Chalktalk: News and views in education

Puppeteers Jack Parker, Stuart Angel and Mikey Brett operating Joey the life size equine puppett from War Horse on Dublins Ha’penny Bridge to launch the National Theatre’s production of War Horse which runs at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre in Dublin until 26th April Photograph: Alan Betson

Puppeteers Jack Parker, Stuart Angel and Mikey Brett operating Joey the life size equine puppett from War Horse on Dublins Ha’penny Bridge to launch the National Theatre’s production of War Horse which runs at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre in Dublin until 26th April Photograph: Alan Betson

 

n Bringing history to life, and schools

“History is usually studied in a logical, fact-based way. Theatre can make it a creative experience, enabling us to make sense of it in a different way,” says Melanie Whitehead, who works with Britain’s National Theatre’s War Horse education team. “Part of my role is to bring out that emotional literacy and understanding of the war and what the production is trying to say.”

Last week Whitehead led a “Page to Stage” event at the Bord Gá is Energy Theatre, Dublin, for some 400 school students , before the international touring production’s matinee. The event explored how Michael Murpurgo’s novel, about the fate of thousands of horses during the first World War, and specifically one horse and his relationship with his teenage owner, was brought to life on stage. The cast and crew showed, through the amazing techniques that Hands pring Puppet Co devised for War Horse, how the life-size puppets, each operated by three puppeteers, worked to develop the story.

Those skills were also the focus of some of the workshops Whitehead led in Irish schools last week; some focused on the puppetry, using sticks and balloons to create a baby horse. Others used different source materials (poems, Morpurgo’s novel, the songs and script of War Horse) to work collaboratively and explore not just the first World War, but conflict in general . The workshops were part of the package for some school-group bookings for War Horse , which runs until April 26th .

Meanwhile, the Abbey Theatre has been exploring the same period, in Ireland, through its theatre-in-education programme. Me, Mollser is a new piece , written by Ali White, taking a sideways look at O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars through a young character in the play, Molly Gogan. She has just a few lines in the original, but is the focus of this work, which the Abbey has been touring to schools, and to school-accessible venues . Actors Mary-Lou McCarthy, who plays Mollser, and Anthony Goulding, as a lamplighter , take the original story and use it in discussion with the children after the performance, to explore life in Ireland in 1916, specifically in Dublin’s tenements, and looking at human rights, and Mollser’s lack thereof. It’s a charming and engaging approach, beautifully performed and offers great potential for school groups. This is the first of the Abbey’s new Priming the Canon series for young audiences, exploring a classic play from the perspective of a young character in it , and supported by curriculum -linked online resources. Next up is the child/narrator character in Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa.

n In principal

We incorrectly pointed to a perceived anomaly in the calculation of principals’ allowances in these pages recently, based on unclear information (some of the circulars relating to the allowances refer loosely to teacher numbers in a school). Principals’ and deputy principals’ allowances are not, in fact, arrived at according to the actual number of teachers in a school, many of whom may be part-time, but are based on the number of wholetime teacher equivalents (WTEs), which makes much more logical sense. So part-time posts are added together to arrive at WTEs in order to calculate the total number of teachers in a school, on which the allowances paid to principals are calculated. Which leaves the mystery of why the level of casualisation of post-primary teachers has increased so much in the past decade? Teacher unions estimate that roughly half of teachers under 35 are on part-time hours, which is a shocking proportion, and it will be interesting to see how the subject figures at the teacher conferences after Easter.

n Dealing with cyber-bullying

The Anti-Bullying Centre at DCU is running a Cyber -bullying: What Schools Need to Know one-day workshop for teachers next Tuesday, April 15th . It promises practical advice and skills for guidance counsellors, principals, year heads or those wishing to feel more empowered in dealing with cyber -bullying. Register at eventbrite.ie or email maryclaire.healy@dcu.ie . – Deirdre Falvey

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