A Staffordshire primary school has seen a dramatic rise in writing standards since being part of the RSC’s Learning Partnership Network.

In partnership with New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme

When Springhead Primary School in Stoke-on-Trent joined the Learning and Performance Network in 2014, in partnership with the New Vic Theatre, one of their goals was to introduce rehearsal room techniques across the curriculum in order to improve pupils’ writing skills.

A smaller-than-average school with 188 pupils aged 3 to 11 years, Springhead is situated in an area that could be described as socially and economically deprived.

Headteacher Brian Anderson explains that his pupils “have both a limited vocabulary and range of reading. They have the mechanics of reading and writing but struggle to develop the higher levels - the ability to put language together is hard to get unless children are swamped with good literature.”

After just 18 months on the scheme, Brian gave a speech at London’s Barbican Centre when he said that “the learning partnership [with the RSC and New Vic Theatre, Stoke] has had a greater impact on the learning of our children than any other professional development my staff have had over the 12 years that I have been a headteacher…Our data shows a sharp increase in writing levels, especially for low achievers. The progress across the school has been outstanding”. 

The RSC’s rehearsal room approaches have brought Shakespeare to the classroom in brand new ways, with pupils encouraged to engage emotionally, intellectually and physically in their learning. Children have studied The Tempest and King Lear, with workshops, live streaming and sharing days with the New Vic Theatre and a ‘cluster’ of other local schools.

Springhead’s teachers discovered that the children really enjoyed playing with the language in the plays, in particular lower ability children – “the idea that no-one really knows the answer, and that their idea might be right, is a great leveller”.

The RSC’s techniques have created a burst of creativity in Springhead’s pupils. Brian proudly uses the example of a piece of writing by a seven year-old boy, who created this passage after using the rehearsal room approaches to explore the shipwreck scene in The Tempest...

My knees were shaking out of control. The waves got bigger and bigger as the storm started pounding. As I was pulling the top mast the waves echoed in my ears. I shouted “Down with the top mast, lower, lower!” But it was snapped sharply by the massive lightning strike and smashed. Everyone screamed. The waves smashed against the boat. The ship started rocking like a coat hanger. The ocean was bubbling and fierce. “Mercy on us! We split we split!” The sailors cried out with fear as the boat sank.

Springhead’s teachers explain that the children‘s confidence has grown with speaking, listening and writing, from a below average starting point. “There’s a display in the corridor of the nursery children; you might not be able to tell exactly what they’ve written, but they know, and they’ve done it excitedly and willingly. The progress of the children has been massive.”

As a result of the project, it’s now 'a cool thing' to be involved with Shakespeare. “My class is desperate to go to Stratford. They all want to be doing something with Shakespeare, something with the RSC - it’s prestigious.”

Springhead see their work with the RSC and the New Vic Theatre as an ongoing future investment, and a great way of working with other schools in their area. Brian concludes, “All of the schools [in our cluster] rose to it. It made me realise we’re missing an opportunity because in sport we compete against each other but this is working together.”