A Middlesbrough School has seen its KS2 SATs results leap to 94%, and Shakespeare is at the heart of it.

The Head That Wears A Crown Rehearsal Middlesbrough_2015_Photo by Rob Freeman _c_ RSC_167201
Rehearsals in Middlesbrough, featuring young people from various schools, including Archibald Primary School, 2015. Photo by Rob Freeman.
Photo by Rob Freeman © RSC Browse and license our images

"On hearing about our SATs results in English a number of schools in the area have been in touch to find out more about our classroom model. Hopefully we can now expand the circle of schools that we work with as part of the RSC Associate Schools programme and share our practice and expertise”, she enthuses.

Sitting within one of the most economically deprived parts of Middlesbrough, many of Archibald’s pupils are eligible for free school meals, have Special Educational Needs (SEN) or English as an Additional Language (EAL). But the biggest problem affecting pupils’ learning was a lack of engagement, as Anita explains: “There’s was a disconnect between the curriculum and how invested the children were in the learning process.” 

Archibald joined the RSC’s Learning and Performance Network with the aim of adopting an ‘all school’ approach – in other words, making Shakespeare accessible to teachers as well as pupils. After three years they moved to being a Lead Associate School and now advocate strongly for RSC teaching techniques. 

Teachers at Archibald learned how to transfer methods usually found in a professional rehearsal room to the classroom, giving teachers new confidence and freedom to try radical approaches.

The children push the desks to one side and enjoy a multi-sensory experience, tapping into a child’s natural impulse to move about, play, role-play, invent rhymes and make-up songs. Children are encouraged to experience the plays through their bodies, as well as their brains, which lays down an emotional and cognitive ‘blue print’ that the children can then call upon to help with their reading and writing. 

Emma, Reception teacher (four to five year olds), used this practical approach to prepare her pupils to be part of a whole school performance of The Tempest. The class was asked to immerse themselves into the atmosphere of the island and the ensuing storm. By asking the children to close their eyes and to describe the storm and what it might feel like to be on the ship, with wizards, magic and potions, the characters and story came to life for these very young children. When it came to the day of the performance children in the class stood confidently, speaking aloud the words of the mariners, “All lost! To prayers, to prayers! All lost!”.

The RSC approach continues to be a source of inspiration and enrichment for pupil learning. “Children often struggle because they don’t have authentic experiences...they haven’t got the insight, the language or speech, so when they are asked to write creatively, for example, they have very little to draw upon”, explains Year 4 teacher Lisa. The new teaching methods have liberated children’s vocabulary and given them new motivation for reading and writing.

Head Teacher Anita advocates that every piece of writing now begins with the RSC-led approaches, and the work has inspired ‘In My Mind’s Eye’, a project targeting less able writers, SEN and EAL learners in lower pathway classes in Years 3, 4 and 5. It’s still in its early stages but the project has yielded highly promising results so far with children beginning to close the gap between their literacy attainment and that of their peers in middle and higher pathway classes. 

* KS2 SAT results in Middlesbrough average 68%. The National Average is 74%.