Bob Lee is headteacher at Pegasus Primary School, Birmingham Pegasus is home to the Big Brum Theatre in Education Company.
The crucial thing at the start has been the stimulus - the role of Theatre in Education as such a valuable tool. It is a fantastic starting point for children to have live theatre, and to have experiences that they can draw from that.
As a head it’s been great to walk around school and hear about everyone’s experiences, thoughts, work and emotions. You need to make time as a head to be part of it all, part of the team, to sit in on one of the productions and see what children and teachers have experienced. Being a whole school project has meant that older and younger children can dialogue between themselves. You hear them talking and you know what it’s about.
The work has allowed children to explore emotions through creating a ‘thinking space’. They have produced some really deep writing - beyond their years. We tried to give children a time to be honest: too often we ask them to give us the outcome that they think they want us to have. They need time to think before they engage in something, and when they have engaged they need time to reflect.
In their ‘thinking space’ you get the real them: This is me, this is what I think and this is what I feel, I’m not just a number on the register.
The staff have learned a lot about children from these particular pieces of writing. They have developed an empathy with the children as individuals, and all the baggage that comes with that. We don’t always actually know what goes on underneath the layers - what makes children hurt, happy, what makes them cry. We don’t know what’s behind that. What’s come out through these pieces of writing is what’s there.
We don’t know how long this will last. There’s not always a compassion about where children are at. We need to have an awareness of what it is that makes these kids, and that they don’t all function in the same way. We need to challenge difficult behaviours in the best way - sometimes a firm word, but sometimes to ask them quietly what’s going on.
I didn’t have a thinking space so I had to make it up but some of it was true. Year 5 child
Children here are dealing with very direct concrete experiences on a day-to-day, month-to-month basis. Something like this project allows them to get beyond that, through the imagination. Maybe that’s why our streetwise Year 6 have so enjoyed this: they’ve been able to lose themselves in something that offers a different experience. Or is that too poetic?
Children need experience beyond the hard and the soft, beyond survival. We need spaces where imagination can happen. I think of the school as being a bit of a haven that children can escape to from the reality of hard day-to-day living. You can engage in this imaginatively and become someone different. You don’t have to be tough all the time: it’s okay to be like the characters Annie or Jackie, and think about how you feel. Some of the children have told us about their feelings through the writing. The staff have seen that these children can hurt and be vulnerable, just the same as their own children - all children can.
As a staff, we’re working with tight constraints: curriculum, timetable, bell. This project has lifted a worksheet mentality and it has allowed teachers to develop ideas through mind-maps, jotting, discussion - we’ve had to work through the creative process again. It’s been interesting to hear staff say we need to re-learn some professional skills, that we’ve enjoyed this work and we are up for more.
What are we doing to these children? Sometimes you need to spend time listening as well as telling. There are lots of things children know about the outside world. We need to tap into the wealth of stuff that children know about.
Teachers evaluating project: I think that reminding everybody to have a thinking space is brilliant - everybody needs thinking time.
Parent: Children need experience beyond the hard and the soft, beyond survival.
Bob Lee: We found out how much kids can sustain and produce if you give them the time and space to do it. The timetable stops you. We need to be able to say more often, ‘carry on kids, until you think you’ve finished’.