Elaine Logan: Th expressive arts are key to confidence and more

As the head of a vibrant secondary school and an English and drama teacher, I witness every day the full range of learning styles and abilities.

I started teaching in Fife Region in the eighties and at that time the council was a pioneer in Expressive Arts Education. Drama teachers were permanently employed and there was, rightly, a belief that the skills learnt on and around the stage were intrinsic to childhood development.

It is with a heavy heart that I now watch the diminishing resources in Expressive Arts education. Having performed on stage since I was five years old I appreciate the unique feeling of enormous emotional release this engenders. Drama is all about building resilience and confidence. It is one of the few classes where pupils are not trapped behind desks, able to freely express themselves. Students tell me that they are exhausted after a drama class and are, for that moment, purely dependent on their thinking skills.

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Former pupils readily disclose their memories of school productions. Likewise, for me, the most memorable moments at school were the musical theatre performances.

Best-selling novelist and director, Stephen King, commented that: “Directing teenage actors is like juggling jars of nitro-glycerine: exhilarating and dangerous.” What a wonderful analogy and one with which I wholeheartedly agree.

What is so vital is what pupils extract from the production experience. Having produced numerous plays and musicals, for me, the most rewarding outcome is watching the pupils’ imagination and confidence grow.

Our recent school production of Everest at the Edinburgh Fringe achieved this. Technical abilities were highlighted; carpentry skills demonstrated; artistic talent shown; costume design and creation shone; rehearsal timetabling; prompters and sound engineering proven.

Working on a production is the ultimate team challenge. When people talk about teams in schools they tend to mention sport. A successful play or concert, just like a good rugby or hockey side, relies on excellent timing, outstanding support and very sharp delivery.

Any space can be utilised for art, music or drama and, through improvisation and role-play, children explore many social issues.

Sadly government investment does not reflect this enthusiasm.

The creative and cultural industries is the fastest-growing sector of the economy – injecting an eye-watering £77 billion into the nation’s purse – while teenagers turn out in their thousands to music festivals.

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Surely a watertight argument for investing in, and continually encouraging, the Expressive Arts in education? The chief music critic of the Times, Richard Morrison bemoaned that: “I wish government ministers would have the grace and honesty to stop blathering on about the ‘success story’ that is Britain’s creative and cultural industries. It’s like King Herod rejoicing about improved crèche facilities in first-century Judea.” A salutary thought as I visit local primary schools to facilitate drama workshops and realise from speaking to staff that many pupils have very ad hoc access to qualified drama teachers.

Scotland’s creative young people deserve access to the best Expressive Arts provision that a small country can provide.

Elaine Logan is Warden (Head Teacher) at Glenalmond College in Perthshire

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