Education For All was the third of the Blackie's participatory theatre shows. It was commissioned jointly by St Helen's Council through its Education Department and North West Arts. It celebrated the 100th anniversary of the 1870 Education Act.
Preparations for the Show started with research - all possible participants were provided with a Reading List much of which was compulsory. ( The Reading List can be accessed by clicking here).
So by the time the show was being created those working on it had a clear idea of how governments and educationalists saw the purposes of education and the differences within these visions.
The Show would be in two parts - part one was a model of the education system. Part two was a model of the world of work.
As with all the Blackie participatory shows there was a central bureaucracy. This welcomed people as they arrived - provided score sheets - provided certificates - ensured that participants were in the right place.
In addition there were those who supervised the various processes and, as necessary, acted as anything from social workers to a police force.
How It Worked
The Education System within the Show was based on people's ability to balance and the speed at which they could fulfill the tasks. Based on the statistics of the time a system was created which mirrored how the education worked and fulfilled the practical needs of the show.
Each performance had limit of 60 participants of these:-
30 people would leave the education system without gaining any qualifications
30 would go on to get try to get a 1st degree certificates (kind of the equivalent of 'O' Levels)
22 would pass and get a 1st degree certificate.
11 would gain qualify for a 2nd degree certificate
8 would gain a 2nd degree certificate
4 would pass to go on to the equivalent of University (1 in the 4 would 'drop out')
Left a sample of a Certificate of Excellence. The colour of the stars varied depending on the level of the degree achieved.
Participants were tested by a series of games which ranged from the easy to very difficult.
Below are some of these games in process:-
Game 1 Progress along a string on the floor. Participants were invited to hop along the string as fast as they could.
Above and right participants hopping along a string which is calibrated. This was the simplest game played. Participants were scored on how far they got before losing contact with the string, time they took and style.
Game 2 With board on head follow the string along a wall by touching it.
You lost points if you lost contact with the string or lost your board.
There were two obstacle courses one was a course over boxes covered with cups where you had to avoid touching the cups. You lost points if you touched a cup or lost your board.
This was an obstacle course amongst piles of books. You had to avoid touching the books. Below is the best photograph we have of this activity.
Progressing along a string on the floor with a board on head and picking up cups placed alongside the string.
You lost points if you touched the floor, lost contact with the string or dropped or missed a cup.
Game 7 Hopping through a line of tyres.
Those who had not gained any qualifications were separated from those who were proceeding to or had already gained certificates.
Right the participants being separated
The teachers (those who ran the games) then addressed the various groups of participants. The speeches (each of which lasted about two minutes) differed but they were based on the ideas present within the Education Acts, teaching manuals, and school reports.
Speech 1 to those who have no certificates (38 out of the 60)
Left people with no qualifications being addressed by their 'teacher'
You are about to move on to the world of work, and you have an important part to play in that world. I trust that you will apply your talents with vigour and enthusiasm. You make up more than 50% of the entire community here, each one of you is essential to the success of this afternoons' proceedings. Perhaps some of you will prove so proficient that you will rise above your fellows as a shining example of diligence and ingenuity, an encouragement for all to make greater efforts. Your satisfaction will derive from the personal contentment that comes from giving yourself wholeheartedly to a communal activity.
You are now going out, each of you alone, into a hard competitive world. We are proud that we can take credit for having taught you to take your places in that world. To be worthy participants in the 'game of life' awaiting you. These activities require perseverance and we hope that each of you will persevere; tackling your particular task with energy. I hope that by the end of your afternoon, you can proudly say; 'I've played hard and played fairly, taking the rough with the smooth. Do this and you'll have no regrets.
Right participants with their certificates
You have done well being in the top 36% of the community here. An exciting and demanding future lies ahead of you in the world outside. Your certificate proves you worthy of trust; and that you have ability and the capacity to work without supervision.
You will be given responsibility; it is your duty to behave responsibly and not to abuse the trust invested in you. Thereby you will gain the respect and trust of those above and below you. Other rewards will make you efforts worthwhile, you will have a secure future, be well paid and have a good pension. Some of you may be even be promoted.
Self fullfilment lies in successfully answering the challenges of the modern world. I am confident you will successfully answer the challenge. I am proud of you.
Speech 3 to those proceeding to 2nd degree and possibly University. The 2nd degree (A Level) represented around 13% of the participants; those going to University 2.4%)
You have done well. You are now on the road to success. The road is not easy but it will provide a stimulating challenge to your proven abilities. With perseverence the rewards will be worth while. Wherever you end up you will have a privileged position in society. Whatever you do you will have responsibility. But now the responsibility is to yourselves.
The World Of Work within the Show consisted of straw mines. Participants had to crawl on the floor from heap of straws to heaps of straws and transform them into neat bundles of specific numbers. This was the fate of all of those without qualifications.
In charge of the 'straw mines' were those with a 1st Degree of Excellence. It was their job to keep people working and to collect the straw bundles and pass them to their managers. These were people who had a certificate with a 2nd Degree of Excellence and they would transform the straws into letters. Above them would be people who had a 3rd Degree of Excellence and they would decide on what words they needed and hence what letters needed to be created.
Once the words were ready they were published on the boards which surrounded the 'Straw Mines'.
As with all pieces of Model Theatre it was the job of the 'staff' who were running the show to prevent trouble. So if straw miners did not want to work or found it too hard they would be offered foam pads to cover their knees, or possibly short rests. Indeed anything which would keep them working. In the case of serious insurrection participants would be taken out of their role and if necessary imprisoned.
The end of the show finished with a discussion.
Sadly there are no photographs of the second half of the Show. There is a film and who knows it might even finally be digitalised.
Education For All was created by The Kinetic Theatre Workshop led by Bill Harpe. The Kinetic theatre Workshop was a group which met weekly at The Blackie to play theatre games. In putting the Show together Bill had the assistance of Paul Brown, Wendy Harpe, Barbara Harkin, Ed George, Jim MacRitchie, Dave Rickus. The cast included the above plus David Bassi, Tom Burke, Dave Calder, Dave Casey, Arthur Duncan, Kate Gardener, Nick Green, Reg Helsby, Liz Heyden, Bill Hooper, Dave Kay, Jean Longworth, Chris Malvern, Don McKie, Anne Murphy, Les Roberts, Lorraine Roberts, Freda Schicker, Trilby Shaw, Howard Steel, Lynn Webster.
Apologies to anyone missed off the above list.
Thanks To North West Arts Board and St Helens Education Department who commissioned the work. It too place at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Girls School, St Helens on Thursday 25th and Friday 26th, June 1970.