I’m sitting in a Croydon pub with an animated group who all work in schools. Some are, or have been, teachers. Others have a technical background. What they all have in common is that they are involved with the theatre - whether it’s purpose built or a traditional school hall with a few add-ons - in their schools.
This is the lunch break at the School Theatres Support Group AGM and annual conference and we shall shortly be returning to nearby Trinity School for the afternoon session.
STSG was founded in 2005 by Paul Durose, senior theatre technician at Leys School Cambridge, and others because many theatre technicians and managers work almost alone in a range of jobs and there was a feeling that they needed a shared forum.
“Our main purpose is to discuss ways in which we can better serve the students we work with,” said Durose. STSG, which costs only £5 to belong to, has a website and publishes two newsletters a year. It also runs training courses for its members.
At present there are 99 members - which is not all that many considering there are several hundred independent schools and 4,000 or so maintained sector secondaries. Many independent schools have theatres and an increasing number of state secondaries - especially newly built academies - also do.
‘We’d very much like more people to join us,’ said committee member Hannah Grace, who manages the theatre at Felsted School in Essex.
After the STSG AGM discussion focused on how members might develop a STSG “reward scheme” for students, to credit and encourage work backstage. Paul Haynes, who works at Sir James Smith’s Community School in Cornwall, introduced the principle of the scheme and asked various members to present existing schemes which currently operate in their schools.
Haynes showed us a formal qualification scheme from the National Council for Further Education. After discussion, it was generally agreed that this was an ideal route for those with the appropriate ability and support to go down, but less useful at an extra‐ curricular level for staff with less formal contact time with the students.
Charles Salkield has developed a scheme at Hampton School, London, which records dates on which training is given and tasks undertaken - at first supervised and then independently. Useful from a Health and Safety point of view, those present felt.
But Richard Wright’s scheme, developed at Hurstpierpoint College in Sussex, and trialled with students there, seemed to be the favoured option. It consists of five “grades” with several specific tasks per grade, also divided by discipline (lighting, sound, stage management, etc). This is nicely packaged in a neat booklet for the student to keep as evidence of his or her skills.
Some members thought that three grades would work better than five to bring it into line with, for example, The Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme with its bronze, silver and gold awards.
Rob West, Curriculum Manager at National Skills Academy Creative and Cultural Skills was at the meeting, like me, as a guest. He introduced the work of the NSA for CCS, and explained how his organisation could, perhaps, help STSG with its scheme by, for example, cross-referencing the National Occupational Standards.
West also talked about Arts Award, which is another qualification scheme like NCFE, and yet another organisation called Skills Scene, which is very interested in supporting the STSG.
It seems to me that, if this goes ahead, there would be plenty of scope for other organisations to work with STSG on validation, ‘badging’ and so on so. It will be interesting to see how this develops.
And it’s high time this learning was acknowledged. As a former teacher I have seen many students developing quite high level backstage skills by working in school productions, but it tends to go unnoticed in this A level-dominated world. Whether these students want to go on to train professionally in some form of technical theatre, or whether they are simply doing it as hobbyists, it makes good sense to find a way of quantifying their achievements - as long as it isn’t too bureaucratic or complicated.
Meanwhile this group of theatre support staff (who have, incidentally, given up a day of their half term to attend this event) are a very pleasant, dynamic bunch to spend half a day with. I have a strong sense that if anyone can develop a useful record of technical theatre learning for schools, it is they.
Picture: Rob West and Susan Elkin (front left) with STSG members at Trinity School last week