We are interested in helping young people to make a valuable contribution to society and one way to help them achieve this is by helping them into the world of work. We are always challenging the charities we work with to demonstrate that they are making a real difference to young people’s lives and prospects.  We set annual objectives for each charity we work with and, in the process of agreeing these objectives often discuss the difference between inputs – what activities the charity undertakes – and outputs – the result of those activities.

Sometimes the outputs are important but rather hard to define – enjoyment, self-confidence, experience are all important indicators but can be rather impressionistic and can only be measured by relying on how the young people report their own progress. In some cases, objectives of this sort can be the right ones to measure, but we tend to ask for something less “fluffy”.

In 2008, we were approached by the Royal Shakespeare Company for support for their Learning and Performance Network (LPN), which is the RSC’s long-term partnership programme with schools, communities and theatres.  The LPN works with clusters of schools to help teachers develop more active approaches to teaching Shakespeare, consisting of these elements:

  •  Do it on your feet
  • See it live
  • Start it earlier

Our instinct was that “Shakespeare is a good thing” and that better teaching of Shakespeare would therefore also be a good thing.  But we thought it was more important to know whether this instinct was justified – if it is, then there are many larger funders who would be interested in helping the programme to succeed.

We had long discussions with the team at the RSC and agreed with them an approach to researching what difference a more dynamic approach to teaching Shakespeare makes to overall school performance.  After all, a good route to future employment and engagement in society is improved educational results.  As a result, our three years of grants to the RSC contributed to a research project undertaken by Warwick University’s CEDAR (Centre for Educational Development, Appraisal and Research).

Earlier this year, we were delighted to receive the feedback from this research project. CEDAR found strong evidence that:

  •  Teaching through performance leads to significantly better Attitudes to Shakespeare than ordinary classroom methods.  They attribute this result to better training of teachers
  • Teaching through performance leads to improved attitudes to school generally, not just to Shakespeare.

This meant that our instinct has proved to be well-founded and the RSC project should have benefits for young people beyond their English lessons.  There must be lessons here too for other arts organisations – well-designed research can help arts organisations tell a much more convincing story about the educational work they do.

You can find out more about the LPN through case studies on the RSC website here.