Head of department: Miss Youens 

Teachers: Mr Bulteel 

The Drama Department at Burnham Grammar School

Intent (what we aim to do):

  • Enable students to create unforgettable live theatre, following professional working practices
  • Foster a lifelong love of theatre and associated art forms
  • Teach transferable skills, explicitly linked to a wide range of work and life skills
  • Promote responsible learning, especially in terms of teamwork, independent preparation, and use of resources
  • Maximise learning and achievement in GCSE Drama, and starting in September 2022, A level Drama and Theatre
  • Prepare and encourage students to follow a career in theatre, TV or film, or to study the performing arts, if they wish to do so

Implementation (how we achieve our aims):

  • An academic approach to the subject from the very start of Key Stage 3, covering a comprehensive range of topics and skills, from Greek tragedy and mask design to improvisation
  • A year 9 curriculum based on theatrical styles, covering all the main GCSE skills and with a ‘Live Theatre Review’ strand running alongside the main schemes of work
  • Delivery of the OCR specification at Key Stage 4, which trains students rigorously in devising, directing, performing, designing, evaluating and reviewing live theatre, whether made by themselves or others
  • A department ethos which promotes physical and emotional safety, theatrical professionalism and creative freedom
  • A self-perpetuating student-led culture where older students teach and lead younger ones, particularly in extracurricular drama
  • Opportunities for all students to see live and digitally-streamed theatre, incorporating as much low-cost and free material as possible

Impact (what we have achieved so far):

  • 100% grade 4-9 at GCSE since the current specification started
  • 56% grade 7-9 in 2022, with 50% grade 9 on the ‘Devising Drama’ NEA unit
  • An enthusiastic A level class currently studying in year 12
  • Alumni describe BGS drama as ‘inspirational’ and have gone on to acting, directing and technical roles in University theatre groups and local high-level amateur theatre groups. Recently, the former Head of Stage Crew has begun studying Stage Management at Guildhall School of Music and Drama
  • Fully-equipped drama studio now in operation in the new building
  • Weekly drama club led entirely by sixth-formers
  • A back catalogue of nine whole-school productions, including the full-scale musical ‘We Will Rock You’

A closer look at our curriculum…

Year 7 (two lessons per fortnight)

Students come to BGS with a huge range of different experiences of drama; around a fifth have never had a drama lesson, so the Introduction To Drama unit helps to get everyone up to speed, so that they can perform clearly without making any huge mistakes (no backs to the audience after this!). Then students are encouraged to be a bit braver and tackle Improvisation, which emphasises the value of ‘letting go’ in order to produce devised work which is truly creative.

The Storytelling unit develops memory skills, valuable across the curriculum and throughout life, but it allows students to be directors too – and watching themselves back on video is a truly effective learning experience! Next we get creative with Designing for the Theatre, where students learn about the visual language of the stage and make their own designs into real, functional pieces. Finally, some work on Conflict Resolution, including Augusto Boal’s ‘Forum Theatre’ technique, shows how theatre has uses beyond entertainment – it can genuinely improve how we behave and interact.

Year 8 (one lesson per fortnight)

The year 8 course starts to introduce some more specific theatrical knowledge and skills, such as an understanding of different theatrical spaces in the Audiences and Spaces unit, which uses Dominic Cooke’s ‘Arabian Nights’ to explore staging ‘in the round’. Theatrical history is then explored through Masks and Greek Theatre, which requires students to design and make a character mask, and compete against each other in companies of around 10 to perform the tragedy of Agamemnon. Finally, the Performance Poetry unit reinforces what they learned in year 7 about memory and recall, so that students leave KS3 with a toolkit of transferable skills, even if they don’t choose Drama at GCSE.

Year 9 (5 lessons per fortnight)

Year 9 marks the beginning of the OCR GCSE course (ref. J316). Due to the fairly infrequent lessons at key stage 3, it is essential to build a base of GCSE-level skills before undertaking any exam assessment. Therefore, the year 9 course covers a wide range of theatrical styles, in order to introduce and reinforce key principles of performance, direction, devising and design. Students start with Physical Theatre, challenging their preconceptions of what performance should look like by imitating the work of theatre company Frantic Assembly. They then study theatrical conventions by looking at Pantomime and Shakespeare, relating them both to the key influence of Commedia Dell’Arte. 

