Extra-Curricular: Dirty words?

Thursday 22 June 2017

This report came at the same time as the then Education Secretary Michael Gove suggested that all schools should stay open for up to ten hours per day to enable students to take part in such enriching activities as ‘sports clubs, orchestras and choirs, school plays, cadets [and] debating competitions’ which serve to ‘build character and instil grit’ amongst other things.

Leaving aside for a second the politically loaded terminology contained with the ‘Character and Resilience Manifesto’ from which this assertion sprung, it at least brought the notion of extra-curricular provision as important back into consciousness. Albeit for about 5 minutes.

Earlier this year a report from the House of Lords emerged entitled ‘Skills for Theatre: Developing the Pipeline of Talent’. The report begins by setting out the stall for the importance of the theatre industry for the wellbeing and economy of the nation, citing the worldwide influence of the UK Theatre industry on the rest of the world and the assertion that “the NHS looks after us physically but theatre looks after us spiritually”. The report sets out to explore the routes into the theatre industry for young people and what barriers they may face.

The report covers area as diverse as the formal education sector at Primary, Secondary, Further and Higher Education; careers advice; apprenticeships and training; continuing professional development; and the wider theatre ecology.

But, perhaps most importantly for us within the Youth Theatre sector, they highlight the importance of extra-curricular activities.

It is pinpointed in the report that extra-curricular activities are of great importance to fostering young people’s engagement with theatre but that often it seems that we are swimming against the tide of funding cuts and a noticeable disparity in opportunity due to economic and social demographic reasons. All of which raises some useful points and questions that are vital to understanding the issues that we are all grappling with on a daily basis. However, that is where the discussion, at least the part of the discussion that focusses plainly on the extra-curricular, ends.

Where this report is of greater use to those of us within the Youth Theatre and informal education sector is through analysing the issues and gaps that are raised within other sections. Issues such as the importance of diverse careers advice that stretches beyond the strictly performance realm, access to training programmes and apprenticeships that are directly connected to the real world arts sector and the issues around diversity of representation within the sector are all issues that the extra-curricular/ informal sector can potentially step in to help with. If we are invited to the conversation, that is.

As we move forward in our current unstable political climate, it is beholden on our sector to advocate for the importance of the extra-curricular in supplementing formal education and providing a useful, flexible and agile way of negotiating issues and gaps that are identified in reports such as these. We just need a seat at the table.  

  1. Garner, R. (2014) ‘Teachers must sign up for drama and sport, say MPs’ The Independent
  2. Select Committee on Communications (2017) ‘Skills for theatre: developing the pipeline of talent’, p. 7