School kids: the National Youth Theatre's chief has cast doubt on the validity of GCSE drama. This is the NYT's production of White Boy - a play about school gang violence
School kids: the National Youth Theatre’s chief has cast doubt on the validity of GCSE drama. This is the NYT’s production of White Boy – a play about school gang violence

Lyn Gardner from The Guardian reacted with passion when she heard that the NYT’s Paul Roseby suggested GCSE drama be scrapped. Amanda Cornwallis reports

Last month The Guardian’s Lyn Gardner asked whether GCSE drama should be scrapped after the National Youth Theatre’s Paul Roseby said it was an irrelevance.
I remember watching a youth production of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good, at the Bristol Old Vic a few years ago, when one of the female convicts says during their rehearsals for the play they are staging “I love this.” Lyn Gardner had exactly the same experience when she saw the play in a different production.
She wrote in her blog: “Those three little words sing loudly to the transforming power of art and of theatre in particular, and of the immense value of taking part.”
When Paul Roseby said GCSE drama is an irrelevance he is missing the point. Speaking at the Artsmark Conference at the British Film Institute in London in October he said GCSE drama classes should be taken off the curriculum because they are “irrelevant” and the subject is seen as “soft and easy”.
The chief executive of the NYT, said that school drama classes should be scrapped and its teaching integrated into other subjects’ lessons instead.
The Stage reported him saying: “That’s not to say I don’t believe in drama in schools – absolutely not. Actually [I would like to see] more than there is currently. But in terms of GCSEs, I’m not so sure it really works.”
If that was to happen drama would all but disappear from senior schools as it would need enthusiastic teachers to stage drama classes and productions as schools value GCSE results as far more important than devoting time to voluntary extra curricular activities.
Gardner recalls watching a rehearsal for Romeo and Juliet at a school. She said: “The young student playing Romeo was really terrific, bringing the character vividly to life. I briefly spoke to him afterwards. ‘I just love this,’ he said, his eyes shining and it made me smile because it reminded me of Wertenbaker’s play. His teacher told me that it was only through studying drama GCSE that the boy had come out of his shell, and that he now had ambitions to go on to drama school. I hope he made it.
“I thought about that boy reading the comments from Paul Roseby of the National Youth Theatre who was reported in the Stage as having dismissed drama GCSE as irrelevant. Try telling that to the boys like the one I saw rehearsing Romeo.”
She has a point. It’s the experience it gives children that is important – just as sports can give a child a chance to shine, or art to express themselves, drama allows budding playwrights and directors, stage managers, lighting technicians and designers to come to the fore.
Communication and confidence are two of the aspects of drama that can give children such a boost – two of the attributes that universities, colleges and employers most seek in young people.
Roseby is an idiot. He plays into the hands of people who want to make cuts in arts education and continue the arguments that the three Rs, science and modern languages are the only thing of importance in a child’s passage through school.
Patrice Baldwin, chair of National Drama who represents drama teachers reacted strongly to his argument. She told The Independent that: “She said: “It is vital that drama is a GCSE subject. It has to be seen as a proper subject worthy of a proper qualification or it will die out in schools. We don’t want drama to be seen as a lesser subject that earns you a Mickey Mouse badge.”
“To have someone like Mr Roseby, who works in the cultural sector, proposing something that would add to the push to get rid of specialist drama teachers is very concerning. I fear that he is being self-serving and hopes to open up opportunities for theatres to run activities in schools.”
Interestingly Rosebury left school with very few qualifications but joined up with the National Youth Theatre paying his way by selling clothing in London. His attitude to formal education and clearly GCSE drama was likely to have been formed in those early years. No formal training, no college and no grants as far as we know has suggested (if his own website is to be believed) that his own career route is the one everyone else should follow. It’s an attitude that follows the confidence gained from being head boy at his senior school.