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We need more talk, says author

Schools are failing to provide contemporary actors with the basic literacy skills needed to sight-read play scripts at rehearsals, a leading playwright has claimed.

Mark Ravenhill, author of Shopping and Fucking and Mother Clap's Molly House, says that young actors struggle to read an unfamiliar play script out loud.

"Anyone over 25 can come in and sight-read a play," he said. "But, with younger actors, you have to spend the first week of rehearsals helping them to read the play. They can't just come to a read-through and read it aloud."

Mr Ravenhill believes that the fault does not lie with teachers, but with the initiative-laden system they are forced to work in.

He said: "There's a Maoist, perpetual-change culture in education. Every year a new system has to be chucked at schools.

"I'm sure it's crushed some very good teachers who would otherwise be inspirational."

Many teachers are unsurprised by these complaints. Natasha Pascale, English teacher at Swanlea comprehensive, in east London, said: "If we're reading Shakespeare in class, pupils can find the language hard to get to grips with. They find the pacing difficult, and they don't know when to pause.

"There need to be more sessions where teachers listen to each pupil read.

Rather than focusing on imagery, we should look at language, emphasis and punctuation, and watch film versions of plays."

But, many educationists argue, school is not solely to blame. Robert Dowling, head of George Dixon international school, in Birmingham, said:

"Children used to read to their parents at home, and their parents read to them. But in the games console age, an enormous number of parents not only never read aloud to their children, but never even talk to them. There's a lack of literacy in society."

Mr Ravenhill's reflections precede the premiere of his latest play, Adding Value, adapted from hours of interviews with a South African teacher who has worked in tough, inner-city British schools. Much of the monologue is devoted to the unnamed teacher's decision to rewrite his pupils' GCSE coursework.

Mr Ravenhill said: "Parents spend hours doing the coursework, teachers spend all night rewriting it, and the kids aren't learning anything. But no one dares not to do it, because then their kid gets lower grades. It's insane, really. The whole thing is based on a lie."

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