Press release

Encouraging pupils to foster a love of Shakespeare

Schools live stream Royal Shakespeare Company’s adaption of 'The Merchant of Venice' to mark 400th anniversary of great playwright’s death.

Pupils from more than 500 schools across the country will take part in an interactive, live-streamed broadcast of Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’ on Thursday (21 April 2016).

To mark the 400th anniversary of the famed English playwright’s death, schoolchildren will watch a Royal Shakespeare Company’s modern adaption of the play. More schools than ever before have signed up to take part in this special e-Shakespearean educational venture, which is now in its fourth year. The event will be hosted by former Blue Peter presenter, Andy Akinwolere, and pupils will have the opportunities to post questions to members of the cast and creative team as well as participate in a range of activities throughout the broadcast.

At the heart of the government’s commitment to extending opportunity is the belief that all pupils whatever their background should have access to an excellent, well-rounded education. The arts are key to this. In fact, since the introduction of the EBacc the percentage of pupils in state funded schools taking at least one arts GCSE has increased.

Since 2012, £460 million has been invested to support cultural and music education. This includes almost £800,000 between 2012 and 2015 to enable the Royal Shakespeare Company to produce toolkits to support teachers in providing a practical, drama-based approach to teaching and appreciating 3 of Shakespeare’s most popular plays:

  • ‘Romeo and Juliet’
  • ‘Macbeth’
  • ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said:

As part of our drive to extend opportunity for all, we want all pupils to enjoy wider cultural activities and experiences that will help raise aspirations and build character.

That’s why we have invested £460 million since 2012 to increase pupils’ access to cultural and music education. This includes a package of support so that more pupils have the opportunity to see a Shakespeare production, and to develop an appreciation and love for these great literary works - as countless previous generations have before.

It is fantastic that so many schools are taking part in this live interactive event that will really bring Shakespeare to life, as we mark the 400th anniversary of the Bard of Avon’s death.

To help encourage more pupils to experience Shakespeare and engage young people in arts and theatre, the government has announced a package of support for schools including:

  • providing funding for a National Poetry Recitation competition, which will include a one-off Shakespeare sonnet category, with the winner of the best recital winning a 1623 folio edition of Shakespeare’s works for his or her school and tickets to a Royal Shakespeare Company production
  • offering the winners and runners-up in the Pupil Premium Awards 2016 a range of exciting and enriching prizes including the opportunity to work with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Shakespeare Schools Festival to help pupils gain a deeper appreciation of the playwright’s works. Pupils will also have the chance to get free places for screenings of the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company’s production of Romeo and Juliet
  • supporting the launch of Penguin’s 100 Classics which includes Shakespeare works ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Twelfth Night’ to boost the range of literature that pupils are exposed to by providing affordable collections to secondary schools for just £1 a copy

Jacqui O’Hanlon, Director of Education for the Royal Shakespeare Company, said:

We know that the best way for young people to experience Shakespeare’s plays is in a theatre. However, experiencing a digital recording alongside thousands of other students in real time and having the opportunity to interact with actors and members of the creative team can be an exciting first introduction to Shakespeare and live theatre.

Our experience has shown that by making our productions available digitally we are giving more schools and young people than ever before the opportunity to experience our work and Shakespeare’s plays regardless of where they live or what school they go to. Schools also tell us that the broadcasts have been a catalyst, encouraging more teachers and pupils to attend a live theatre performance for the first time.

Notes to editors

  1. The department will fund a National Poetry Recitation competition in the 2016 academic year and will announce details in due course.
  2. As part of a limited period offer schools will be able to purchase classroom sets of the Penguin Classics for the equivalent of £1 per copy between March and June 2016, for delivery in time for the new school term in September 2016. Schools can register for further information on the Penguin Classics for Schools website.
  3. The Pupil Premium Awards 2016 will be presented by one of Britain’s foremost contemporary artists, Tracey Emin, on 12 May. For more information visit the Pupil Premium Awards website.
  4. This year’s pupil premium awards includes a Shakespeare focus. The Royal Shakespeare Company and the Shakespeare Schools Festival will work directly with the national winners and runners-up and there will be free tickets available for cinema screenings of the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company’s production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ which will be recorded live at the Garrick Theatre on 7 July.
  5. The pupil premium is worth up to £1,900 per child and can be used how schools see fit to close the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.
  6. The government has committed to maintaining the pupil premium funding throughout this Parliament. Since April 2011, around £6.23 billion has been given to schools to improve the attainment of disadvantaged pupils.

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