Why Shakespeare matters
October 1, 2013
Last week we launched Young Shakespeare Nation with the Prince's Foundation for Children and the Arts. It's the culmination of months of planning and we're just at the start of the journey so can't all collapse in a heap!
Young Shakespeare Nation invites schools, students and teachers to join us on our six year journey through the 36 plays that make up Shakespeare's First Folio. I'm delighted that David Tennant agreed to feature in our new trailer explaining all about the idea.
Shakespeare's place in the National Curriculum
Shakespeare's presence in the educational life of every young person in England and Wales has been assured since 1989 when the National Curriculum was first introduced. He still remains the only author that everyone has to study. Considering the controversy this generates (it's still a subject that causes headlines) it might seem a provocative move to ask schools to expose students to even more of his work. (You can find out more about the history of teaching Shakespeare in England in our report which you can download here).
The new curriculum states that students must study two of Shakespeare's plays between the ages of 11 and 14 in addition to studying his work at GCSE, so why are we inviting schools and students to go even further?
• We know there is more of an adventure to be had with Shakespeare's work than we currently allow ourselves
• We can easily get into a rut if we narrow the choice of plays down to a usual few (Romeo and Juliet again?)
• We want formative experiences of Shakespeare's work to be as vivid and engaging as possible, seeding a life-long relationship with the work, with theatre-going and theatre-making
Why it matters
Shakespeare's words are like a foreign language: the earlier we are introduced to them and the more we are exposed to them the more attuned we become, and the greater likelihood there is that the richness of the language and ideas will inform our development. But why does that matter?
We commissioned an enquiry into attitudes to Shakespeare and students' overall attitude to learning and school. We found that a students' attitude to Shakespeare changed for the better when a lesson became more like a rehearsal. And when a student's attitude to Shakespeare improved, so did their attitude to school and to learning generally.
When we expose students to complex work and give them the tools to unlock it, we change more than their understanding of that piece of literature. We can also change their aspirations and their belief in their own abilities. I have seen this happen time and again in our own work with schools across the country. If a student feels they can do Shakespeare, they feel they can do anything.
What we're doing next
So we're celebrating the potential that Shakespeare has to reveal new aptitudes in students by making more of his work available than ever before. I'm hoping that schools, students and teachers everywhere will join with us and do the same. We start with a schools' broadcast of Richard II on Friday 15 November 2013. I hope to see you there.
by Jacqui O'Hanlon
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