Page last updated at 14:37 GMT, Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Test abolition 'threat to Bard'

Shakespeare first folio
The RSC fears Shakespeare is no longer a priority

Teachers are cancelling their places on Shakespeare training days since the abolition of compulsory tests for 14-year-olds, thespians have warned.

The Royal Shakespeare Company said 50% of teachers signed up for courses on Key Stage 3 teaching had pulled out.

In a letter to the Commons education select committee, the RSC urged MPs to ensure Shakespeare retained a central place in pupils' education.

But the government said Shakespeare was a compulsory part of the curriculum.

National tests for Key Stage 3 in England were scrapped in October.

At the time, Children's Secretary Ed Balls said GCSEs and A-levels were sufficient to show the performance of secondary schools, without the need for tests at the age of 14.

Shakespeare isn't a priority any more
Secondary school teacher

But the RSC fears the abolition of the compulsory tests in English means there is now "no effective way of mandating practice in schools".

"We welcome the removal of current national curriculum tests at KS3," the memo to the select committee said.

"But we are concerned that Shakespeare will fall off the curriculum by default if the government does not now set clear expectations for the teaching and assessment of Shakespeare at KS3.

"Shakespeare could become a thing of the past, rather than a cultural beacon whose work exposes the ever-present dilemmas of the human condition and lights the way for so many young people to a wider cultural engagement."

'Not a priority'

In one example cited by the RSC, one secondary school teacher said: "My manager will no longer release me to attend the training day as Shakespeare isn't a priority anymore."

The RSC said it was particularly concerned that lower ability pupils could be denied access to Shakespeare.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said, while teachers had more flexibility in the new secondary curriculum, ministers were committed to protecting the classics.

"Secondary school students must study at least two Shakespeare plays in depth, so schools need to ensure that teachers receive the training they need to make the most of the curriculum.

"We are working closely with the RSC and others to ensure that students have the opportunity to see Shakespeare performed live and to bring the texts to life through the innovative use of technology - such as a podcast produced with the Globe Theatre.

"Despite the end of formal testing at Key Stage 3, schools still need to ensure that teachers receive the training they need to make the most of the curriculum."

Here is a selection of comments received about this article:

The abolition of the KS3 SATs has given us more freedom in which Shakespeare we choose, meaning that our staff can use their expertise and interest. All pupils, including low ability, will study a Shakespeare play in KS3. I think the RSC are doing an injustice to English teachers, most of whom are passionate about their subject an will want to see the teaching of one of the most celebrated writers continue, whether it's assessed or not.
S Makin, Stockport, UK

I work as a consultant with a number of schools, and so far they have expressed joy at the scrapping of the SATs - because now they feel that they can teach Shakespeare in a way that they, and their pupils, will enjoy rather than being dominated - rightly or wrongly - by the prospect of a test. Many of the courses cancelled were those which focused solely on the set scenes, whereas those courses which were flexible enough to include the whole play, or shift away from 'How to answer the SATs question' are still popular.

Shakespeare cannot 'fall off the curriculum' - it's place is defined by statute!
Dave , London

I feel the arts as a whole have been discarded in favour of immediate return of profit, to the detriment of all society. 12 years ago I gained a degree in economics and modern economic history and was shocked even then to see how the 'art' of economics was being driven out under the pretence of safety through calcuations. People love a number. Shakespeare is known worldwide in a good way. Why do we discard this?
M, Wok

I remember doing KS3 Shakespeare 2 years ago and it was horrific. I think that if Shakespeare were alive today he too would back the decisions of KS3 teachers not to go on such courses. The exam is based on 2 scenes from the play, with little knowledge or understanding of the rest of the play required to achieve high marks in the exam.

KS3 Shakespeare has put me off Shakespeare for life, the lack of enthusiasm with which it's taught, the lack of content covered and the way in which we (the pupil) can go into an exam about a play while knowing practically nothing about it is evidence of the shambles which the KS3 tests had become.
David, Southampton UK

It's obvious that if the pupils aren't being tested on it then there should be no reason to spend money on extra teaching. Schools and parents can'tr afford to pay for this in the economic situation we're in so no wonder this has happened. Also just because schools are going on trips doesn't mean Shakespeare isn't studied and understood by pupils.
Alex, Cumbria

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