This year was our very best Festival so far, as we united with celebrations worldwide marking 400 years since Shakespeare’s death. 30,000 young people will perform on stages throughout the autumn term, from Aberdeen to Aberdare, Plymouth to Portsmouth and Carlisle to Clacton. We have trained over 1000 teachers, giving them new workshops where they could tailor the day to suit their own personal development needs.
All learning improves with confidence and ambition, but we believe that the Festival process itself has the power to transform academic attainment. In 2015, 63% of teachers agreed - saying that they believed that SSF had positively impacted their students’ attainment and literacy levels.
80% of teachers said that their students have become more ambitious, and 75% of students have become"We have trained over 1000 teachers” and “Many children made more progress in a half term than you’d expect in a year." more confident speaking in front of adults. Here is one school’s story about what SSF means to them.
Stebon Primary is in the heart of a Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets, London. 96% of pupils have English as an Additional Language (EAL), and 67% are in receipt of pupil premium. For the majority of Year 5s who made up the cast of Julius Caesar, their performance day with SSF was the first time they have ever set foot inside a theatre.
When beginning their festival journey, teacher Ruth was initially nervous that being an EAL student was a disadvantage when you’re learning Shakespeare. What she, and her pupils, quickly discovered, however, was learning a new word is just learning a new word - they did it all the time in the language-rich environment the school provides.
Pupils took complex metaphors and similes and could spot personification a mile off; all because they were doing Shakespeare on their feet. As they undertook the SSF journey the cast truly embodied the truth that Shakespeare isn’t meant to be read, it’s meant to be said.
They delighted in crafting rhetoric by doing something that older children and adults find difficult. They innately understood the themes of conflict, racial division and war. Uniting the key themes of the play through rehearsal room based exercises helped the pupils relate their experiences of conspiracy, friendship, betrayal and hatred. They understood ambition and now, because of their journey with SSF, they understand success.
Across the board, their teacher Ruth found that Speaking and Listening levels went up. Many of the previously lowest-attaining children made more progress in a half term than you’d expect in a year. The most behaviourally difficult child struggled to make progress in literacy in Year 3 and Year 4 but made above national-average progress for a year in the weeks that followed their SSF experience.
One of the lowest attaining, and thought-to-be least confident children in the class said, “In the future SSF will help me to achieve more.” They made more progress in reading in the twenty next weeks, than in the previous two years.
Two of the children, aged between nine and ten said:
- “Now that I’ve been in SSF I can be a doctor.”
- “Now I’ve been in the Shakespeare Schools Festival I’m not shy anymore.”
And from a third, who’s clearly absorbed everything they learnt about dramatic rhetoric and metaphor:
- “Before we did the SSF project I thought we were going to do an epic failure, but when I saw everyone giving us a standing ovation I was drowned in tears. The best thing about being in Shakespeare Schools Festival is that it feels I’ve been elected to be prime minister.”
And finally, one of the children whom Ruth didn’t think had gained as much as the others said:
- “SSF is the best thing that has ever happened to me.”