I hope you are enjoying the sunshine (if you're here in the UK - further afield, having just checked, most of you should be basking as well! [edit - information correct at time of writing!]). While pretty much all schools in the US have closed their doors for the Summer, and Indonesian schools (still getting my head around this system) only have a short time off at this time of year (please correct me if I'm wrong - I'd love to know more about the whole school system over there), in the UK 10- and 11-year olds across the country are prepping for their end-of-school production.
If you ever find yourself in a crowd of English people and you feel both bored and brave, here's a fun little experiment you can try...
Take a deep breath and sing the following phrase: I closed my eyes... I guarantee someone in the crowd will call back with ...drew back the curtain... and before you know it, the entire place will have their arms in the air, swaying from side to side, echoing 'ah-ah-ah's until the song  is finished. The reason? Most UK adults will, at some point in their Primary education, have encountered Joseph and his famous Dreamcoat. Probably at the end of their final year. And this earworm will forever be etched into their brains (I can still recite all the colours of the dang thing, in order, from memory).
There has been much coverage of terminal exams in the news these past few weeks, but little has been said about terminal experiences. Week-long trips away from parents; huge, multi-lesson projects that allow actual practical application of education; and, my personal favourite, the end-of-year production.
Last year, for obvious reasons, very few of these happened and those that did were virtual. I'm so glad that the majority of schools have opted for a genuine in-person production this year. I have always considered them to be just as important a part of the curriculum as anything else. And this is not simply because so much can be taught creatively through them (not least Art and DT, so often the forgotten cousins of Primary teaching), although they certainly do. No, there is a psychological benefit to these amateur masterpieces as well. Andrew Oxpspring from Edgy Productions mentions a few of the benefits in an article from 2015  but I am keen to explore the benefits on a less anecdotal level (fair warning though, there will be lots of anecdotes from me as well).
Drama Builds Confidence
It has been suggested in many papers that the transition period between Primary and Secondary school is stressful for lots of children [3,4]. They've completed their terminal exams; they are getting physically too big for the building; they are having to face the harsh reality that some of the friendships they have been building over the past six years may well be coming to an end (not all children go on to the same Secondary school). Make no mistake, the final few weeks in year 6 can be the hardest of all.
Researchers at the University of Dundee suggest that a performance at the end of the year helps children to come to terms with this change, allowing them to use a safe, fictional scenario to role-play the very real emotional journey they are experiencing. Andy Kempe, Head of Initial Teacher Training at the University of Reading, put it another way:
[It] gives them a chance of working through problems in order to offer solutions in dramatic form, making explicit the link between the fictional situation in the drama represented and what the children themselves experience (or might experience) in reality. 
This makes a lot of sense to me. Think of the classic end-of-year productions - Oliver!, Bugsy Malone, Joseph, they all follow the hero's journey of success through adversity pretty much to the letter. They all feature strong friendships that are challenged and are ultimately successful. Even tragedies are turned on their heads for a Primary performance. The official schools' production of Stephen Sondheim's In the Woods ends on Act 1's happily ever after. The schools' production of Schönberg and Kretzmer's Les Miserables, though bleak in the middle, ends with the promise that for the wretched of the earth, there is a flame that never dies. Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.  When I wrote my own musical versions of Hamlet and Macbeth, despite everybody dying at the end, the finale songs saw the corpses stand up and start singing. These shows are an important subconscious reminder that, no matter how bad things have been, they can end on a high.
While the research implications are that these performances equip the children for life after Primary school, as a Primary teacher, I think the more important theme is that of completing the Primary school journey successfully. For me, it's about looking back and recognising that it's been a great time. It's an important psychological step, one of accepting that an entire phase of your life is over. You've completed it. There's nothing else to be done here except take a bow and move on.
It's also a great leveller. A report from Frontiers in Psychology, an Education Psychology journal, called the transition from Primary to Secondary education a normative event for most children around the world , which is a researcher's way of saying that all children experience it. Most of those children will have things in common: the stress of making new friends; the pain of no longer being with old friends; apprehension of new surroundings; and the fact that the majority of them will have taken part, willingly or otherwise, in a performance of some sort.
More than Just a Sing-a-long...
