Drama workshops for schools to close

THE pioneering education department of the English Shakespeare Company, which gave Shakespeare workshops to more than 40,000 school pupils and literally flew in actors and directors to help teachers in trouble, is to close.

The board of the ESC said yesterday that following the closure of the main company - which was announced a few weeks ago and has been blamed on levels of public funding - it had been hoped to keep the education department going because of the demand for it, now that Shakespeare was part of the national curriculum.

However, the company has been unable to find private sponsors to continue funding. The department under Carole Winter took Shakespeare to prisons in the UK, on tours to Africa and ran 1,386 workshops at British schools stressing a practical, modern and exploratory approach to the playwright. The department, which also published copious teachers' notes, has never received public funding.

Michael Bogdanov, artistic director of the ESC, said: 'The education department has been enormously successful in reaching all sections of the community by heightening the level of debate and responding directly to the needs of teachers especially at a time when Shakespeare's plays were threatened by the enforced return to the dry and sterile approach of the pencil and paper test.

'The company has built audiences for the future and it is with great regret that we are now forced to end this work. It is particularly galling that the Arts Council has never found a mechanism by which to support this valuable service.'

A delegation led by Lord Attenborough and including the actors Sir Anthony Hopkins and Prunella Scales met John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, yesterday to protest about the decline in discretionary awards made to drama students. In 1987, 83 per cent of local authorities made full discretionary awards. Last year the figure had fallen to 39 per cent.

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