Bertolt Brecht, 1948 Credit: Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Drama plumbs depths in the young. Year 11 final devised pieces can be stories of Shakespearean perfidy. In past lives I’ve watched scenes that would make Jeremy Kyle wince with angry foghorns drowning out nuanced human experience. I worry that yelling is the lingua franca of too many homes, while noting its experimentalism in other thespians from very quiet homes. This week was wonderfully different: four pieces on night two of the rehearsals bringing gripping and complex stories, broken hearts and agitprop, physical and verbal dexterity, the odd laugh amidst the agony. Young people who struggle to express themselves elsewhere perform with confidence and power through skilled teaching. Drama is key to any curriculum that offers a voice to the voiceless. It’s not that voices aren’t annoying elsewhere.
This mad weather is no friend to the teacher on yard duty: we expect balmy sunshine in the summer term and are infuriated by cold and rain. Tuesday afternoon started with ear-splitting thunder and stuff falling from the sky. Some year 8 boys approached me, undeterred by the leaky down jacket that makes me look like a seagull pie demanding ‘Is this snow?’ I regarded them and prevaricated (snow excites the young). The Person In Charge of Weather put us right; ‘light hail from an arctic maritime front’. They were disappointed. ‘Don’t hailstones knock you out?’
Undeterred, year 7 consider the Dalai Lama. I’m an old cynic and was touched by how impressed they were by his thoughts. Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them. Some squirreled the sheet into their bags for further reading: one made a public vow to be kinder to his brother. You forget how easily moved and spontaneously happy a young person can be, despite the prevailing wind. A helpful student enjoys hosting an open evening for next year’s year 12s ‘. "Our school is full of joy" she said. "There's always laughter".
A correspondent wants to discuss Picketty’s Capital with me and I am happy (but ill-equipped) to oblige. Capital as a concept is important to educators because it helps us think about the contribution we make to our children’s futures. It straddles raw achievement, the education of the whole child and our work for a just and sustainable democracy (as the old National Curriculum used to have it). Picketty’s schtick is that that returns on capital are more important than the outputs of work. Education is the best method for building up capital and achieving equality, because economic growth is simply incapable of satisfying this democratic and meritocratic hope. However, those who already have capital try very hard to reproduce structures of professional and social control down the generations. We have to create specific institutions to alter this. Turning schools into academies by lure or fatwah will serve to prevent debate in the public forum of local democracy about how we finance the key mechanism in reducing social inequality: schools need to be products of democracy if they are to be agents of social change. But if you don’t want to schools to change the distribution of capital in any form, then removing them from democratic control is probably a very effective way of doing it.
A representative of the people comes to visit. She’s thoughtful and interested, so we offer her school cakes, honest reflection on our pennilessness and a trip round the reservation. She liked the photography and had a trip through the Narnia door into the dark room. At the end, a verdict: ‘you feel at one here: it’s happy’.
A happy and just school isn’t accidental. Schools make commitments to their values and their methods and have to make sure that they work to create educated people to play a part in a just social order. It’s not easily reducible to metrics. The 90% Ebacc-ers – with whom, in another context I used to have more sympathy than I do now – argue that the capital of traditional subjects is greater than that of drama or art. Is it? Or is it just easier to maintain the current social order if no one has the articulacy to challenge it? Roll of thunder, hear our cry.