RSC wants schoolchildren to be forced to attend theatre

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The Independent Online

Every child should see at least one compulsory Shakespeare performance during their school life as part of an attempt to stop youngsters being bored by the Bard's plays.

The recommendation is being made by the Royal Shakespeare Company as part of a campaign it is launching to revamp the teaching of Shakespeare in schools.

The RSC, which has been asked by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority - the Government's exams watchdog - to take a leading role in determining how Shakespeare is taught, also wants major changes to the way children are tested on the playwright.

It is worried that the current system of testing - under which 14-year-olds are tested on just two scenes from a Shakespeare play in their national curriculum tests - means they no longer study the whole play. They just learn the bits they will be tested on.

"Stop your average young person in the street, ask them what they think about Shakespeare and 'Boring!' will be a fairly common response," said Maria Evans, director of learning at the RSC. "Shakespeare remains the only writer studied by every young person in Britain - but many leave formal education determined never to come into contact with the Bard again." A review of the curriculum carried out by the QCA concluded that Shakespeare should remain compulsory for everyone.

However, it urged the RSC to look at innovative ways in which his plays could be taught in schools.

Ms Evans, writing in yesterday's Times Educational Supplement, said theatre-based activities should play a far bigger role in lessons on Shakespeare. She added that national curriculum tests were a "turn-off" for children who should instead be assessed on their understanding of whole plays.

The call for changes in the way Shakespeare is tested will win the support of English teachers who have long claimed that the Bard's plays have been "hijacked by testing regimes".

The National Association for the Teaching of English believes that today's youngsters do not see the plays as revelant to their lives because they have not had the opportunity to see them.

"Because of a lack of opportunity to experience live performances, Shakespeare remains alien to many children and, unfortunately, a burden rather than a joy," said Simon Wrigley, chairman of the association.

The RSC plans to consult on its proposals before compiling a full report on how the Bard is taught. Its call coincides with a government drive to give youngsters more practical experience of Shakespeare.

The Department for Education and Skills has teamed up with Globe Education - based at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre on London's South Bank - to provide practical workshops for teachers on how to approach Shakespeare.

A spokesman for the DfES added: "We have issued guidance to schools and teachers that Shakespeare should be taught in an active, engaging way, focussing on the play as a piece of drama, emphasising interpretation, thinking about the characters and how they appeal to the audience and considering the richness and meaning of the language.

"The national curriculum programmes of study clearly specify that pupils should study a whole play by Shakespeare."

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