Jill Rezzano from the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme, and Brian Anderson from Springhead Primary School have seen the enduring impact of their work with the RSC on pupil aspiration and attainment.
In partnership with New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme
In 2013 as a newly appointed Regional Theatre Partner for the RSC's Learning and Performance Network, Jill’s initial task was to identify and recruit a compatible lead school to work with in the programme. Jill was clear about the theatre’s expectation,
“We wanted a school that would hold an appreciation of process. Of something that was new and different and that might need some exploration, not necessarily expecting an immediate outcome”.
Springhead Primary School presented the ideal candidate. Already working with the New Vic across several performance led projects, the school understood the benefit of using drama for learning. New Vic theatre practitioners were regular visitors to the school and similarly Springhead pupils to the theatre, allowing children to participate in and enjoy the spectacle of live theatre performance. For Jill, the opportunity of working more closely with Springhead as a lead school “felt like a very solid next step”.
Approached by Jill, a trusted colleague, Brian considered the relevance and potential of becoming a lead school in the Shakespeare led programme. Convinced about the positive effect that short term drama led projects had made on pupil learning, Brian welcomed the prospect of working in long term partnership with the RSC and the New Vic.
Using RSC led approaches to connect mind and body to an original Shakespeare text, Brian looked to the work to improve pupil literacy attainment across the school. For this purpose, Brian decided to nominate teachers from Nursery, Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 as Lead Teachers onto the programme.
Essential to how the programme is taken into schools is to equip Lead Teachers with core skills and strategies that build expertise and confidence in the teaching of Shakespeare. The skilful application of RSC led approaches advocating the engagement of head, eyes, hands, bodies and heart to explore and interpret the language and the world in which Shakespeare’s plays are set.
In school, at the RSC and at the New Vic, Springhead Lead Teachers and Jill have consistently taken part in intensive RSC led CPD. Lead Teachers and Jill consider that they have benefitted significantly from the training. Capability and confidence has been built to bring Shakespeare’s work to life in the classroom. An enthusiasm has developed, with teachers and Jill looking forward to sessions where they share knowledge and learning with other schools in the North Staffordshire cluster. Travelling the same route into the programme, together learning new practice and discovering “the wonder of Shakespeare’s work”, Brian, has led to a much closer working relationship between schools and the New Vic theatre. Teachers and theatre practitioners have gained insight and an appreciation of the others’ expertise, sharing a mutual aim to support schools in their literacy and performance ambitions. Jill,
“I work with a very skilled set of teachers in North Staffordshire. They become your colleagues, what you each bring to it is distinctive, but there is real a common understanding of what it is you want to achieve in that room”.
An experienced theatre practitioner herself, Jill has found that involvement in the RSC Associate Schools Programme has also led to an evolution in her own theatre practice. No longer under pressure to deliver specific learning outcomes by the end of a short-term project, Jill has shifted how she explores the language and performance of Shakespeare with schools. Able to relax into her own practice, Jill feels that a sense of collaboration has emerged that allows pupils to draw on their own conclusions and understanding of the work. “They now have the time invested in it to think about things more deeply. It’s much more about how you draw out their explorations and insights”,Jill.
A breadth and depth of experience for pupils
Jill and her fellow theatre practitioners have enjoyed seeing cohorts of schools develop and pupils’ confidence levels grow. . Pupils have gained a breadth and depth of experience. Visits to the New Vic, the RSC and watching live Shakespeare performance in school has extended pupils’ interest beyond that of the plays’ storylines. In lively conversation, pupils describe and examine different aspects of a play. The play’s production, lighting, and characters, going on to compare one Shakespeare play with another Shakespeare play. Critical thinking skills that help pupils contextualise a Shakespeare play have been developed, something that would not be possible from experiencing a one-off drama led workshop or theatre performance. Jill says, “Sometimes pupils feel like collaborators more than learners. They understand what is going to be happening in that learning, they are confident and ready, which is what you want.”
Improvements in pupil attainment
During the past four years Brian has been witness to a steady and consistent improvement in pupil literacy attainment at Springhead Primary. Brian attributes this improvement to the school’s involvement in the Associate Schools Programme. In Brian’s opinion the influence of the programme has reached beyond the school’s original expectation. The power and beauty of Shakespeare’s stories and language, the universal appeal of RSC led approaches aligned with skilful teaching practice have combined to transform pupils’ attitudes and confidence to learning. Brian believes,
“When children are actively engaged in their learning it has a long-term impact on their attitude and attainment in school. RSC led approaches should be an essential part of the curriculum because it embeds learning”
For Springhead Primary School and the New Vic Theatre continuation in the Associate Schools programme is a given. The work is part of the school’s culture and an expectation of teachers and of every pupil. Brian and Jill share an equality of practice, commitment and of vision. The bond between school and theatre which has led to the North Staffordshire cluster of schools being recognised as a community of best practice in the teaching, learning and performance of Shakespeare’s work.
“The sharing event held at the New Vic Theatre last year that featured A Midsummer Night’s Dream was something special. We brought all nine schools into the theatre, for a whole day, rehearsing in the morning and a performance in the afternoon. Just seeing all those children and staff working together as one school, no barriers, no differences was incredible”. Brian Anderson, Headteacher, Springhead Primary School