Middlesbrough’s Archibald Primary School has pioneered a new project to improve literacy for lower pathway children, inspired by the RSC.

The Head That Wears A Crown Rehearsal Middlesbrough_2015_Photo by Rob Freeman _c_ RSC_167207
Rehearsals in Middlesbrough, featuring young people from various schools, including Archibald Primary School, 2015.
Photo by Rob Freeman © RSC Browse and license our images

When Headteacher Anita Jeffries was making her way around Archibald Primary School in Middlesbrough one Monday morning, she was accosted by an enthusiastic group of Year 5 pupils. “We’re going to have a battle…we’re in Scotland!”, they explained, as they rushed to the main hall. 

The class was to spend the morning scrutinising Macbeth as part of Archibald’s 'In My Mind’s Eye' project, an initiative to improve literacy amongst its Key Stage 2 pupils. 'In My Mind’s Eye' has taken the RSC’s rehearsal room learning techniques as a vehicle to improve skills for less able writers in lower pathway classes, particularly those with Special Educational Needs (SEN) and English as an Additional Language (EAL). 

The project aims to transport children who struggle with reading and writing into the story and world of the play, exploring how Shakespeare’s characters feel, what they see, hear, touch and smell. By capturing a child’s imagination, their interest and curiosity are stimulated which, with teacher guidance, can release new vocabulary and create the need to write.

The children produce one piece of writing every two or three weeks, beginning with a session based on RSC rehearsal room approaches. This session develops a specific objective from the national curriculum, and the children go on to plan and edit their writing over the next fortnight. 

During that Monday morning Macbeth session, children listened to a vivid description of the bleak Scottish heathland and then prepared for battle, forming shapes and freeze-frames with their bodies. Later in the day, the pupils created ‘sentence cards’, using the actions from the battle to learn how to use conjunctives and fronted adverbials to form sentences.

The next morning, the class recapped on the previous day’s activities. With arms around each other’s shoulders, they trod the aftermath of the battlefield. What could they see? What could they hear? They class responded vividly: “dripping in blood”, “weeping, shouting”, “broken bones cracking”, “proud with swords in the air”, were some of the more gory responses. The class would later go on to write an account of the battle using full sentences – a scene that had been built in their ‘mind’s eye’ over two days.

Lisa, Year 4 classroom teacher, explains the impact that this approach has on her pupils: “RSC approaches work in enhancing children’s memory, giving them the experience that they wouldn’t otherwise have, to act out the scene and to actually become those characters You can see the difference in their writing; I don’t think I could get the children to produce this quality of writing without the Shakespeare work”.

Although still in its early stages, 'In My Mind’s Eye' continues to make progress within school. Children in lower ability groups are being given the opportunity to close the gap between their literacy attainment and that of their peers in middle and higher ability groups. As Jackie Blyth, Subject Lead for English, puts it, “Everyone involved in the project has seen each child flourish as a writer who cares about their intended audience.  They have made rapid progress and have a new found passion for writing.”