Press release

Gove backs plan for 50,000 children to tread the boards as the Bard’s greatest characters

Details of a plan to improve children's engagement with the works of Shakespeare.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has backed an ambitious plan to give 50,000 children the chance to stage a Shakespeare play in a theatre by 2014 - marking the 450th anniversary of the Bard’s birth.

The Shakespeare Schools Festival (SSF) - whose patrons include Dame Judi Dench, Kevin Spacey and Jenny Agutter - will receive £140,000 from the Department for Education to help it almost triple the number of schools it works with, from 700 today to around 2,000 by 2014. The SSF will reach 25,000 children next year and 50,000 in 2014.

The funding will help the SSF:

  • provide schools with abridged scripts, rehearsal tips and a local theatre in which to perform
  • run workshops for teachers from their partners, the Central School of Speech & Drama, on directorial approaches and stage-craft.

Michael Gove is further promoting Shakespeare’s works by giving the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) £125,000 to provide all state secondary schools with a free copy of its RSC Shakespeare Toolkit for Teachers, containing more than 60 hours of teaching resources on Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said:

I was enraptured by a Shakespeare Schools Festival performance of Macbeth by a primary school at the Royal Court earlier this year. The festival enables students to bring the plays of the great playwright to life and does fantastic work to improve cultural education in our schools.

This funding will help the Festival to reach thousands more children so they too can stage their own version of Shakespearean magic.

On the support to the RSC, he added:

I am also delighted to be supporting one of our most eminent cultural institutions. The Royal Shakespeare Company does fantastic work with teachers. They use what RSC actors and directors do in the rehearsal room to inspire new approaches to teaching and engaging pupils in Shakespeare’s greatest works.

We are approaching the 450th anniversary of his birth and supporting the RSC to bring Shakespeare’s literary and cultural legacy to thousands more children is the best way to celebrate it.

Patron of the Shakespeare Schools Festival Jenny Agutter said:

The use of language can give us more than basic communication. Shakespeare’s wonderful plays let us hear and understand people’s strengths, weaknesses, fears and joys. The plays pose questions about humanity and morality. The words have a music that touches our senses. What better way for young people to understand language than taking part in SSF and discovering these extraordinary texts?

Support from the Department for Education for SSF’s growth will allow this remarkable charity to change yet more young lives, many of them disadvantaged.

RSC Associate Artist Ray Fearon, who is currently appearing in the RSC’s Julius Caesar, said:

For passionate English teachers, the challenge is similar to that of the RSC, which seeks to widen access to Shakespeare’s work: how to bring the depth and power of this material to a new audience without compromising its integrity or patronising that audience.

Through the toolkit, the RSC shows how the techniques of one of the world’s leading theatre companies can be applied in the classroom to unlock some of the richest, most challenging and rewarding texts in the English language. Thanks to the Department for Education, every state secondary school will have their own copy.

The backing for these two organisations is part of the government’s drive to improve cultural education in schools. Following the Henley Review of Cultural Education earlier this year, the government pledged £15 million over the next three years to implement the recommendations of the report.

The funding is for the 2012 to 2013 academic year.

Notes to editors

1) The Shakespeare Schools Festival (SSF) charity is the largest youth drama festival in the UK. The SSF currently works with 200 primary, 50 special and 450 secondary schools. But the funding will mean that around 800 primary, 200 special and 1,000 secondary schools will be able to stage their own play by 2014.

After signing up, each school receives specially abridged scripts, director’s notes and, for primary schools, curriculum packs to inspire the entire school. The pupils attend a workshop in their theatre to build their confidence and develop their stage presence. Teacher-directors are also given workshops from the SSF’s creative partners, Central School of Speech & Drama, to bring out the best in their cast of budding thespians. They are collaborating with The Prince’s Foundation for Children and the Arts on their growth to 2,000 schools, 50,000 young people, performing in 200 theatres for 2014 - a project with the working title Shakespeare Generation. More information is available on the Shakespeare Schools Foundation website.

2) The RSC is the world-renowned theatre company and alongside producing and performing Shakespeare at the highest level, has a key role in helping others connect with Shakespeare. Education is a crucial aspect in its aims and objectives, with the Toolkit being a hugely popular resource amongst teachers.

The RSC prioritises working with schools and students who would otherwise not have easy access to its work. Through its long term partnership programme the Learning and Performance Network, the RSC has worked with more than 400 schools across England reaching 96,000 children and young people.

Each year the RSC works with more than 2,000 teachers, 30,000 students and 1,300 schools through workshops, performance festivals, conferences and professional development programmes. They deliver work in schools nationally as well as at their base in Stratford-upon-Avon, in London and on tour.

The RSC Shakespeare toolkit enables teachers to engage students the way directors do their actors: on their feet, speaking the language aloud, unlocking its meaning and making it their own. The toolkit contains lesson plans that combine social and historical context with theatre-based strategies that help students actively explore the scenes, characters, language and stories. Further information about their education work can be found on the RSC website.

3) The Central School of Speech & Drama is a specialist conservatoire within the University of London. It provides the highest quality of theatre education and professional training through undergraduate and postgraduate study. More information about their work is available on the CSSD website.

4) The Henley Review of Cultural Education and the government’s response to it are available on GOV.UK.

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Published 4 November 2012