Jo Bradley, Deputy Headteacher at Welcombe Hills School, a special school in Warwickshire, writes about her experience of working with RSC Education
Welcombe Hills School is a generic special school serving South Warwickshire. Our pupils have complex and significant learning delay; many have autism and a large number have a physical disability. Our partnership with the RSC has spanned over 14 years and during this time the RSC practitioners we have welcomed into the school have worked hard to understand the idiosyncratic learning styles of individual pupils so they can communicate and work with them in meaningful ways. They have given us the confidence to ‘play’ with Shakespeare’s work and explore how it could be used to benefit our young people. Our specialist arts team work hard to make Shakespeare’s work accessible to all, to enhance their communication and interaction, play skills and emotional well-being.
In 2016 we were approached by the RSC and invited to take part in Dream 16. The thought of our pupils on the Royal Shakespeare Theatre stage during a professional production excited and terrified us. The RSC wanted 10 students to be part of their ‘fairy train’ and in school we allowed those who were interested to step forward and explore the concept further.
Through the hard work and determination of the students and staff, we got there - a learning curve for all but a groundbreaking moment for theatre. Young people with disabilities; performing on an internationally renowned stage; with professional actors, in front of a paying audience. We then went one step further and adapted the work for a relaxed performance - young people with learning disabilities; performing on a world-famous stage; for an audience of people with disabilities. There is no doubt that our part in Dream 16 had a memorable impact on our young people, we saw an increase in confidence and emotional wellbeing and a true sense that they belonged to an accepting community. An unexpected impact was on the actors, directors, technicians and chaperones working on the production, who learnt so much from working with our wonderful young people. In 2018, four of our students once again worked alongside professional actors on stage for the RSC’s production of Romeo and Juliet.
Following this we became a Lead Associate School for the RSC. We are unique - the only Lead Associate Special School committed to recruiting other special schools to the programme. Through it we have organised and participated in some enriching experiences with our students. Most recently, pupils participated in a two-day Samsung takeover where they entered the world of Romeo and Juliet through digital technology. Teachers found new, creative approaches which could be used across the whole of the curriculum and we demonstrated how we could use Shakespeare as a catalyst to progress in all other curriculum areas.
An exciting project this academic year, is our supported internships with the RSC. Many of our young adults are capable of paid employment but we know from the DfWP that 79% of adults with autism are claiming out of work benefits despite wanting a job. Supported by two job coaches who have been employed by the school, five students work in a range of RSC departments over the year whilst completing their maths and English accreditations with an aim to progress onto paid employment at the end of the year.
Our collaboration with the theatre throughout the years has enhanced and supported the lives of our students and staff and we are excited about future developments. We hope to continue to recruit special schools into our cluster so that they can gain in the way that we have and that we can work together to explore further ways in which we can use Shakespeare to enrich our pupils’ lives.