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Directors of Education and Learning from some of the country’s most high-profile theatres are calling on all political parties to commit to 'Theatre for Every Child'. Claire Walker of SOLT & UK Theatre shares highlights of the campaign.

Actor on a thrust stage performing to young people
Hayden Mampasi playing Romeo as part of the Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank project at Shakespeare's Globe

Cesare de Giglio

In a world that can feel polarised, where our interactions with one another are increasingly via digital tools, our sector offers something special: a live, unique, shared experience of a well-told story. What more valuable experience can there be for a child?

Theatre has many known benefits for young people. it promotes wellbeing, builds empathy and supports educational attainment. Recent research from the Royal Shakespeare Company shows theatre boosts language development and confidence among children.  

The theatre sector cares about this immensely, evident from the plethora of children’s access schemes that Society of London Theatre & UK Theatre members run up and down the country.

Flagship secondary school project

Once such scheme is the flagship project for secondary school students from Shakespeare’s Globe - Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank. Now in its 18th year, the scheme enables children – many of whom have never been to the theatre before - to see a curriculum text brought to life on stage.

To date, it has offered 26,268 free tickets to pupils from 361 schools, over a third of them to children eligible for free school meals. 

Lucy Cuthbertson, Globe’s Director of Education, recalls witnessing children watching Romeo and Juliet for the first time, captivated by a centuries-old tale and unafraid to respond openly to the story. One example was an outburst of “you’re too late” shouted to Juliet as she awoke in the tomb. 

Teachers also report that the scheme improves exam results. One commented: “The impact on not only enriching the pupils’ cultural capital but also maximising their GCSE outcomes is massively appreciated.”

Schools' matinees

This focus on inspiring learning with young people is a feature of many children’s access initiatives. Together with schools and communities, the Royal Opera House works to improve access to the arts and inspire creativity for young people. 

Their free National Schools Programme gives young people across England the chance to learn creatively in the classroom, and school children can also see a live production on the Main Stage through the Schools’ Matinees scheme.

Applications from schools in areas of high deprivation are prioritised for six dedicated performances each year. The programme also offers travel grants to schools outside London, helping as many young people as possible experience world-class ballet and opera - benefiting children from Cornwall to Hull.

Chief Executive, Alex Beard, says: “There is nothing better than the sound of young people experiencing ballet or opera at a Schools’ Matinee. It’s a totally authentic reaction that demonstrates how powerful live theatre really is.”


Kipp Talbot-Dunn, Scenic Metal Fabricator Apprentice at the National Theatre. Photo: Cameron SlaterPhotography

Young technicians

Access schemes can also help the sector invest in skills and education for young people, supporting and diversifying the pipeline of talent into the industry. 

The National Theatre’s Nationwide Young Technicians programme offers young people across the UK the opportunity to develop technical skills and learn from top industry professionals about sound, lighting and stages - key areas in which our sector is experiencing skills shortages. 

The programme is delivered in-person at the National Theatre, across partner venues in Plymouth, Nottingham and Manchester and digitally, with young people from as far afield as Wales and Scotland taking part.

As part of the creation of a pioneering National Theatre Skills Centre, supported by government investment, the National Theatre is aiming to create opportunities for - and engage with - over 5,000 young people across the UK each year, inspiring the next generation of theatre makers and supercharging the specialist skills needed across the sector.

The need for political commitment

While these schemes undoubtedly inspire many, they are still not enough to ensure every child experiences the transformative power of theatre. With school budgets squeezed and logistical challenges exacerbated by rising costs, both teachers and parents are reporting a decline in school trips.

This is why, through the Theatre for Every Child campaign, we are calling on all political parties in the run up to a general election next month to commit to a simple yet powerful goal: ensuring every child experiences a professional theatre production before they leave school. 

This policy is relatively low-cost but holds the potential to become a catalyst for deeper engagement with the arts – something that has benefits for children, for our sector and for society as a whole.

Claire Walker is Co-CEO at Society of London Theatre & UK Theatre.
Jillian Barker, Director of Learning and Participation at the Royal Opera House.
Lucy Cuthbertson, Director of Education, Shakespeare’s Globe.
Alice King-Farlow, Director of Learning & National Partnerships, National Theatre.
 theatreforeverychild.org | solt.co.uk/ | uktheatre.org/
@SOLTnews | @uk_theatre | @RoyalOperaHouse | @TheGlobe | @NationalTheatre | @TheRSC 

Headshot of Claire Walker