school, less emphasis and importance might be placed on the subject.

The jury’s out on this one. There’s a definite divide of those who agree with the proposed changes and those who don’t. But what would these mean for the arts across the UK? Many are attracted to theatre because of the cultural diversity it allows, drawing in people from a mixture of backgrounds. Actors like Julie Walters have talked of their concern that an elitism in the arts will lead to a change in the landscape of UK theatre and performance, an exclusion of the working classes. There’s a worry that the future of performing arts education will only be accessible to the more privileged.

What are the benefits of a drama GCSE in schools?

For many, the option to take drama at GCSE is an invaluable opportunity. Whether that’s because they have enjoyed performing and studying theatre, or because they’re not as academically gifted and their talents flourish elsewhere. Drama has been a subject option for over 30 years, and throughout that time it’s been a popular choice for many students.

With the chance to be creative and escape from the classroom environment, drama lessons create spaces where students can express themselves, and learn to work with others. Students who have taken drama at GCSE often talk about the support and encouragement they received from their peers, and teachers often notice a change in the behaviour of their students in drama lessons- they become more confident, cooperative and creative.

Every year thousands of student across the UK will opt to take drama at GCSE, and many of them will look back on their course with fondness. Whether it’s for the good memories of times spent devising and performing, or a pride in the grades they obtained, undertaking a drama GCSE can be a truly rewarding experience.

Are there any downsides to keeping the subject in the curriculum?

There are some who would argue that selecting drama as an option limits the other more ‘academic’ subjects you can take at GCSE. And of course it does all depend on what the student wants to go on and do at sixth form or university. If a student has a clear idea of their career path it might be a good idea for them to shape their options around the qualifications they’ll need for further study in that subject area. Many employers, however, are always interested to see a candidate with at least one qualification in an arts subject such as drama or music.

It’s not a subject for everyone though, and many would prefer to keep drama strictly extra curricular. With a decline in the number of students opting to do a GCSE in drama (according to The Stage, the number has decreased sharply by more than 25% over the past eight years), there’s the suggestion that the popularity of the subject isn’t at the peak it once was.

Removing drama from the GCSE list in schools across the UK though would take yet more emphasis off the arts and – rightly or wrongly – mean that there is less of a broad, balanced curriculum, potentially affecting the future of the UK’s arts and performance culture. With a theatre industry in the UK worth billions, we need to keep producing high quality, properly trained and qualified professional actors, and a GCSE in drama is the foundation for many of those who go on to receive professional training at theatre school later in life.

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