In an interview with Graeme Paton of the Telegraph, 24/08/13, Dr Tim Hands, HMC's incoming chairman and Master of Magdalen College School, warns that a generation of children will be turned off Shakespeare after being “force fed” plays such as The Merchant of Venice and Macbeth at secondary school..
The Coalition’s new National Curriculum will take a “backwards step” by increasing the number of compulsory plays by the Bard that pupils must study between the age of 11 and 14, it was claimed.
Tim Hands, the Master of Magdalen College School, Oxford, said pupils were best taught Shakespeare by learning about his language and dramatic techniques before moving on to one play at GCSE level.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Dr Hands, a former lecturer in English at Oxford, said the new requirement was created to give the impression that the Government was promoting academic “rigour”, but added: “Too much specification and too much Shakespeare – particularly too early – will hold back pupils, not liberate them.”
It follows the introduction of a draft curriculum for schools in England that requires pupils to “read a wide range of fiction and non-fiction”, including two Shakespeare plays in the first three years of secondary education.
Dr Hands, the incoming chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents 250 leading private schools, said the reform was typical of how state “interference” in education was stifling teachers.
He claimed a series of recent changes, including an overhaul of the curriculum, GCSEs and A-levels, had been planned to win votes rather than serve pupils’ best interests.
In further comments, he said that the Government’s academies programme – which gives head teachers the freedom to run their own affairs independent of Whitehall – was deceptive because state schools could never have true independence.
“Essentially, the political tactic has been to say, 'look, there’s no difference between what you get in an independent and state school because these schools are free; politically, philosophically and they aren’t charging a fee'.
“This desire, which comes from the previous administration but has continued with the Coalition, to deceive Joe Public by the use of clever vocabulary has stopped proper inquiry into the different kinds of education in the Government model and the real independent sector.”
From September 2014, pupils in England will be expected to read a range of literature, including two Shakespeare plays. The move follows criticism of the existing curriculum amid claims pupils can leave school without studying anything more than bite-sized extracts.
But Dr Hands, who lectured in English before moving into teaching, said schools would be stuck "force feeding" the same small range of plays that are deemed as suitable to younger pupils, including The Merchant of Venice, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet
“To me, it’s a backward step and a harmful step to say we’re going to have two Shakespeare plays up to GCSE because this will turn loads of kids off Shakespeare," he said.
“If you are going to play a violin concerto then you are going to first of all go through a great deal of preparation to make sure you can do scales and arpeggios and that kind of thing. At the end, you will be able to perform well.
“Likewise, in understanding Shakespeare, getting a better sense of the language, how stories get retold and the techniques by which he operates – ie. the double plot, the triple plot – these are the scales and arpeggios on the way.
“I would have a Shakespeare play at GCSE but I would accept that it’s going to be hard work for pupils. And for those, it may be better that they come at it even later.”
Ministers have pledged to free up state schools in England to run their own affairs. Under the Coalition, more than half of secondary schools have been given academy status, allowing them to create their own curriculum, alter the shape of the academic year, change the school day and run admissions.
But Dr Hands claimed that central Government edicts – including GCSE floor targets – meant academies did not have true independence.
“The reality is not independent but interference, not liberty but prescription. Independence with state control doesn’t work, they are self-evidently incompatible concepts,” he said.
By Graeme Paton, Telegraph. Click here to read the article © Telegraph.