The final two units, Naturalism and Expressionism, enable them to compare two very different styles in terms of acting and design. Alongside this, in one lesson per fortnight, they are introduced to the Live Theatre Review aspect of the written examination by watching and analysing a live theatre performance. This leads to the end-of-year exam.

Year 10 (5 lessons per fortnight as a GCSE option)

Year 10 begins with Acting 101 and Design 101, two intensive units which bring everyone back to the basics of producing good theatre. We then complete a unit on Improvisation, a key skill for devising and for text work. We revisit Live Theatre Review skills for a while, to keep them fresh. Students then have the skills to begin preparing for their first GCSE assessment, a devised piece produced from a choice of stimuli provided by the exam board. They will also spend one lesson a fortnight on Exam Skills for the first half of the written exam. The mock exam consists of another Live Theatre Review question, based on a trip to the theatre.

Year 11 (5 lessons per fortnight as a GCSE option)

Year 11 begins with the development of the Devising NEA which was started in year 10. Students work as either a performer or a designer and produce a practical piece of drama and an analytical portfolio, forming 30% of the GCSE mark. Students then practically explore their Part A Exam text, and learn how to write effectively about it as they go. We revisit Live Theatre Review one more time before the mock exam, which this time consists of a full 1h30min paper. Then it’s on to another whole play text for the Presenting and Performing Texts NEA, which is assessed by a visiting examiner.

We take one more look at the Devising NEA portfolio before final submission and marking takes place, just in case a few months of maturity and experience have given students anything to add, and then it’s Exam Revision for a few weeks before the big day arrives.

Key Stage 5 

Year 12 (7 lessons per fortnight as an A level option)

A level Drama and Theatre (OCR H459) has been launched at BGS this academic year, so there is currently no Y13 course being taught – that will come next year.

Y12 begins with A Level Transition, which encourages everyone to ‘up their game’ from GCSE by giving them a monologue to perform, direct and design for. Then we get straight into the A level specification with Analysing Performance Part A, a study of Nick Dear’s ‘Frankenstein’ and Peter Shaffer’s ‘Amadeus’. Then for Analysing Performance part B, we study Live Theatre Evaluation, looking at lots of filmed theatre and one piece of live theatre from the perspective of performer, director and designer.

One of two NEA (coursework) units is completed in year 12: Practitioners in Practice takes students on a weird and wonderful journey through the work of practitioners Antonin Artaud and Punchdrunk Theatre, explores their work by adapting a section of William Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’, and then gets them devising their own piece of theatre using practitioner conventions. A portfolio accompanies the practical work. We revisit all the skills for Analysing Performance before sitting a full paper as the summer mock exam.

Year 13 to follow in 2023/24…

Extra Curricular 

All BGS students have the opportunity to be in a full-scale production, if they are willing to put in the work and the time commitment. This year, years 9-13 will audition in October for a production in late January, and years 7 and 8 will audition in late February for a production in July. We try to keep a balance of genres, styles, musical/non-musical performances, and lighthearted/heavier themes. Examples of productions in recent years include:

‘The Light Burns Blue’, a historical drama about the story of the Cottingley Fairies hoax of 1917

‘We Will Rock You’, the musical based on the hits of rock band Queen

‘Alice in Wonderland’, created as an immersive promenade piece (the audience moving from one space to the next around the school, led by the White Rabbit, and participating in the action of differently-styled surreal ‘worlds’ in each room)

‘Private Peaceful’, an adaptation of the tragic WW1 story by Michael Morpurgo

‘Treasure Island’, a comic version of the classic tale, with a few more women aboard ship

Our student-led Drama Club is a real source of joy and camaraderie. Held every week on Tuesday lunchtime, it is open to all year groups and lets students build their dramatic confidence in a less formal environment. Games of ‘Freeze’ are very popular!

Theatre trips outside the GCSE course are organised on an ad hoc basis when there is a production available that could enhance students’ understanding of English or drama. The English department run some trips, and others are offered by Drama. Please bear in mind that taking an entire year group (180 students) is not possible on a regular basis, so a smaller number of tickets are usually booked and offered on a first come, first served basis.