Storytelling Starters: Time for Action?
Wimbledon over, the Olympics coming up, I’m now thinking about a new series of Body Stories to go into this Blog. But I’m not planning to start them till next week. This week, I want to say thanks for all the wonderful things people have been saying about me in their nominations for me to get a Lifetime Achievement Award (see last week’s Blog). If I was able to channel the power of their words and use it for a greater good, I’d employ it to bring about a greater awareness of the need for support for storytelling in these straightened times – especially in education.
On Tuesday 19 June in the Guardian, the journalist and education consultant Mike Baker made a heartfelt plea for ‘breadth and freedom’ in the curriculum. Oral storytelling gives exactly the kind of breadth and freedom I think he was talking about. I would even go so far as to claim that storytelling should be seen as a vital part of the core curriculum, an essential way to develop the language arts that are involved in reading and writing as well as the thinking skills that are required for everything else.
But even if it’s not regarded as ‘core’, storytelling should still be seen as vital. As Mike Baker says, ‘it’s the non-core bits of the curriculum that stay with you for life’. Storytelling should certainly be present in schools as one of those non-core bits. Whether it’s done by teachers themselves or by visiting storytellers, it relaxes children, draws on inner feelings and resources, sparks off interest in the wider world and brings enormous pleasure.
And curiously, over the page in the very same issue of the Guardian on Tuesday 19 June, Frank Cottrell Boyce, recently appointed as the UK’s first professor of reading at Liverpool Hope University, wrote about the important part that pleasure plays in children’s education.
‘Real pleasure makes something stay in your brain for a long time and great things come from that.’ Boyce was specifically referring there to published stories: ‘The stories you read when you are 10 or 11, stories that really stay with you because you love them in a profound way, give you maps to read life from.’
Hear, hear! Except I must immediately extend his thought to include the stories that you hear – and not just when you’re 10 or 11.
So isn’t it a terrible thing that, with all our current funding cuts in this country, together with the pressures on schools and teachers that come from test targets, Ofsted inspections a narrowed curriculum and administrative changes, there appears to be currently a big decrease in storytelling in schools. Conversations I’ve been having with storyteller friends all point to the change. Lots less school visits. Lots less storytelling training. There was never enough of these anyway. Now it seems there’s very significantly less.
We all need to talk about this decline. Storytellers need to talk about it. Teacher-trainers need to talk about it. The Society for Storytelling needs to talk about it. I think it’s high time for a new national campaign about it.
Back in February in a letter to the Guardian, the President of the British Educational Research Association, Professor Mary James, noted that the Expert Panel for the Review of the National Curriculum, of which she was a member, had ‘argued strongly for “oral language development” as an essential component across the curriculum’. In the final sentence of her letter, she wondered if the Guardian ‘could get behind a campaign to bring this to fruition’.
Could all of us who care about storytelling think about this too? Could we ponder it over the summer – an exercise for our cultural and political will even as we watch the Olympics demonstrate the value of bodily skills?