Midsummer Madness

What a wonderfully uplifting story in The Guardian this week about Grasmere Primary School’s outdoor production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Not a ‘version’ of the play mind, nor ‘Shakespeare for Children’, but a full-blown production involving all 46 children in years 1-6.

Way beyond the capabilities of the average ten-year-old you may think, but in fact, far from fearing that the children would be unable to cope with what is an extremely demanding challenge for adults to pull off, the headteacher Johanna Goode put faith in ‘Shakespeare’s ability to talk to everyone’, a faith which paid high high dividends for the children, staff and parents of the small community set in the heart of the Lake District, and surrounded by the ghosts of another of England’s literary giants. What makes the story even more inspirational is that these children are not some priviliged elite, but the kind of children you might find at every other school in the country; a third of them are regarded as having ‘special educational needs’.

Reading the story I was reminded of an episode in my own teaching career. I had taken up my post as Depute Headteacher in a new school, and was pleased to discover that it would still involve some teaching duties ( a practice with which not all of my colleagues agreed, and which I understand is still the cause of much debate in secondary schools today). A few weeks into the term I was reflecting smugly on my ability to engage my fourth year class (15-16 year-olds) in the delights of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and happened to express this satisfaction at a departmental meeting. Sitting back to receive the accolades of my fellow teachers, I was met by a few seconds of silence, before the head of department asked with a mixture of shock and revulsion, ‘Don’t you know that Macbeth is a fifth-year play?’

This comment stuck with me – as you can tell – because it demonstrates everything that is wrong with an examination-driven curriculum, when young people ‘study’ Shakespeare from a page rather than a stage, and when we restrict the young person’s natural curiosity and creativity by pre-determining what we think they should be able to do at particular ages and stages. This is why I am so fully supportive of a curriculum which puts the learner at the centre, is described in terms of outcomes rather than inputs, and which sets ambitious targets  for all young people, no matter how challenging and messy that may be in the short term.

Read the full story, and watch a short film clip of Grasmere Primary School’s Midsummer Night’s Dream here.

4 thoughts on “Midsummer Madness

  1. Thanks Bill, another fascinating article. And yet more evidence that we are underestimating the children we educate. The amount of unfulfilled potential in every single school is tragic.

    Regards,

    Gordon

    PS I never knew that Shakespeare wrote ‘Good Vibrations’! All that talent and he surfed as well!!

  2. Cheers Gordon. I blame Baz Luhrmann for all that fusion of Shakespeare and pop music thing! I agree with you about all the unfulfilled potential, but the surprising thing for me is actually the amount of fulfilled potential, given the rigid structures of our secondary schools and the exam-results targets which pose as success criteria. I also remain convinced that the great majority of teachers would like to break out of that kind of rigidity, given the right support and encouragement.

    Bill

  3. I remember asking when I was in S5 how one might say ‘although’ in French. My teacher said:

    “Oh, there’s no one word for although. Is there not another way you could put it…?”

    This was wholly misleading. The reason she didn’t want to teach me “bien que” was because it required use of the subjunctive version of each verb. Rather than see it as a learning opportunity opening up in front of us, she basically denied the existence of the vocabulary until S6!

  4. It must have been quite an inconvenience for you to have learned too much too soon Ewan. It was very inconsiderate of you…………..and as for those pesky French, how dare they add complications to their language just to confound our school syllabus.

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