How one Head Teacher shifted from being unconvinced about teaching Shakespeare to primary school children to being a Lead Associate of the RSC.
When Head Teacher Leigh Wolmarans took over Lings Primary School in Northampton, he knew that he had a distinct set of challenges on his hands. Having got through five Head Teachers in five years, the school was in Special Measures. On top of this, the school is located in an area of high social deprivation with 60% of pupils in receipt of free school meals and around one third of pupils having a level of involvement with social services.
On arrival at Lings Leigh discovered a significant gap in the curriculum, with no provision for music, dance or drama. Having experienced a workshop with the RSC back in 2013, Leigh knew of the potential for using Shakespeare as a means of improving aspiration and attainment in school, but had been keeping the idea on the back-burner until the right opportunity arose.
Leigh explains, “Before my encounter with the RSC in 2013, I was unconvinced about the relevance of teaching Shakespeare to very young children. But after a day in the rehearsal room with RSC practitioners and having seen the evening performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor I felt immersed and engaged…it was like a world had opened up to me. Coming to Lings was the catalyst I needed to try out the RSC techniques and so we made a decision to ‘open up’ Shakespeare to the whole of the school. I believed it would motivate pupils, raise their self-esteem and improve performance.”
One asset in Leigh’s favour was the quality of teaching staff, whom he describes as “an incredible group of talented individuals”. Leigh knew that before he could engage his pupils in Shakespeare, he had to first invest in raising the confidence and skills of his staff, for many of whom Shakespeare was at best a distant memory. He set up a number of INSET days and paid for all 36 members of staff to see a performance of Love’s Labour’s Won in Stratford. The reaction from teachers was emphatic: “we’ve got to bring this into class”. Each teacher took the lead in planning and delivering a scheme of work for their class based on a chosen Shakespeare play.
Four years later, Shakespeare’s work and RSC approaches have become embedded in “the fabric of our children, our parents and our building”. Across the school’s curriculum the stories, locations, characters and language of Shakespeare are a basis for the teaching of reading, writing, maths, geography, technology, art, music, drama and dance.
In 2016 Lings became an RSC Lead Associate School, supporting 12 other Northampton schools and 150 teachers in bringing the work of Shakespeare into classrooms in a meaningful way. Leigh is convinced of the significance of Shakespeare’s work and the effectiveness of applying RSC approaches in classrooms to raise pupil attainment: “We know that it’s never going to go away, or become that shiny thing on the Head’s bookcase that gathers dust. It’s just too potent”.