Archive for November, 2009

November 26th, 2009

Safety and the cyber-world

Cyber-bullying and online child protection is in the news at the moment with some social networking sites refusing to install the “panic button” recommended by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre. Opinions on this decision has been mixed, with The Guardian (Just one click to prevent child abuse) applauding Bebo’s decision to install the button, but The Times (A life online: just delete the cyber-bullies) questioning whether the button could address other issues, such as cyberbullying, and putting the emphasis squarely on the shoulders of parents.

Safety in the cyber-world is an issue for us on two different levels. Earlier this year we ran a project with a local school looking specifically at cyberbullying. The school had experienced some disturbing instances of bullying through email and texting, and with them we developed a project to look at these issues. Initial research sessions with year six pupils had shown that many of the children were acutely aware of what cyberbullying actually entailed. However, when probed further it became apparent that the children did not really distinguish between cyberbullying and the more general types of physical bullying or intimidation that may take place in school or other settings. To address this the project utilised masks and mask work as a way of ‘distancing’ participants from one another and exploring the anonymity provided by email and text messages. From this a peer education performance was created, with participants delivering to the rest of the school.

But we’re also wrestling with online safety from a different perspective. You might have seen from my earlier blog post (Digital potentials), we’re in the process of looking at our resources, and how to make them interactive and participative. For the first time the activities and resources we develop to support our programmes could be open to anyone online, rather than just teachers. This is certainly possible, but is it desirable? What sort of activity is appropriate? What sort of activity isn’t?  What can we put in place to make surfing safer for children and young people?

But there’s also another question. In The Times report above it references a survey by the Anti Bullying Alliance that said over half of children they consulted thought their parents needed to learn how to deal with it. How do we get to grips with a world where our children are more at home than many of us?

Malcolm J
November 17th, 2009

We don’t just throw this together you know…

Tapestry is currently touring schools and is our participatory theatre programme that explores violent extremism. In the story Jason, Hassan and Nazia find themselves in a derelict shop, taking cover as a protest they are involved in becomes violent. Jason and Hassan are from opposing ends of the radical spectrum with Nazia caught in the middle. (You can read more about this in the previous blog entry “We just have to figure out how to weave the strands together”.)

As we continue to tour Tapestry a lot of the young people we meet are suggesting that Jason and Hassan stop fighting, become friends, talk to one another and other people. This is great and of course good advice, but I am left wondering how that can happen as there seems to be too great a divide between them.
Thinking about this, it occurs to me that they have already started to break down the barriers, they have begun to talk, and more, they begin to understand. During their enforced time in the closed down shop they begin to share their life experiences, they begin to “live life in the others shoes” [Pupil at King Edward VI Aston]. The complexity of the situation becomes apparent and challenges the simplistic rhetoric of Peter Jeffries and Dr Farooq.

During the programme Jason and Hassan are drawn into playing out moments from each other’s lives, and in taking on roles in each others stories they begin to gain insight. They are part of the stories as they are being told but are free to contribute from their own understanding of the world. Hassan, Jason and Nazia comment on the actions of others, question, advise and challenge, just as the young people participating in Tapestry can.

As a company we are committed to using participatory drama as a tool for learning because it allows young people, and adults for that matter, to wrangle with the complexities of the real world from the safety of the story whilst at the same time being part of it.

In the story of Tapestry it is drama that enables Hassan, Jason and Nazia to begin to see the other points of view, to know how it feels from the other side, to understand the complexity of the situation and begin to see the possibility of change. In just the same way as the young people participating in Tapestry the programme begin to see different points of view, understand the complexity of the situation and to begin to see the possibility of change.

Not only does the programme stand alongside the rest of our participatory theatre programmes, it also celebrates our way of working, with the characters in the story learning through drama.

The programme has become an advocate for our way of working.

November 16th, 2009


We always make an effort to make sure our programmes are relevant and timely. Usually this is by design. For instanceThe Last Train touring this term was timed to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Kindertransport leaving Germany.

Sometimes events overtake us though. It was with a strange sense of déjà vu that we watched the news reports in September about the riots in Birmingham city centre (here’s the BBC’s report on the incidents). We had spent the previous term devising and piloting Tapestry, our programme looking at preventing violent extremism. We’d consulted community groups, young people and police, and developed a programme following Hassan, Jason and Nazia as they shared each others stories – trapped in a deserted city centre shop during a riot.

