Demise of testing regime is no reason to bin the Bard

7th November 2008 at 00:00

The end of Sats should not result in the ditching of schools' responsibility to introduce the work of Shakespeare to pupils.

In the early 1980s, at the school from which I recently retired as head of drama, I helped the head of English to set up a unit-structured English curriculum in Years 7-9.

It was agreed there would be a theatre and drama unit in each year. In Year 9, the focus was on Shakespeare. While each teacher was allowed great flexibility in teaching their own classes, the theatre units gave an opportunity to bring whole year groups together in festivals of performance.

The Shakespeare unit also allowed us to make links with theatre groups that would - 10 years before Sats - visit and present lively productions of many of the plays that have a special appeal to younger audiences: Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream and so on.

The emphasis on the plays in performance brought enthusiastic responses that gave staff a tremendous kick-start prior to the introduction of a play for study at GCSE the following year.

The introduction of Sats in the 1990s certainly narrowed the teaching of English in Year 9, but because the teaching of Shakespeare was enforced, it enabled many good theatre groups to thrive as teachers looked for suitable methods to prepare students for the test papers.

Now that secondaries are liberated from the testing regime, it would be a great pity if they stopped giving their students the truly educational experience of live performance.

Simon McCarthy, London E5.

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