Drama helps special needs children find their voices

A Northumberland school is extending its use of drama to help pupils with special educational needs and disabilities to develop confidence and communication skills in preparation for life after school.

Collingwood School and Media Arts College in Morpeth has teamed up with creative learning company Mortal Fools on a project which uses theatre and the creative arts as a tool to support personal development by building skills, confidence and aspirations.

Collingwood has placed the Arts at the core of its curriculum and ethos for many years and in 2006 became a Specialist Media Arts College.

The school has been working with the arts company for a couple of years on a smaller scale, but their joint production of Hamlet, set in the theme of a punk nightclub, last year had such a profound impact on the young people and wider school community that it was decided to build on the partnership on a longer-term basis.

Rachel Benson, Head of Arts at Collingwood School said:

“We believe that self-esteem, confidence and well-being go hand-in-hand with long-term achievement and fulfilment.

“We are particularly interested in looking at how we can use drama to build skills and capabilities in our young people to help them move forward, successfully out of full-time education into the adult world of work. We are currently using our respective expertise to develop a drama programme, Future Ready, to develop the confidence in our pupils, required for this successful transition.”

The project was highly collaborative, with professional theatre artists working alongside teaching staff and students across all production departments, including performance. Judy Thomas, Course Leader of Northumbria University’s Fine Art degree, led the production design, set design, costume and makeup. Other teaching staff and students produced sounds and film for the performance – including a projected film of the ghost of Hamlet’s father.

Kiz Crosbie, Artistic Director at Mortal Fools said:

“The quality of last year’s production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet was a surprise to everyone: students, audiences and those of us who worked on it. We worked with the students and teachers for over almost a year on the project. We challenged them by setting high standards, which they in turn met and exceeded giving everyone real pride, ownership and personal accomplishment in what we achieved together. We believe, with the right approach and commitment, theatre created by young people can match standards produced in professional theatre.

“Drama can also be used as an effective teaching tool because it supports people in developing their inter- personal skills. It can be very effective when working with young people with special needs, particularly those on the Autistic Spectrum, as it can give them ways to connect their body and mind to their emotions.

“This year the students have chosen to produce The Tempest, which will be set on a volcanic island, and we are delighted to welcome Cleaswell Hill School, another special school in Choppington, to the project.  We are excited about our ongoing work with these schools and how jointly we can build this project to involve more schools and bring about lasting positive change for more young people in the future.”

Councillor Robert Arckless, cabinet member with responsibility for education said:

“ This is a really innovative project which is already reaping great benefits for the pupils.  It is a fantastic way to teach key life skills, work as a team while injecting a dose of fun into the classroom. Great credit must go to the headteacher Richard Jones and the senior leadership team for their vision. I know other schools in the area have expressed a great interest in this arts initiative and are  looking to follow Collingwood’s lead.”
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