RSC demands Shakespeare revolution

15th September 2006 at 01:00
Theatre launches campaign to stop pupils being bored by the way the world's most famous playwright is taught in schools.

Children are being turned off Shakespeare because of the "boring" way the Bard is taught in schools, the Royal Shakespeare Company has warned. A lack of opportunities to perform his plays or watch live productions risks marginalising the world's best-known playwright for a generation of children, says Maria Evans, the RSC's director of learning.

Her comments come as the RSC launches a campaign calling for every child in the UK to see at least one compulsory performance of a Shakespeare play during their school career.

The company also wants theatre-based activities to form part of English lessons and a practical element added to examinations, which, it says, focus too heavily on memorising lines without proper understanding.

Writing in The TES today, Ms Evans says: "Stop your average young person in the street and ask them what they think about Shakespeare and you can guarantee that 'boring' will be a fairly common response.

"Shakespeare is the only writer studied by every young person in the country, but many leave education determined never to come into contact with him again."

This year 11 to 14-year-olds are required to study Much Ado About Nothing, Richard III or The Tempest. At GCSE, pupils must study another of their choice.

Ms Evans says there is concern that existing KS3 assessment, which is centred around a written exam and requires pupils to study just two scenes of a play, was a turn-off for children and did nothing to encourage theatre-based productions of his plays. GCSE exams, again based on a written test, also failed to spark pupils' enthusiasm, she writes.

The RSC is also calling for improved training and support for teachers. "I am not suggesting that all teaching of Shakespeare be theatre-based," says Ms Evans. "But I believe all teaching should include some theatre-based activities. A script on a page, unlike a novel, tells only half the story."

The RSC intends to generate support for its reforms before publishing a detailed report on how the Bard should be taught .

Alderbrook school, Solihull, a specialist arts college, goes to lengths to make plays more relevant to pupils. In recent years, it has staged Hamlet in the style of The Matrix, The Tempest on skateboards and Winter's Tale as a huge chess game. Pupils are now rehearsing a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream with circus performers.

Steve Eagles, its head of drama, said: " We try to allow children to take ownership of Shakespeare, to have fun with him, so that they don't view him as something that's far removed from them."

The Department for Education and Skills denied Shakespeare was being taught in a boring way. A spokesman said: "We have issued guidance to teachers that Shakespeare should be taught in an active, engaging way."


news, page 4; Platform, page 19

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