Teaching the works of Shakespeare in schools has been the topic of some recent debate, kick-started by Dr Tim Hands, a former lecturer in English at Oxford. In an impassioned article published in The Telegraph, Dr Hands warns schools that the new National Curriculum is 'force feeding' Shakespeare to pupils from too young an age, which he claims is 'stifling teachers' and will eventually 'turn pupils off the Bard', preventing them from engaging with his works at GCSE and beyond.
I admire Dr Hands' insistence that Shakespeare should always remain within the school curriculum, but I would argue that inspirational teachers can successfully introduce children to his work at any age. His plots, characters and language can be the subject of exciting classroom sessions, delivered with passion and enthusiasm, using a variety of stimulating resources. Above all, given access to live performances, pupils' excitement for the Bard will grow and often culminate in a life-long appreciation of his work.
From February 2014, we will be collaborating with the Royal Shakespeare Company on a new initiative called Young Shakespeare Nation. Inspired by the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth in 2014, the 400th anniversary of his death in 2016 and the RSC's artistic commitment to stage the entire canon of 31 plays between 2013 and 2019, Young Shakespeare Nation will invite schools, teachers and students across the UK to join together on an inspirational journey through the whole of Shakespeare's work.
Teachers will be able to choose from a range of options to explore the plays: through live performance in theatres around the UK, in the classroom or online; each term, pupils are able to join in as the RSC streams productions, for free, live into their classrooms. These performances will be supported by educational resources to aid pupils' learning and understanding of each play. In addition we will provide online resources and build sustainable relationships between schools and regional theatres to enable pupils to explore a broader range of Shakespeare's work.
This kind of unprecedented access to Shakespeare's plays, using varied tools toward full engagement, will give pupils the chance to explore a more varied range of texts during their school careers and will expand the ambition of teachers, encouraging a greater spirit of adventure and creativity in their approaches. If we can capture the exhilaration of Shakespeare's works and translate that back into the classroom, not only pupils but teachers too will remain enthralled for years to come.