Sure, it’s an exciting treat - but taking students to see a show at the theatre has authentic educational value, too, argues Nancy Shakerley
Do you remember your first visit to the theatre? A trip to see a play or show can often be a highlight of the school year – indeed, sometimes it could be described as a rite of passage – however, at Disney Theatrical Group teachers tell us that access to arts and cultural trips for many pupils is becoming increasingly problematic. Attributed to a decreasing amount of time allocated for excursions, as well as priority being given to core subjects, in many cases the arts, and all the learning opportunities that they bring, are being challenged.
Unfortunately, this comes at a time when, according to the Time to Listen survey (2018), more than a third of pupils say that school is their only opportunity to engage in arts activities. The study also underscores the incredible value that arts and cultural learning provide young people: enabling them to tap into imagination and creative instincts, and creating self-worth. These skills help young people develop their own opinions, which ultimately enable them to contribute to their community and the wider world.
I believe that engagement in the arts has the ability for life changing impact; and what better way to spark interest and inspire young people than immersion in a high quality theatrical event? In talking to my colleagues, we agree that without our own involvement in the arts as students, we simply would not be who we are today. It is great to see that the commercial theatre industry is now doing so much to support schools to continue theatre trips.
And despite all of the pressures they are under, some schools are still managing to engage pupils with performance, which is fantastic news; last year we welcomed our millionth education patron to Disney’s The Lion King in London. Our Teaching Artists run over a hundred pre-show workshops each year and we arrange a plethora of bespoke opportunities for school and youth groups. There are some exemplary models of arts engagement both through the curriculum and as extracurricular activities. For example, I was particularly impressed by this year’s recipient of the tes Creative School of the Year Award, Formby High School, where the arts are embedded throughout school life. I am also full of admiration for the members of our Teacher’s Advisory Board, who work tirelessly to ensure their pupils have access to, and make the most of, theatre and other cultural trips.
Relevant and practical
Teachers tell us that in order to justify a theatre trip they must document its educational value. We aim to maximise the learning potential of a theatre visit both on and off the curriculum. We work closely with our Teachers Advisory Board to ensure that we develop creative and adaptable resources. We know that teachers are the experts and that they know what will work well in their classroom – so we want to provide them with ideas and a tool kit of activities that they can adapt to suit the learning needs of their own students, which they can embed within their existing schemes of work.
We must also recognise that as part of the creative industries, a key area of growth within the UK economy, we have a responsibility to look after our future workforce. This means that we want to get the message out to young people about the variety of opportunities available in the making and running of productions, in particular backstage and administrative roles. Often seeing a show can be the experience that sparks interest in what might be a young person’s future career. Without access to the arts and culture through school, large numbers of children could well miss out on valuable opportunities to broaden their horizons and explore how they see themselves and the world in new ways, as well as to identify fulfilling future career aspirations.
Find out more about how Disney Theatrical Group is supporting arts education at
About the author
Nancy Shakerley is education and outreach manager at Disney Theatrical Group
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