Why exam boards must keep theatre live

Try to imagine a performance of Hamlet in which the play within a play – staged by the Prince to establish Claudius’ culpability for the death of the King was delivered not live, but through a TV set hooked up to a DVD player. Would Claudius betray himself in the same way, and would it matter so much?

I ask because recently it was announced that the drama GCSE syllabus is to change so that teachers can show pupils recordings of theatre performances rather than taking them to see live shows. This is to ensure that all students get to experience live theatre, with Karen Latto of awarding body OCR telling the TES that geography and financial constraints need no longer be prohibitive as a consequence. I don’t think anybody would argue with the intention here – like Karen, I want to see every young person able to experience theatre. However, like many others, I am concerned that the legitimisation of the DVD option will mean that some drama departments – already too often at the back the queue when it comes to school resources – will find money for theatre trips even harder to come by.

Recordings used in the way proposed may well increase students’ exposure to theatre – but is it an acceptable substitute? If, like me and many other practitioners, you believe that the experience of theatre is more than the ostensible content, then the answer has to be no. Performances are heavily dependent on the audience – not a generic audience, but the audience in the theatre for each particular show. When Bedales students write about theatre they have attended, they are critiquing something of which they were an active part – a factor we encourage them to consider.

We must also be aware that through the use of recordings we risk heaping a whole different set of interpretations upon students. Here, they must take into account not only the direction of the play, but also that of the recording. It would be worryingly uncritical of us to assume recordings of live theatre to be benign representations – some streamings of performances from the National Theatre, the Barbican and other venues have been complex multi-camera presentations that, for all of their merits, must be considered different experiences. Each audience member at the live event has his or her unique perspective – they all occupy a different space, and are free to give their attention to whatever they please. For those watching the associated recording, much of this work is done for them. It is performance and it can be brilliant – but it is of a different order.

The direction of travel in terms of what constitutes meaningful exposure to theatre must be considered with care. If it is considered acceptable for students to make critical judgements on the basis of exposure only to facsimiles, then might we expect the same to become true for examiners? As things stand, examiners are partly reliant on DVDs or a weblink as the basis for their appraisals, and we might consider whether we would be comfortable with this becoming their exclusive basis of assessment. If the answer is no, then we must reflect carefully on the implications for doing the same with students.

Let’s do what it takes to get students into theatres rather than risk confining more and more of them to the classroom. Let’s fund national and regional centres to offer discounted access for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to go. I know from my own experience that theatres are more than happy to open their doors to this end. Awarding bodies would be excellent administrators of such programmes, and I believe it would be good for them – and for their relationships with both theatres and schools – to be advocates for live theatre in this way.

By way of an afterthought, it occurs to me that Claudius might prefer the DVD option, but then of course he has a vested interest.

By Phil Tattersall-King, Head of Drama

Dancers’ emotions conjured by new masterpiece

6.1 dancers recently went to Sadler’s Wells theatre in London to watch Akram Khan’s new masterpiece iTMOi (in the mind of igor), which was inspired by the creative composer Igor Stravinsky’s work, and which premiered last spring, celebrating the 100th year since Stravinsky’s iconic Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) was composed. Khan explored the human condition and the way in which Stravinsky transformed the classical music world. iTMOi had the ability to conjure our emotions, through innovative and powerful metaphors, shown through strong compelling movement and physical and aural setting, which built an episodic drama around the ritual of sacrifice.

By  Ochre Seagrim, 6.1

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Gifted & Talented enjoy university sports workshops

Students from Bedales Gifted and Talented sports programme recently visited the University of Chichester to learn about anxiousness and circuit training. We began with a rock climbing activity in which we were taught why we get anxious and to what extent we can push ourselves. We then did some theory, writing down what we had learnt. After a refreshing lunch we got back to work and began with some circuit training. After a briefing on fitness, explaining that there are three main components of fitness: muscular strength, muscular endurance and cardiac training, we had a short spinning session, which included two of the fitness components we had talked about. We then finished our day with circuit training: completing different fitness exercises, including crunches, tricep dips, and planks etc. Overall it was an excellent day filled with new experiences and fun activities. View photos.

By  Pippa Lock, Block 3

Gifted & Talented enjoy university sports workshops

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Exploring Art foundation courses

Last week, 6.1 Art and Design students visited Brighton and Hove City College to look at the final show of the foundation diploma course there. This allowed us to explore this year’s work in all pathways of the foundation including illustration and graphic design, fashion, fine art, photography and 3D design. This was really useful for those of us who are considering applying for a foundation course next year. Visiting the art college and hearing the talk given by the director of the course was an important step to help us make the right decisions.

By  Ella Dallaglio and Poppy Poulter, 6.1

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Geographers’ beach trip

The Friday before last, 6.1 geographers went to the south coast as part of the A Level course to complete our data collection for A2 Geography. We have spent the last few weeks organising what and where to study, completing risk assessments and creating data capture sheets. Our aim on the day was to measure beach profiles and size of the sediment along the coast from west to east starting at Southsea and finishing on Hayling Island, with a view to seeing the features of a Low Energy coastline. Armed with ranging poles, and a clinometer and rulers, we were able to identify slope angles and sediment sorting whilst also seeing the major impacts of the winter storms on the shape of the shoreline. View photos.

By Kitty Hall and James Holt, 6.1

Geographers’ beach trip

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Exhilarating gliding experience

Exhilarating, sensational, exciting! This sums up the experience for 11 of us of Lasham Gliding Centre near Alton. A half-hour drive from Bedales landed us in the middle of the airfield, where we were greeted by two experienced instructors. After a safety briefing, where we learned how to use a parachute; we watched gliders and tug planes take off and land, whilst our gliders were prepared. One by one we took to the skies with an instructor, and were aero-towed to 2500ft. Having been taught the controls, we were given the opportunity to fly the glider for most of the flight. We learnt how to climb, soaring up to even higher altitudes, some of us reaching 3500ft! With flights lasting up to 1 hour 40 minutes, views of the English Channel and Hampshire’s picturesque countryside could be enjoyed. We look forward to seeing this as a new activity in September. View photos.

Exhilarating gliding experience

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Getting active with range of outdoor pursuits


This term saw the start of a new activity programme offering a variety of outdoor pursuits. Eight students have been enjoying climbing at High Sports in Alton, kayaking in Chichester Harbour based at Cobnor Activities Centre, and mountain biking in the Queen Elizabeth Country Park, also run by instructors from Cobnor and using bikes provided by them. The group of Block 3 and 4 students, a mixture of beginners and improvers, include Josh Mazas who said ‘This fantastic activity is a great opportunity to get outside and get active.  You end up looking forward to it every week.  It’s very energetic, but it’s still suitable for all abilities and everyone is challenged at their own level.’ View photos.

By Ruth Austen, Teacher of Learning Support

Outdoor pursuits activity

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.