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The Mantle of the Expert

Our curriculum is built around Mantle of the Expert –  a drama enterprise approach invented by Professor Dorothy Heathcote to give children greater responsibility in their learning. The key elements in Mantle of the Expert are that:

  • The children are given expert roles
  • They set up a fictional enterprise
  • They are set tasks set by the client(s) which engage many aspects of the curriculum such as mathematics, English and PSHE.
  • A collective imagination, inquiry, problem solving and power develops

We have been using ‘Mantle’, as the children call it, for 15 years; with every class running a new drama enterprise each term. They might be running an animal sanctuary, a museum, a factory, a hotel or a shop. They might be documentary makers, party planners, safari park keepers, publishers, underwater archaeologists, travel agents or scientists. The children learn about real life companies, they have deadlines to meet and clients to please. However, the enterprise is not ‘real’ in the sense that there is no profit involved, and the companies can be based upon pure fantasy. Recently, our Y5/6 class became dragon trainers in a world of Vikings, which was, of course, based upon the world created by Cressida Cowell in her famous series of children’s books. If you like the sound of this approach, why not try one of these examples that have been successful across our school?

  • Party planners who have to plan an authentic Roman party for Victoria and David Beckham
    • A board game company commissioned to create a game of Monopoly with a World War 2 context
    • Designing a range of healthy and informative walks for locals to learn about their surroundings
    • Underwater archaeologists who are asked to find lost artefacts from the wreck of the Titanic.

But how does it work?

Imagine being part of a KS1 class when Mummy Pig (the client) enters the room looking very upset! She needs some help because the three little pigs have left home, but they haven’t got a clue about building houses. What’s worse, there’s a wolf on the loose! Mummy Pig needs some help from the experts at the Story Town Council.

Stepping out of role, the teacher can then ask the children “Shall we agree to help her as town councillors?” (The children will be very willing to help.)

After spending some time ‘building belief’ through a variety of tasks such as creating badges and writing about their character, the children decide to meet with Mummy Pig and listen to her concerns. They agree that they must design and build houses for the three pigs that will protect them from the wolf, and that to do this they must find out about wolves. Mummy Pig then sets the criteria for the maths and technology work that follows. For example, she wants all drawings labelled with measurements, as the children have been learning how to use a ruler accurately in maths.

The town councillors then receive a call from the Wolf Protection League who ask them to ensure that the Wolf will not be hurt. This naturally leads the children to more inquiry using a range of sources, and the children also go home talking about the dilemma.

Even young children are able to present their ideas, debate and discuss. They know they are all a valued part of their ethical company and it is serious work trying to meet their clients’ needs. This style of learning is child-led and it also challenges the children to use higher level communication and thinking skills.

A sense of purpose

The client is crucial to ensure challenge is high and children are given clear feedback. The teacher can use the client to ensure that learning outcomes are clear and challenging and we find that constructive feedback from the client is often more readily received.

In the Story Town ‘Mantle’ the children were introduced to many clients, like the Giant’s wife who wanted Jack found and locked up as he had hurt her husband and destroyed their home. The client can be introduced in many ways using the drama conventions set out by Dorothy Heathcote (see Examples include letters, pictures, the person speaking in role, a phone call, an email, and two people conversing in role – as if the children are watching a film and cannot interact. It is possible to cover so many curriculum areas in a natural, engaging way. Our children will tell you that their teachers treat them as adults with really important work to do. One pupil said, “You are more in control of things when you work in Mantle and the things you do are like they are real.”

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