This strange feeling of synchronicity has happened again. Today we started devising our consultation workshops for The Home Children, a tour that will bring to life the real stories of the child migrants, their families and those involved in their migration from British children’s homes to countries around the world. As I turned on my TV this morning I was moved by a woman who had been part of this migration, and in her case was sent to Australia. Her childhood had been taken away, she had grown up having been told she had no family, and had only recently discovered she had sisters living in Britain. She was on the news because the Australian Prime Minister had just issued an apology, and (we’re told) our own is about to follow suit.

It’s events like these that remind us that all the stories we explore, whether inspired by mythical, historical or contemporary sources, are relevant and resonant to the children and young people taking part.

Juliet F
November 16th, 2009

Missing out on play?

This half term was spent with a lovely bunch of ten children making up a collective story here at The Play House.  They ranged from seven years old to eleven and brought a host of wild and interesting ideas with them. It was sometimes a struggle to keep them all entertained.  I was amazed at how much they needed to just play – with ideas, situations, the drama space and each other.

It is making me think about working on relatively short projects and how much time we can give young people to ‘play’ without adult intervention.  Good quality small group drama demands a healthy dynamic and co operation but if you’re working with a group for just a few hours they need more time to develop these skills.

I’m often talking to teachers who mention that their children seem to lack imagination and I think some have often missed out on the chance to ‘act out’ and role play ideas, situations, characters and things they have imagined and seen.  It would be great to provide older children with more opportunities to do this in school.  But how?

The Play House has talked often of creating a multi sensory environment here at The Play House for children in Key Stage 2.  We have already created one for children in the Early Years with The Selkie Girl a few years ago.  That environment was crucial for children to understand the concept of the seaside in the Selkie story.  They played in a real wooden boat, collected shells and threw sand and none of this was particularly adult led.

I wonder what it would be like to offer older children that opportunity?  What environment would it be?  Should we work with even smaller groups and allow them lots of time to explore?  How would all of this impact on the drama?

November 6th, 2009


A couple of years ago we asked primary schools we regularly work with about their interest in a tour “looking at issues around sex and relationships for Key Stage 2”, and 57% of schools were quite or very interested. We’re currently looking again at developing this sort of project (funding permitting…) to go in next year’s offer to schools.

So this week’s discussions on sex and relationship education have been quite timely for us. The plans by Ed Balls to remove the opt out for parents for children over 15 has, predictably, had mixed press. The BBC reported broadly positive feedback, whilst the Daily Mail focussed on fines for parents and religious leaders saying parents would ‘vote with their feet’.

Of particular interest to us, in the light of us planning a Key Stage 2 project, is the report from the BBC that a third of those polled said the right should end at age 11, and 20% said there should be no opt out at all.

It’s clear that the schools we work with do have an interest in this sort of work. There will, of course, never be a consensus…

November 3rd, 2009

Digital potentials

Today we’ve received some great news. We’ve been funded by the Arts Council England, West Midlands Digital Content Development Programme to conduct some research and development into… well… digital content.

So what does that mean?

What it means for us is a chance to look at how we engage with schools, young people, clients and funders, and to consult about how we make things better. We’re anticipating overhauling our resources & evaluation, and for the first time making them every bit as participatory as our programmes. There’ll be new ways to extend the legacy of our programmes, support teachers, and involve children and young people.

Well, that’s the theory.

We’re getting excited by the potential, but we’re only part of the equation. It would be easy for us (and me in particular) to get carried away with what we can do with new technology and online resources. But we really need to know what’s going on already, what’s useful, what’s not. What do you need?

We’ll be talking to children, young people, teachers, funders and practitioners about what they’d like to see, but whoever you are out there reading this blog – young person, teacher, practitioner, educationalist – we’ll need your perspective too.

One of the best bits about this funding, particularly in the current climate, is that they encourage you to experiment, and even fail, because that’s how we’ll learn.

Not that we’re planning to fail of course, but this really is a chance for us throw everything up in the air and see where it lands. Which is very exciting, but a little bit daunting too.

Just as it should be…