Socially Distant Stories from Beyond the Screen

The Socially Distant Stories is an ethnographic exploration about the impact of a hybrid theatre in education approach on Initial Teacher Education (ITE), with a specific focus on the education of new/ early career drama teachers (ECTs) during the global pandemic.

Socially Distant Stories from Beyond the Screen


  • Dr. Chris Bolton - Lead Researcher (Birmingham City University)

  • Dr. Rebecca Patterson (Manchester Metropolitan University)

  • Richard Holmes (Artistic Director at Big Brum Theatre in Education Company)

  • John Bradburn (University of Worcester)

  • Dr. Victoria Kinsella (Senior Researcher/Mentor)

Research background

The project is a creative approach to research, which puts to work a hybrid Theatre in Education (TiE) methodology in two ITE settings and attempts to consider the challenging implications and positive opportunities of the ‘pandemic context’ on the educational experiences of ECTs as they prepare to enter the teaching profession. It particularly seeks to reveal the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the professional identity and practice of those training for the teaching profession.

Research aims

The main project aims are to:

  • Capture and explore the stories of ECTs working in secondary schools during a global pandemic and hear the impact of hybrid learning and teaching experiences in relation to the development of their teacher identity and practice.
  • Develop an understanding and produce recommendations about a new initial teacher education approach for new secondary school teachers as a result of a pandemic using a hybrid Theatre in Education methodology.
  • Explore how Big Brum’s arts based pedagogical approach (Theatre in Education) can be used as a form of academic and social support in a program for ECTs.

How is the research being carried out?

This research centres on two main questions:

  1. What can Initial Teacher Education learn from applied hybrid Theatre in Education methodologies in regard to the Initial Teacher Education curriculum?
  2. How does an arts based pedagogical approach to Initial Teacher Education enhance academic and social support in the Initial Teacher Education curriculum?

The project combines an ethnographic methodology with three research methods, which include an online survey, a participatory hybrid theatre in education experience and semi-structured interviews. This allows the research team to explore qualitative data about the educational and professional experiences of ECTs in separate geographical contexts. Therefore, it is intended to reveal the experiences of a cohort of ECTs generally and the stories of new drama teachers working toward Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) more specifically, in order to capture their lived experience of an arts-based approach to ITE.

Following an online survey, two cohorts of early career drama teachers will experience Big Brum’s participatory theatre in education programme entitled ‘Socially Distant’ by Chris Cooper. The play is presented as a filmed monodrama, that explores the impact of the pandemic on a man whose son has died, as he attempts to understand the meaning of his identity as both a father and a teacher. This content creates a strong and powerful artistic space for drama teachers to consider their own rationale for becoming a qualified drama teacher during a global pandemic. Using theatre and imagination as ways to know the world, therefore, becomes a central aspect of the creative approach to research. This experience is explored through a combination of face-to-face drama workshops and online experiences.

The research team will also disseminate the knowledge from this research in an inclusive and artful way through the creation of a documentary film by collaborating with John Bradburn (Senior Lecturer in Film Production at University of Worcester). In this way, the research transitions into education courses beyond Secondary Drama ITE by highlighting this new pedagogical approach.


The research has been very useful in gathering data around the experiences of ECTs completing their PGCE year in two university contexts from different regions in England. The main project findings include:

  • ECTs’ ITE experience was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic context. Despite this fact, the majority of ECTs (84%) rated their experience of teacher training, both during and after the pandemic restrictions, as good or better and this was represented by responses from ECTs in each subject specialism offered by BCU and MMU.
  • Whilst ECTs’ motivation to teach in general was affected by the implications of Covid-19, the practical elements of teaching (face-to-face or virtually) seems to have affected motivation more specifically. This has led to feelings of unpreparedness, stress and under confidence, as well as implications in terms of ECTs’ mental health and well-being. Despite this, a third of those involved in the research indicated that the pandemic context was a positive motivator in wanting to become a teacher and/or continuing with their initial teacher education.
  • ECTs are resilient, creative, and adaptable and are willing to take risks when rising to the challenges of teaching during a global pandemic.
  • ECTs are committed to the teaching profession.
  • The research reveals that the need to develop meaningful relationships- inter-cohort, in schools and/or with university tutors –is an essential element of strengthening ECTs’ motivation in the future.
  • The arts-based approach to ITE has positively affected ECTs’ rationale/philosophy for teaching, affording them time and artistic space(s) to consider and re-consider their reasons for teaching.
  • The hybrid theatre in education experience has provided a space to re-consider creative approaches to pedagogy and the developments of innovative resources whilst strengthening ECTs’ adaptability as teachers.
  • Online and virtual teaching spaces have provided useful and innovative opportunities for ECTs to develop their pedagogical practice and take risks in their approaches, both online and in face-to-face settings.
  • However, ECTs recognised that these opportunities faced specific risks, particularly with schools returning to ‘normality’. Some of these risks to innovative practice included lack of access to IT equipment and software in schools and/or feelings that practice should ‘return to normal’ despite the gains made by innovative practice.
  • In some cases, the use of online and virtual teaching practices not only supported young peoples’ subject knowledge but also their mental health and well-being. Linked to this, it is evident from the data that ‘resilience’, ‘adaptability’, ‘confidence’ and ‘being human’ are elements valued by ECTs in developing their teaching identity(ies).
  • ECTs recognised the need to develop the pro-social aspects of their teacher identity with a stronger focus on pastoral elements such as empathy, understanding, patience and care.

Application of research

  • As a result of conducting this research, an academic paper will be produced. It is intended to present this paper at the annual CSPACE conference in July 2023 and/or the Teacher Education Advancement Network (TEAN) annual conference in May 2023.
  • A short documentary film that artfully captures the experience(s) of ECTs/ drama teachers. This will include excerpts from Socially Distant, recordings of the TiE program, interviews and responses. This will be hosted on the BCU website and/or the CSPACE website and/or Big Brum’s website and presents an inclusive opportunity to share and disseminate the findings
  • Recommendations to support ECTs during their training year in light of a global pandemic will be made to the Secondary ITE course teams in relation to curriculum design
  • Recommendations will be made to strengthen the academic and social provision of ITE at Birmingham City University

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