Albert (Dorothy Heathcote)


Dorothy Heathcote using drama with a group of children with learning disabilities.


Dorothy Heathcote, a remarkable drama teacher from Newcastle, is seen with a group of children with learning disabilities from a special school. She confronts them with ‘Albert’, supposedly a derelict, who is found in their classroom. The children’s reactions to someone who needs help from them are closely observed. A historical record of a great teacher

The renowned educator Dorothy Heathcote, who has died aged 85, used drama as a tool to promote holistic learning in schools. Problem-solving lay at the heart of her methodology and adopting different roles became its most famous feature. Although this approach was hardly original, the way she used it proved to be so.

One of her best known concepts, “mantle of the expert”, asks children to approach problems and challenges as if they are experts. The seeds of the idea were sown in the 1970s when three “naughty” primary school boys were cast by Heathcote as the three kings in a week-long drama journey. The boys became expert kings. Heathcote realised the significance of this expert viewpoint in improving behaviour, and in increasing motivation and the desire to acquire knowledge.

In 1981, for the BBC programme Teacher, the producer Roger Burgess filmed Heathcote giving a classic demonstration of “mantle of the expert”. She aims to release latent knowledge in a class of nine-year-olds by asking them to run a fictitious shoe factory. One child responds to the possibility of redundancy with the question “Who’ll raise the family, then?” Another asks “Why does there have to be change?” The children had digested Heathcote’s Three Rs – rigour, realisation and responsibility.

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