There is more to a school production than simply building social bridges, though. I mentioned earlier that they can be great vehicles for cross-curricular, large-scale projects. When I was directing my Hamlet musical for my then Year 6 class, we were studying Shakespeare, exploring how different cultures rule and researching the history of ghost stories. Not to mention sketching castles, sculpting human remains (a good science day) and delving into a bit of music theory.
During the weeks building to the production, I had to go on a course. A supply teacher was booked and lessons were planned. These were, through necessity, your basic English and Maths with a bit of Art and DT in the afternoon. However, they were entirely based around Hamlet, which by that time the kids had gotten to know pretty well. When I arrived back at school I was greeted by a note from the supply teacher informing me that it was the easiest day of teaching she'd ever experienced. Every single child was keen to simply get on with it. Every child. Even the horrible ones! This was corroborated by my wonderful TA (shout-out to all wonderful TAs, you know who you are).
This somewhat Stepford reaction is by no means unique. Veli and Hacer Batdi, writing in Educational Sciences: Theory and Practise, noted that active participation in creative drama shows significant improvement in academic achievement  and this was echoed in findings from the University of Sydney  and the College of Charleston in South Carolina . The research suggests that all children, even those who say they don't like it, benefit from performing end of year plays.
There's also a cross-year-group element. To boost the singing, I have always invited the Year 5 children to learn the songs and be a chorus at the front or sides of the stage (facing the audience). They love being involved, it provides an element of release for the Year 5 teachers on some afternoons, it encourages more parents to come and fill the seats and it makes it more of an event for the leavers.
But what of those children who don't like it? Don't enjoy the limelight? Don't want to sing and dance and act? Well, that's where the creative curriculum comes into play. I have never paid for a backdrop for a production. Instead, I give over some time for the children to draw/paint/digitally create their own, these are then projected onto the back wall. While these might not look as snappy as the paid-for ones, they add a sense of ownership and inclusion for those children who are not so theatrically inclined. Same with the poster, props and programme. I was very lucky one year to have the school's Art specialist run some sessions on making paper look like metal for the armour. I was even luckier another year when the local college agreed to send in their drama students and run backdrop and stage direction workshops!
So that takes care of the children who want to perform and the children who don't want to perform but do want to draw or make things. That leaves the children who don't like drawing or making and don't want to act. What about them?
Wait... that's my child!?
Okay, anecdote over...
Leaving yourself at the door
What a child can do in a group today, tomorrow [they] can do alone .
This is the crux of it. Formal education, book-learning, a classroom situation, it can only teach so much. At some point, children must do and the end-of-year play is the perfect setting for that. After all, to end on a final quote from the bard himself, all the world's a stage .
Thanks so much for reading - this is a subject close to my heart - perhaps you guessed that already - and I have a tendency to waffle when I'm enjoying myself. I genuinely do believe that all children deserve some sort of terminal production and I hope that Primary schools around the world will have the opportunity to produce and perform in front of a live audience. I know the pandemic scuppered many plans last year and that means literally thousands of children have been denied this transitive right of passage, which is a tragedy. Please, please, if your school is considering abandoning their performance this year, direct whoever makes the decision to this post if they need persuading. I know that safety has to come first but these kids will never have this opportunity again! If professional theatres can be open (and charging hundreds of pounds for a ticket) then surely schools can open their doors to 60 or so parents.
Anyway, that's what I think. If this is your first time here and you've made it this far, I recommend my other posts. They're not all as long but I have been told they are all good and worth a read. Also, I have finally figured out how to add the 'subscribe button to the main menu (it's only taken two years) so if you did like what you've read, please do hit that button so you're alerted when the next post is live.
If you have any additional thoughts or comments to add, please leave them! I love it when I get a notification that someone has left a comment, either here or on Twitter, I need that external validation! Other than that, have a great time; get vaccinated as soon as you're able; keep wearing those horrible masks; stay safe and enjoy the weather while it lasts!
References for this Post
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 Our very own Andrew Oxspring writes for Education Today about why musicals in school are so important - Edgy Productions. (2015, May 24). https://www.edgyproductions.com/education-today-about-why-musicals-in-school-are-so-important
 Galton, M., & Mornson, I. (2000). Concluding comments. Transfer and transition: the next steps. International Journal of Educational Research, 33(4), 443–449.
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