Seeing her students thrive on stage and in their development is no drama for SEND Performing Arts teacher and Trinity Arts Awards assessor Karen Philp.
She has been working at our School of Personalised Learning for eight years and is a passionate advocate for young people with disabilities. “I absolutely see the benefit of performing arts for SEND students and all the transferable skills the students can take on board,” she says.
“I don’t see the students’ disabilities and without doubt they can, given support and the opportunity, excel in something like performing arts.”
Local girl Karen has always had a love of theatre and performing and studied at BSSTDA drama school in Birmingham. After school she, like many a great thespian before her, held down a variety of jobs while trying to establish herself, including working in a prestigious café bar in London. There was a clue to her future direction when she set up and ran Funky Chicken Drama Workshops, which included an educational drama programme with visits to nurseries, pre–schools, and primary schools.
She moved back to Gosport in 1998 to start a family and joined St Vincent as a Learning Support Assistant before completing her teacher training. When she discovered the college had no formal qualification in performing arts for SEND she began Entry Level 3 and BTEC Level 1 – the first qualification in this curriculum area.
The provision took off immediately and attracted good numbers as students found something that they could succeed in and parents were delighted at seeing their young people flourish.
The SPL now offers a two year programme, which is the RSL Level 2 Diploma in Creative and Performing Arts. “These qualifications are more adaptable to cater for and suit the students’ needs and abilities,” she says.
The thing she finds most challenging is what happens to her students when they leave college. “Unfortunately they do very little,” she says. “I really would like to see some sort of establishment, like a drama school, that would cater for young adults with disabilities who are quite capable of learning lines and doing all the practical things – but there is nothing in the local area.”
She would like to set up her own theatre in education company to run alongside the college, utilising talented young actors with additional needs and providing an opportunity for SEND students to pursue a career in creative and performing arts.
“I know Chichester University has a course that is primarily practical where the students will audition similar to a drama school,” she said.
“I have students who would be unable to move away to drama school or university but they could be part of a theatre company doing theatre in education projects that could go to schools. They could go into our feeder schools and junior schools and children would be able to relate to them and see that performing is something they could do.”
She cites as an example the Graeae Theatre Company in London which is made up of actors with disabilities. “They perform to the public and the actors are earning a living from it. It’s a career for them and it’s an avenue for them to perform and succeed,” she says.
Karen has three daughters, Megan, 27, is an actress in London who is moving back to Hampshire and wants to work with her mum when she sets up her theatre company. Abbie, 21, is a nursery nurse and 15-year-old Ruby is due to begin a triple music course at St Vincent this year.
Karen still has many connections in the world of theatre, particularly in the West End, and regularly uses them to give her students the chance to see live theatre as well as behind the scenes. Last year she took students to see the Lion King and in June she will be taking a party of ten on a residential trip.
They will be visiting Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre for a workshop, followed by dinner in its lively restaurant, which is staffed by performers. The following day they will visit the BAFTA 195 building for a tour and Q&A with the director. They will later visit a theatre exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum before watching a performance of the musical Back to the Future in the West End.
This won’t be just a memorable night out, it will also be essential research because they themselves will be performing the show this summer.
Says Karen: “It’s such a great opportunity and for some of the students when they leave here they won’t get the chance to do that sort of thing again. It’s lovely to think that when they are older they will be able to look back and remember it. That’s what makes my job so good.
“I love my job and I love the students and I want to create fully inclusive opportunities for them.”