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One third of schoolkids ‘do not know who Shakespeare is’

Cobbe's iconic portrait of William Shakespeare William who? Cobbe's iconic portrait of Shakespeare – but many British schoolchildren don't know who he is, according to a study commissioned by LAMDA
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Nearly a third of British schoolchildren do not know William Shakespeare was a playwright, according to new research commissioned by LAMDA.

The survey also suggests that nearly half of children have never been to the theatre as part of a school trip. The results have been labelled as a “shocking” indicator of the damage wrought by the decline of arts education and participation in schools.

As part of the research, 1,000 pupils aged between 11 and 18 were given a list of 13 names and asked to select those they thought wrote plays. Thirty-one percent did not select Shakespeare.

Other playwrights on the list included Oscar Wilde, correctly recognised by half the children, as well as Caryl Churchill, who was selected by 5%.

Just 2% of children identified Roy Williams as a playwright, the same percentage as those who incorrectly selected music mogul and X Factor judge Simon Cowell.

The list also included actor and presenter Amanda Holden, singer Alesha Dixon and former prime minister Neville Chamberlain.

The research was commissioned by LAMDA as a way of measuring young people’s access to drama in their schools and also asked about children’s experiences with it during their secondary education.

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of the children attending state schools said they had not taken part in a school play during secondary school, while 47% said they had never been to see a play as part of a school trip.

These percentages dropped to 51% and 29% respectively when assessing children at independent schools.

Royal Shakespeare Company calls on all schools to offer full range of arts GCSEs

LAMDA principal Joanna Read said the research highlighted the “appalling erosion that a lack of funding is having on children’s access to arts activity and participation”.

“These statistics are shocking. I’m concerned that half of our children have never been to see a play with their school – that figure should be zero. The arts are a right, not a privilege, and today we are seeing fewer and fewer children being given the opportunity to access, enjoy and learn from them,” she said.

Children from London were the most likely to have participated in a school play, with 46% saying they had done so.

They were also the most likely to have been taken to the theatre on a school trip, as 67% said that they had, followed by children in the North West, 65% of whom had been taken on a theatre trip.

Out of the 1,000 students, 32% said their school did not offer drama at GCSE or A level, while 17% said they were not sure whether it did or not.

The research comes amid ongoing criticism of the omission of a compulsory arts subject in the GCSE performance measure the English Baccalaureate, and as campaigners continue to argue that it is contributing to the decline of arts education.

Last week, the Royal Shakespeare Company called on all secondary schools to offer a full range of arts subjects at GCSE as part of a wider piece of research that championed the positive impact that an “arts-rich” education can have on children.

What is the EBacc?

The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is a performance measure for schools in England, implemented by the government.

It comprises a set of core subjects that are compulsory for all those taking the EBacc. These are English, maths, science (either double or triple award), a foreign language and either history or geography.

This means students will take a minimum of seven GCSEs.

It was introduced for schools in England in 2010, however under continued government encouragement has been increasing in prominence ever since.

At present, the government’s aim is to ensure that 90% of pupils sit the EBacc at GCSE by 2025.

Read our comprehensive guide to the EBacc here

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