How SEN pupils have experienced and benefitted from Shakespeare.

The Head That Wears A Crown Rehearsal Middlesbrough_2015_Photo by Rob Freeman _c_ RSC_167185
Rehearsals in Middlesbrough, featuring young people from various schools, including Priory Woods, 2015.

For students at Middlesbrough’s Priory Woods School & Arts College, the study of Shakespeare has become an everyday part of life. Priory Woods, which caters for 4 to 19 year olds with Special Educational Needs, has worked with the RSC for a number of years to embed the rehearsal room approaches to Shakespeare into its classrooms.

Having received training in RSC rehearsal room practices, teachers at the school developed their own schemes of work to immerse students into the world of Shakespeare and his plays. The key has been an ‘active’ approach to learning.

‘On their feet’ and ‘doing it’ warm-up techniques that explore the characters, themes and plots of Shakespeare are now used to develop students’ speaking and listening skills. Rather than sitting down at a desk, pupils are encouraged to use their bodies to create physical actions, helping them to remember and understand important characters and plots in the text. 

In a similar vein, dance is used to encourage students to create their own ideas to depict a scene from a play, and script work first of all involves paraphrasing the language (as actors would in a rehearsal room) as a means of exploring the general theme of a scene.

Upper School teacher Aimee explains that, “This type of learning is perfect for our students because it is hands on and practical. It’s something that everyone can get involved in as part of team, working together to produce something that makes them feel really good about themselves”.

Children and young people at Priory Woods have had their aspirations raised so much that they now perform their own Shakespeare play annually. The RSC worked with teachers and students at Priory Woods, and other schools in Middlesbrough, to create a performance of Henry V, described by pupils as ‘amazing’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘breath-taking’. Upper School teacher Gillian notes that “using RSC led approaches works so well especially for those who are not very vocal, it just gives them that confidence to believe that ‘I can get up and be that person”.

This kind of motivation carries itself out into later life. A group of post-16 students received qualifications from the AQA (Assessment and Qualification Alliance) as part of their work in Henry V, and one student who performed on stage at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre said she would use her new-found confidence and speaking skills ‘when I go for an interview’.

As Gillian exclaims, "In our school the buzz word is Shakespeare!”.