As a physicist you might expect me to say the study of maths, science, technology and engineering. These, of course, open all sorts of doors as do other subjects studied at school. Most subjects, well taught, will enable the learner to think, to feel and to see differently. If they do not do this they are not worth teaching. But some experiences transform the very essence of the person. I've see it many times, over and over again. It is the most wonderful thing.
These transformative experiences always involve a deep personal enlightenment on the part of the young person; a greater understanding of who they are and how they fit into the world. They can happen as an active participant or as a passive observer. Typically but not exclusively, they happen on or in front of a stage, in or in front of an orchestra or band, and in front of an easel or at a gallery. Participation in and appreciation of drama, music and art are amongst the most powerfully transformative experiences our young people can have because they require you to express yourself. To do so requires you to examine and understand yourself and others. No one should deny pupils these opportunities.
This is why, at the next autumn conference of HMC, we are partnering with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), in the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, on a theme of Leading Creative Schools. HMC schools are outstandingly successful in providing these transformative opportunities to their pupils. It's one of the reasons why many in the professional arts world come from our schools: they have honed themselves and their skills as artists, actors and musicians over many years while at school through the myriad and regular opportunities made available to them. I saw an example just a few weeks ago when a mild-mannered, quietly spoken young woman was transformed into the most compelling, evil, manipulative villain.
So, I'm surprised and dismayed that the new syllabuses for GCSE drama set by the exam boards suggest that pupils might watch a recording of a play as part of their studies. This is a poor substitute for seeing a live performance or acting it out. Shakespeare's plays, for example, were not written for learned study, line by line (for many, this approach is what kills the plays). They were written to be performed and appreciated live in all their blood, glory, intrigue, love and fun. That's why I'm delighted that a group of Ashford School pupils, all of whom have English as a second language, have been chosen from many to perform on stage at the RSC in June of this year. It's also why I am delighted that we are part of the east Kent hub bringing Shakespeare to many other pupils in this area. To deny pupils the opportunity to perform and to be submerged in performance is to deny them an opportunity to grow.
Fortunately, there are many school leaders out there, in maintained and independent schools, who understand the transformative nature of drama for children of all backgrounds. I urge them and others to give their drama staff the freedom, resources and encouragement to ignore the poor substitute and embrace live performance. They might even try treading the boards themselves.
By Mike Buchanan, HMC Chair Elect 2016-17, Headmaster, Ashford School