Shakespeare is now a required part of the National Curriculum, so surely that’s something to be celebrated? One expert on the subject, the Director of Globe Education Patrick Spottiswoode, suggests a word of caution

Are you proud of the fact you are a part of one of the largest arts education departments in the UK?

I am extremely excited by the range of work that we continue to develop. I love the fact that we work with pre-school infants through to primary and secondary; that we offer undergraduate courses for both English and theatre students; that we have the most popular Shakespeare MA in the country in collaboration with King’s College; that we have produced PhD students and have academic conferences and that we make scholarship public with leading Shakespeare scholars introducing Shakespeare to a wide variety of audiences; that we have a growing family offer and prize-winning digital resources; that we create productions especially for young people – giving 20,000 free tickets away to London students every year for our annual Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank production and that we create theatre with young people in our annual Our Theatre performance which is given by Southwark students. I am also excited by the Globe Education Shakespeare School editions that we produce with Hodder. The driving force behind all our work is that it should promote what one playwright called ‘the soul of lively action’ – that plays were written to be spoken and performed.

Shakespeare in schools

Patrick Spottiswoode has been involved with Shakespeare’s Globe for three decades

Why is education so important to Shakespeare’s Globe?

Sam [Wanamaker] was adamant that Shakespeare belonged to everybody. He urged us to remember that Shakespeare worked in the borough of Southwark so we should never forget those living in our immediate community; nor should we lose sight of the fact that Shakespeare is also the nation’s playwright and that Shakespeare now belonged to the world! While Shakespeare had been a popular playwright working for a popular theatre, Sam was aware that Shakespeare and theatre had become slightly rarified. Shakespeare could never have imagined that his plays would one day be taught in schools and that some students would approach his plays only as words on a page rather than scenes for a stage. He wanted the Globe – and it is at heart of Globe Education’s mission – to knock down any walls that prevent young or old from meeting Shakespeare’s plays as Shakespeare intended, ‘playfully’.

What ultimately do you hope to achieve with what you deliver?

I hope that when people leave here they will want to discover more about Shakespeare, the theatre of his time and the wealth of plays that were written by scores of playwrights in the 16th and 17th centuries. I hope they leave here inspired rather than intimidated. Shakespeare challenged his audiences to question and to challenge. He dramatized stories for a community to share and consider. He didn’t patronise or dumb-down. Theatres were a breeding ground of eloquence. We are developing some exciting projects for primary schools that develop oracy and literacy and all our workshops encourage students to ‘speak right on’.


How aware are youngsters of Shakespeare today?

All students meet Shakespeare at school. With recent changes to the National Curriculum students will have to sit a Shakespeare exam at GCSE. This worries me. It worries me that students might end up ‘failing Shakespeare’. But I am also concerned that teachers, forced to teach for an exam, might not have the time or space to explore the plays playfully. I shudder to think how many students might be put off Shakespeare. I also worry for teachers who are not used to teaching Shakespeare for exam purposes. Some teachers warm to teaching Shakespeare’s plays. Many, understandably, do not. So we have revised our Globe Education Shakespeare editions to support both teacher and student. We are creating new digital resources for teachers and providing CPD for teachers here at the Globe, in schools and at special conferences supported by the NUT.

Many students used to meet Shakespeare in primary schools as part of a scheme of work on the Tudors. The Tudors is no longer compulsory and so many children only meet Shakespeare at secondary school when ‘Shakesfear’, as Ralph Cohen terms it, might have set in.

We have therefore created a special area on our website – The Globe Playground – to introduce children to Shakespeare’s stories and we have also developed a series of family story-telling events called ‘Shakespeare Untold’ in which an actor introduces the stories of the plays in a playful interactive performance. We hope ‘Shakespeare Untold’ will be touring the UK next year.

How do young people react when they first see Shakespeare’s Globe?

My favourite anecdote concerns a teenager who came to see our Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank production of Romeo and Juliet. He was heard leaving the theatre saying ‘I knew I didn’t like Shakespeare. Now I know I was wrong’.

Nearly 90,000 school students visit the Globe every year for our Lively Action workshops that include a tour of the Globe. I often see groups being led into our foyer by teachers as if “unwillingly to school” expecting to be bored stiff by a dead Shakespeare, but they leave engaged and excited. The Globe is a playground, after all.

Shakespeare in schools

Shakespeare’s Globe always impresses

Are schools doing enough to teach the works of Shakespeare?

Changes to the English curriculum mean that at KS3 pupils will be expected to study two Shakespeare plays in full and at KS4 they will be assessed on the plays in a terminal examination. It is crucial that Shakespeare is not reduced to a test about words on a page on a desk in a classroom.  There are so many opportunities now for students to meet Shakespeare in performance – whether at the theatre, at the cinema or on-line – and there are plenty of practical on-line activities provided by theatres like the Globe that encourage students to taste the language and experiment with scenes for themselves. Students will quickly discover that there are no fixed meanings and that plays are open to myriad interpretations.

Words: Mark Kebble

Find out more at