Two drama teachers were sacked for play where students acted out sexual abuse - but drama is meant to shock

Drama is meant to challenge actors and audiences - the teenagers were acting.

Share
Related Topics

Two unnamed secondary school drama teachers have apparently been sacked by their school and are pursuing unfair dismissal claims.

Their offence? They taught GCSE drama to 15 and 16 year olds as it should be taught, in an uncompromising, rigorous, challenging way.

The students devised (that means worked out and wrote in drama jargon), produced, directed and acted in a short play – which is exactly what they’re supposed to be doing. I don’t know which GCSE drama syllabus they were using but devising your own work is in all of them.

The problem in this case was that the work – which was performed to friends and family – was about sexual abuse within the family and it depicted some pretty graphic activity, including a rape and oral sex.

It sounds – although I have only very samey newspaper reports to judge from – as if it was very powerful effective drama which really got to some of the people who saw it. One child wept and two more – including rather oddly – one of the actors, vomited. And a number of people reported afterwards, according to testimony produced at the tribunal, that they had found the experience a positive one.

My impression is that these teachers were actually doing a good job – making drama pose some very uncomfortable questions, which is exactly what drama is meant to do. It isn’t about putting on pretty bits of shallow, anodyne entertainment and does not begin and end with The Sound of Music or a pantomime version of Cinderella. Yes, it may have been unsuitable for a primary school group but these students were not children. They were young adults who – like it or not – will have experienced quite a bit of the world as it is, rather than as we might like it to be.

The mistake which these teachers made – and it’s hardly a sackable offence – was in failing to warn parents and friends that the play dealt with sensitive issues and was not suitable for younger children.

There is nothing remotely wrong with drama which upsets the audience and makes people think.  I find the blinding of Gloucester in King Lear intensely distressing. When I saw Starfish – a play presented by Y Touring which takes issues-based shows into school – I wept, at the end because it reminded me of the medical dilemmas faced by my father towards the end of his life. The last few moments of Katie Mitchell’s production of Ibsen’s Ghosts for the RSC with Simon Russell Beale and Jane Lapotaire still makes me shiver to think about it, nearly twenty years later.

But, when you see a drama, however much the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ kicks in, you know, at some level, that these are actors pretending and that they will be in the pub half an hour after the show – or cursing the traffic as they drive home through it.

Teenagers in a school watching their friends know this as well as anyone. They understand how drama works. The issues are real but the action in front of them is not. Drama offers a way to tackle difficult issued impersonally. That is part of its job.

Pity then that this case should have been judged by people who really don’t seem to have a clue what drama is about or what it’s for. The tribunal judge, Lady Smith, has overturned the Employment Appeal Tribunal’s earlier decision in the teachers’ favour. This week she decreed that the case be reheard.

She was guided by the views of the local council’s ‘safeguarding manager for education’ – who is not, please note, a drama specialist. He watched a DVD of the performance and expressed shock that the pupils were ‘allowed to engage in such sexualised behaviour’. They weren’t. They were acting. And acting means that you pretend to be something that you’re not in a very controlled environment.  Actors – whether professional or amateur, young, middle aged or old – are NOT the roles they play or the actions they depict.

So, because a safeguarding manager (with a job title like that …) has experience in role play which is a therapeutic technique and not the same thing at all as drama, two teachers – who are apparently pretty good at what they do – have lost their jobs. Call that justice?

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own