Poetry and the Shakespeare Schools Foundation

An introduction to our new National Poetry Day partner, the Shakespeare Schools Foundation

by Education Manager Stuart Rathe



“Because of SSF, I was able to bond with lots of people and make friends with people I never thought I would” – Poppy, student, Pontypridd

The Shakespeare Schools Foundation (SSF) is a cultural education charity, which uses the power of Shakespeare to change the lives of young people all over the UK.

We believe that Shakespeare is for everyone. Every year, we run the world’s largest youth drama project, with 1,000 schools performing an abridged Shakespeare production in professional theatres up and down the country. It’s non-competitive and it brings whole communities into theatres. The Festival includes primary, secondary and special school pupils.

The festival runs from October to December – but work begins long before then. When teachers register to take part, they get to choose their play abridgement from our wide range of available plays, and start to think about the casting of their show. In the early part of the summer term, we provide our Festival teachers with the CPD training they need to direct their Shakespeare production, and they get scripts and curriculum resources to help them along their journey. The student performers get their own workshop: a Company Workshop before the performance day, where they get to meet and work with another cast from a local school, comparing productions and helping each other out with any knotty problems or tricky scenes. And finally, the day of the performance arrives, and young people take to the stage with up to three other casts in an unforgettable showcase of Shakespearean comedy, tragedy and history!

We’re proud to celebrate Shakespeare, but we aren’t just about Shakespeare. The bard famously said that “All the world’s a stage” and at SSF we truly believe that. Each and every one of us has a part to play on life’s stage. We can’t all be Shakespearean actors, but the confidence, collaboration and aspiration that comes from standing bravely in front of an audience and commanding four hundred year old poetry is undeniable. Especially if you are only ten years old! Our young people feel they can achieve anything, and come out of the Festival experience with a host of life skills, and ready to take to their own personal ‘stages’ in life.

I know this first hand. Before I worked for SSF, I directed Festival performances for my Year 6 classes for several years, performing everything from Hamlet to Twelfth Night. My proudest moments as an SSF Teacher Director were simple moments like the time young Owen told me that the most fun he’d ever had in school was playing Laertes, or watching our Lady Macbeth, Livvy (who was considered to be low attaining in English) take centre stage at a professional theatre with a magnificent performance!

And that brings me to my final point. Shakespeare and poetry are designed for audiences and performers. Like many readers, my first experience of Shakespeare was from behind a desk. The teacher stood at the front, whilst each student had the play text open to a certain page: then we’d take it in turns, reading around the room in flat, disengaged tones! Talk about boring!

All poetry (including Shakespeare) is about the sound and rhythm of words

All poetry (including Shakespeare) is about the sound and rhythm of words, and the accompanying gestures that those sounds conjure. In Shakespeare’s time, plays weren’t printed, so the ONLY way to experience them was as actor or audience. Because of limited rehearsal time, Shakespeare even provided performance clues within his verse, varying the rhythm of lines to suggest pauses, moments of uncertainty or quick line pick-ups. Long open-vowelled names like ‘Romeo’ suggest a romanticism that contrasts sharply with the clipped, closed consonants and short vowels of the evil ‘Tybalt’. It’s clear that Shakespeare wanted actors and audiences to celebrate and enjoy his language – and that’s why it’s so vital that we encourage young people to get the verse up and on its feet!

And that’s why National Poetry Day is so important. It’s a time where we can truly celebrate both the composition and performance of poetry and revel in the unbridled enjoyment of language, vocal intonation and gesture – just like Shakespeare intended!

If you are a teacher and want to participate in the 2018 Shakespeare Schools Foundation Festival then you can sign up here.

In addition to our flagship Festival, SSF provide school workshops for KS2 and GCSE, Teacher CPD and curriculum schemes of work to accompany specific plays.

For more information, visit the website or email

Watch out for new National Poetry Day Shakespeare Schools Foundation education resources, coming soon.