A look back at RinD’s de-colonising the curriculum training for drama teachers

Date Created: 5th Aug 2021

Group of four secondary school-aged children sat listening attentively in a drama studio with a poster on the wall behind that reads 'Welcome to Drama'.

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In March we hosted an online training event for secondary school teachers exploring the lack of ethnically diverse representation in school drama, theatre and performing arts curriculums as part of a project called Representation in Drama (RinD), supported by the Cultural Learning Alliance. Lorraine Cheshire, Education Development Manager for Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Portsmouth and Southampton, shares her key takeaways from this session…

Last term Artswork were delighted to welcome Romana Flello and Mezze Eade from the London Theatre Consortium (LTC) to share the work they have been doing around representation in the performing arts, decolonising the curriculum and anti-racism. 

This digital session brought together over 30 teachers from across the South East interested to hear more about this important work and to share their thinking, planning and challenges around it. 

 

Male student laying on studio floor in performance

Romana started by sensitively addressing the difference between privilege and entitlement and the importance of being aware of what words mean to others. She encouraged us to consider this for ourselves. She recognised that unconscious bias training is a good first step but is not enough. It is about bringing awareness to language and behaviours – some thinking becomes ingrained based on learned behaviours. 

Addressing this can lead to uncomfortable encounters which may require reassurance and possibly provoke resistance that may be grounded in fear. Individuals may need time to process their thinking and reactions. 

Romana and Mezze outlined the importance of preparing for conversations around representation and anti-racism, and being honest about not having all of the answers. They likened this journey to moving out of your house without knowing where you are going. Unsettling, uncomfortable but potentially life changing. 

Two young women in school uniform acting in a drama lesson, smiling and waving

We moved on to discuss the different ways in which children and young people may respond to anti-racism compared to adults. They believe that young people often repeat what they have heard or been taught and shouldn’t be penalised for expressing parental views. 

We also looked at the acronym BAME and why this term  lumping countries and identities together  is offensive and no longer fit for purpose. People must be able to self-identify and use the language and terms they recognise as accurate and specific to their lived experience and this language must be respected and used by others. We should always try to be specific when talking about individuals and communities. Romana and Mezze recommended using the term ‘global majority’* if a collective term is required. They also drew attention to the use of the word ‘diversity’ as a default word that centres on white experience.

Dignity and belonging are very important. 

We went on to look at what decolonising a curriculum means – putting back in excluded content that reflects a wider lived experience. This was expertly done through a group exercise called ‘When I came home from school I opened my backpack and found…’. This revealed how many young people do not see themselves represented in what they study or what they experience in school and in their lives. In 2020, the London Theatre Consortium (LTC) and Representation in Drama (RinD) project began looking at set texts for drama in this light, suggesting a more inclusive and open approach should be taken to text selection. They have since been working with four examination boards, including Pearson Edexcel who have just announced that, in partnership with Royal Court Theatre, LTC and RinD, they have added four new plays to their GCSE qualification. These new plays are by Bola Agbaje, In-Sook Chappell, Tanika Gupta and Roy Williams. As a result, a third of Pearson Drama set texts are now by global majority playwrights. The Olivier award-winning play ‘Gone too Far’ by Bola Agbaje, a British/Nigerian playwright, explores identity and culture amongst young black youth, whilst ‘The Free Nine’ by In-sook Chappell, a South Korean playwright, uses the true story of the Laos Nine as a starting point to interrogate ideas of hope, escape and cultural difference for young people. The examining board AQA has also made a commitment to anti-racism policies. The LTC and RinD have been developing resources and materials around these plays for teachers. Following a rich discussion around barriers such as money, time and confidence, they also shared some really useful pointers as to how teachers might approach and teach these texts: 

  • Avoid racial stereotypes; 
  • No accents! Look at what the words mean.  Consider rhythms rather than accent; 
  • Colour blind casting doesn’t work – colour mindful casting does; 
  • Costumes and make up need mindful, appropriate choices for students of the global majority;
  • Ask pupils – research – they will bring their own knowledge. 

They concluded by suggesting that anti-racism is an act of empathy, and we need to find and focus on the human element within it, working constructively with discomfort, starting with our own practice. It is a lifelong commitment. 

In view of recent events, particularly the racism faced by England football players Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho & Bukayo Saka, this is valuable advice we can all benefit from. 

You can find all of the resources Romana and Mezze shared with us here. They are broad and provide useful templates for schools to plan their own journey to decolonise their curriculum and to be held accountable to. 

We intend to develop this important work with schools so do keep a look out on our website and social media for details of further anti-racism training. 

The RinD Project aims to address systemic imbalances in Key Stage 3, GCSE and A Level drama, and support intersectional anti-racism work happening in UK schools, theatres and theatre companies.  Led by the London Theatre Consortium (LTC),  RinD promotes the study, directing and programming of plays by writers from the global majority. The project supports schools, theatre and youth companies to embed anti-racism pedagogy in their practice, build the skills and confidence of teachers, facilitators and practitioners to teach and direct texts which represent the lived experience of their students and young people, and prepare young people to engage empathetically with Britain’s rich society of heritages and ethnicities.  To find out more, follow @LTC_Theatres on Twitter.

 * Global majority includes, but is not limited to, people of African, North African, South Asian, South East Asian, East Asian, Caribbean, Latinx, Middle Eastern, Native American, Native Australian, Pacific Islanders, Roma and Traveller heritage or diaspora, and refers to people who have experienced racism due to the colour of their skin.

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Anti-racism Black Lives Matter Equality and Diversity For teachers Secondary Schools Theatre

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