being a tree

There is a myth that ‘doing drama’ regularly involves ‘being a tree’. This was something the year 12 students at the Canterbury Academy were keen to highlight, having been trees in a recent ensemble production of ‘The Dream: Met by Moonlight’ at The Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury. Although they shared this experience with a great deal of humour and self-mockery, they were keen to emphasise two things. Firstly, that by being trees, part of a series of tableaux, and representing the magic of the forest, they had also been supporting younger year eight students who were playing the lead roles in their scene. Secondly, the students described the act of being a tree as one that takes you out of your comfort zone, something they say is a regular feature of doing drama. Certainly when I caught up with the year eight students it was clear that working with more experienced peers in supporting roles was highly significant both to their developing stage craft and to their sense of belonging to a school, sharing a passion and enthusiasm for the performing arts:

Our social skills developed from working with others. We understand what other people are like. The sixth formers we worked with were our role models and they made us feel welcome and like we can be like them when we are older.

(Year 8 student at Canterbury Academy)

Being ‘out of your comfort zone’ is a phrase used by many of the students I have encountered during this first phase of the research and is something they describe as a key feature of drama and performing arts, helping them develop confidence by doing something really challenging and unfamiliar:

People think I’m shy and nervous so I couldn’t understand the character traits [of the confident character of Titania] but by the end I greeted the character like a best friend and showed off the sassy side I have when I am with people I know. I found out more about myself from the experience.

(Year 8 student at Canterbury Academy)

As Becky Huckle, Director of Extended Services, at the school commented:

Taking the creative risks that are part of the performing arts, allows children to realise it’s okay for things to not always go well, in fact, that when you mistakes that’s often when things get better. Many of our pupils lack in self-esteem and confidence; the performing arts and, creativity in general, enables them to build this and many other skills that help them become well-rounded young people, able to handle challenges and work with others.

Executive Principal, Phil Karnavas, added:

Our partnership with The Royal Shakespeare Company is part of a consistent approach of working with professionals from industry to give our children the highest quality experiences. Working with local schools in the partnership is a real highlight of the programme; it’s great to be able to be a hub for such creative activity. Seeing the impact the work has on the children and staff involved across the partnership is inspiring. Active approaches, which are the key tenet of the RSC partnership are shared across other areas of the curriculum and we are developing ever closer relationships with The Marlowe Theatre to diversify this and bring in theatre professionals to enhance learning in different subjects.

The performance of ‘The Dream’ was part of the programme of work undertaken by Canterbury Academy staff and students with RSC Education and involved 9 schools and 221 children and young people. Each group were allocated a scene and then interpreted and performed it as a group to a large audience of family, friends and staff. I was particularly delighted to have seated behind me three lads who were attending without an adult and who talked loudly and began munching their way through a considerable supply of crisps and sweets. When the performance began, however, they became quiet until their excitement spilled over when one of their friends appeared, playing Bottom. ‘Go on Archie,’ one of them called and it was a sentiment the audience around them clearly shared. There was a strong desire to vocalise support and go beyond the polite convention of clapping as each scene drew to a close. The degree of empathy and engagement of the audience and the performers with the play was conspicuous throughout. By paying attention to the detail of each scene, each cast really bought new life to this much performed story, rethinking and representing what fairies might be, or actors or indeed trees.

Programme designed by Naomi Jeffers & Eloise Holman, Year 10 Canterbury AcademyProgramme

keys to the city

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My research conversations with GCSE and A level art students from Upton Hall School FCJ quickly revealed some in depth knowledge and engagement with the galleries and public art in the centre of Liverpool. On further enquiry it was clear that this relates to an annual summer homework which invites the students to visit a specific exhibition and then choose a number of other venues and galleries to visit and to document this in their sketchbooks.For those students who have taken art through to A level, this means they will have undertaken this activity four or five times by the end of their courses.


I looked through the documentation the students had created after their visits which varied in design and content considerably. Each journey the students had taken reflected their personal responses and affinities with particular spaces or exhibitions. Many of them used a mapping design aesthetic, adapting the materials from the galleries such as logos and directions and plotting them on the page. This gave a strong indication that the students felt a degree of ownership or connection to the key cultural institutions in their city, despite living a long bus journey outside the city centre.


unspecified-4I asked the students if they ever felt that the galleries were ‘not for them,’ a comment students from other schools have made in the course of the project. They strongly rejected this idea, stating that Liverpool was ‘not posh’. One student also suggested that the staff at the school had high expectations of them and this included things like visiting galleries independently as well as through school visits and projects. Others talked of the summer homework as something they did with friends, describing it as an enjoyable and memorable experience. The students talked about the art they had engaged with and how it had influenced their own work, citing different artists as well as shared experiences.

Ann Spears, Head of Art at Upton Hall School FCJ, described the rationale:

We consider familiarisation and a sense of ownership with galleries and museums to be pivotal to the success of the GCSE and A Level courses and that the pupils’ cultural development is an absolute entitlement for our pupils. Their experience outside the classroom energises learning. Our aim is to support the development of eloquent and confident students, whatever their backgrounds, who can embrace contemporary art and innovative ideas to inform their own practice. Students regularly undertake workshops with artists in residence both at the galleries and at school and benefit enormously from the interaction.

Funding can be an issue but initiatives such as the Arts Council and Curious Mind’s SLiCE Fellowship has enabled me to work collaboratively as the Lead School with Cultural Partnership organisations in Liverpool and by adopting a Systems Leadership approach has enabled 3 other schools to benefit from the enriching experience with a series of 4 workshops based on the current exhibit Open 2:Pieces of you at the Open Eye Gallery.

The key aim of this year’s research project is to measure the impact on literacy of a Pupil Premium cohort by tracking pupil progress over the academic year after their involvement in the project.