PSC began life as a collaborative project between the National Theatre’s Learning Department and Holy Trinity and St Silas School. Holy Trinity had been running an annual Shakespeare project for a number of years – a project that involved the whole school from Reception through to Year 6 in a term’s work on a single Shakespeare play – and the National Theatre had also been running their Primary Classics project for some time. In 2009, Neil and I were working for both organisations and felt we were in a unique position to bring both these projects together and share our work with other schools. This initial thought became the springboard for our first Camden Primary Shakespeare Festival. That year we recruited six other Camden Primaries, and with the help of Jackie Tait (Primary and Early Years Programme Manager NT), and some initial funding from John Lyon’s Charity, this thought became a reality.
From that beginning we then, in 2011, took the decision to become a fully independent organisation,The Primary Shakespeare Company, and – with the invaluable support of John Lyon’s – have since gone from strength to strength.
Six schools in Camden in 2009, became ten schools in 2010. One Festival in 2009 became six in 2014. Now, in 2015, we are working with 30 schools, mounting six festivals in six London boroughs, with plans in the pipeline to add even more in the coming years.
The Project has its origins at Holy Trinity and St Silas Primary School in Camden. Over ten years ago now, a new Head, Annie Williams, arrived, determined to raise standards and to see all children achieve. A drama graduate herself, she employed Luke Hollowell-Williams, a director from the National Theatre’s education department and initiated a whole-school Shakespeare project in the spring term. That year, every class, from Reception to Year 6, studied, rehearsed and created its own performance of The Tempest. Perhaps more importantly, planning across the curriculum (particularly in literacy, humanities, art and DT) was all linked to Shakespeare’s work. Such was the success of the project, with the children genuinely engaging with the plot and characters, and understanding the work at an even deeper level than anticipated, that it has become an annual fixture in the schools timetable.
Ofsted have acknowledged the importance of the role of drama within the school and, year-on-year, this focus has seen achievement rise spectacularly.
In 1999, 55% of Yr6 children at Holy Trinity achieved level 4 and above in English
In 2012, 100% of Yr6 children achieved level 4 and above in English, with 50% of them reaching Level 5, and 20% Level 6.
In addition, secondary schools that our pupils go on to, frequently report that they are noticeably more confident in communication and more fluent in Speaking and Listening than many of their peers
Yet, Holy Trinity is in many ways a typical inner-city primary. Its intake is culturally broad, with almost 50% of children having English as an Additional Language, and over 40% entitled to free school meals. –Five years ago this fact persuaded us that the approach to learning we have, could be shared with others, and the creation of the Primary Shakespeare Company is the result.
Many, if not all of the schools with which we now work, have a broadly similar demographic to our own and face a similar set of challenges. This approach can help those schools. The project, though nominally about performance, seeks to disseminate this approach to learning, and thus the training that we give to teachers is now assuming ever greater importance within our work.