The Shakespeare Schools Festival proves local state schools are no "exam factories"

Francis Gilbert's picture
Last night, I was delighted to watch four state schools perform the socks off Shakespeare at the Unicorn Theatre. They were all taking part in a nation-wide initiative called the Shakespeare Schools Festival (SSF). My son's school, Bethnal Green Technology College, was participating in the festival for the first time; he was lucky enough to have a role in their shortened version of Romeo and Juliet. A dynamic young English teacher at the school had worked incredibly hard on the production, working with her actors exhaustively, sometimes until late into the evening. The result was brilliant; a hard-hitting, beautifully staged production of the play. I know all the actors learnt a great deal from the experience; improving their literacy skills, their social skills, their dramatic skills and much else. You can really put a price on the value of these sorts of experiences; they can't be quantified by an exam grade. These "hands-on" experiences are where true learning takes place.

It makes me cross that certain private schools think that they have a monopoly on these kinds of experience. The headmaster of Wellington College, Anthony Seldon, accused state schools of becoming exam factories at the expense of educating the whole child. I think nothing could be further from the truth. The SSF shows this very clearly; here are state schools from all over the country performing the Bard's work in professional settings -- often in top-class theatres -- and doing a great job. The other performances last night were very good as well; here were children from very diverse backgrounds rising to the challenge of making Shakespeare accessible. The audience genuinely laughed at Bottom's antics in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Malvolio's misguided pomposity in Twelfth Night, and were shocked at Hamlet's mad rampages in Shakespeare's most complex play.

As the SSF website says: "Since 2000, 4,248 schools have taken up the challenge to become a Shakespeare School. SSF is the largest youth drama festival in the UK. For the last ten years we have worked with teachers to challenge the preconception that studying Shakespeare is difficult, dry or dull through a combination of teacher training, workshops and student performance in a local professional theatre. In the process we have enabled over 90,000 young people to appreciate the genius of Shakespeare through a creative, hands-on approach to the texts."

The amazing success of the SSF proves that our state schools are the opposite of "exam factories" and are, in fact, enlightened places of active, "hands-on" learning. Above all, it shows that we have some amazing teachers and pupils who are willing to work above and beyond the call of duty because they love learning.
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Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 05/11/2011 - 15:07

It is wrong for Dr Seldon to claim that state schools are not providing the same "holistic" education as he says independent schools are. Francis has highlighted just one of the many activities offered by state schools. It doesn't all have to be Combined Cadet Force as Dr Seldon argues in his 2010 manifesto, “An end to factory schools”. Has he not heard of the Duke of Edinburgh Award; Young Enterprise; activities such as Industry Days; visits to museums, theatres and galleries; sporting competitions; choirs; bands and orchestras; dramatic productions; exhibitions and so on? Many of these are built into the day-to-day work of schools and are not just extra-curricular activities. This means they benefit all children in a school not just those who opt in to them.

Yet it is these essential activities that are likely to be sidelined in the relentless chase for league table glory.

Mr Seldon is under the illusion that UK independent schools are better than UK state schools. In his manifesto he quotes from a 2002 OECD report which rated British independent schools to be the best out of the 32 countries surveyed. When Dr Seldon published his manifesto in March 2010 he was perhaps unaware that the 2000 OECD PISA figures for the UK had been found to be flawed, therefore any conclusions arising from them cannot be upheld. In any case, the OECD found that in 2009 UK state schools outperformed UK private schools when socio-economic background was taken into account, and PISA in Focus 7 found that the “advantage” accruing to private schools was not all it seemed – it was based on intake. OECD also found that when private schools and state schools have a similar intake and resources they perform at similar levels.

References: (re UK state schools outperforming UK private ones when socio-economic background is taken into account; also warning that 2000 PISA results were flawed and should not be used for comparison) (PISA in Focus 7)

JimC's picture
Sun, 06/11/2011 - 09:11

Hmm I presume the 2002 report used by Mr Seldon was flawed as well then?

Also I'm getting bored of you blaming the state-independent gap on children. Money will buy you a place in an independent school but it won't buy intelligence or ability. Perhaps, for a second, you will consider what it is that independent schools do differently to state schools that leads to better examination results.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 06/11/2011 - 11:20

The OECD's "Education at a Glance 2002" used figures based on the 2000 PISA tests. OECD later found that the UK figures were flawed. It follows that any conclusions in the 2002 document about UK education cannot be upheld. It does not follow that the whole document is flawed - it is only the data about the UK which must be discounted. In any case, OECD publish "Education at a Glance" annually. Dr Seldon wrote his manifesto in 2010. Why the need to go all the way back to 2002 when more up-to-date versions were available?

The apparent superiority of independent schools over state schools has been, as I said, discussed before. I'm sorry if you're becoming "bored" - if so, there is no need for you to comment. In the meantime, here's a link which explains (just as PISA in Focus 7 does) the "better exam results" at private schools:

JimC's picture
Sun, 06/11/2011 - 11:48

So PISA use the same method (CVA) as the IFS?

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