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Sacred Heart Catholic High School in Newcastle Upon Tyne is to receive a prestigious national award for its role in giving young people access to cultural and creative learning as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) Associate Schools Programme (ASP).


With links between creativity and mental health already well-established, research also shows that young people who study creative subjects are more likely to do well at school, be more employable and become more active, engaged citizens.


Established over a decade ago, the ASP is a long-term partnership programme between the RSC, schools and associate regional theatres across England. It aims to improve experiences of Shakespeare in school as well as make sure that more children are exposed to the benefits that arts and cultural learning can deliver.


Sacred Heart Catholic High School joined the ASP as one of its Lead Associate Schools in 2014.


Working alongside Northern Stage and the RSC, Sacred Heart Catholic High School received the specially created RSC Artsmark Alliance Platinum award in recognition of its outstanding commitment to cultural education, Shakespeare and live theatre over a number of years. Part of its remit as a Lead School is to recruit a network of other local schools to join the programme and the award also acknowledges the contribution of the school in working to build a network of other local schools to join the programme.


Artsmark Award is the only creative quality standard for schools and education settings, accredited by Arts Council England. The highest accolade possible (equivalent to Artsmark Platinum), an RSC Artsmark Alliance Platinum Award will be given to each of the ASP’s 25 Lead Associate Schools across England.


With a network of over 250 schools and theatre partners nationwide, the ASP is based on using the same techniques RSC actors and directors use in rehearsals in a classroom setting: a playful approach to learning that engages students of all ages, abilities and backgrounds and is proven to enrich literacy and language skills as well as develop key personal, emotional and social skills.


Commenting on the award, Headteacher Suzanne Howell said:


We are thrilled to receive this award for the third year running, despite the impact of the pandemic and the ongoing challenges all schools still face.  We are immensely proud of our partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company and our long-standing relationship with Northern Stage. As a school with specialist Performing Arts Status, we strive to offer artistic and cultural experiences and opportunities to students that develop their understanding of the world around them. Developing student self-confidence and self-esteem is central to our ethos. The training and opportunities offered to staff, trainees and students through our work with the RSC are world-class. We are truly grateful to them for providing a wealth of opportunities that enable our students to thrive.  

Jacqui O’Hanlon, Director of Learning and National Partnerships, added:


“We are delighted to recognise the dedication, commitment and talent of our Lead Associate Schools through the RSC Artsmark Award. All of these schools create amazing opportunities for young people to learn about, participate in, shape, produce and perform Shakespeare’s work. And while ostensibly the work is about Shakespeare, it’s also about connecting young people to a different way of learning that helps them develop key life and work skills such as better communication, self-belief, empathy, critical and creative thinking.


“Even during this past two years with the challenges of a pandemic, they have continued to develop exciting work which is having a powerful impact in their classrooms and on learning outcomes for pupils. These schools are extraordinary leaders, and it is wonderful to be able to recognise them with platinum awards - the highest level of the Artsmark Award’.   

About the RSC Associate Schools’ Programme

The Associate Schools’ Programme is the RSC’s national schools’ partnership programme run in collaboration with twelve Regional Theatre Partners (see list below). It deliberately focusses on parts of the country where young people don’t typically have access to the arts and to Shakespeare.


The programme aims to help level the playing field by broadening access to arts learning opportunities in schools and unlock potential in learners of all ages regardless of where they live or where they go to school. Lead Associate Schools recruit and work alongside a group of Associate Schools in their region. Being part of the RSC’s Associate Schools Programme provides access to professional development opportunities for teachers to understand how to use the RSC’s ‘rehearsal-based techniques’ in their own classrooms; as well as learning, participation, performance, talent development and leadership opportunities for students. Lead Associate Schools are able to evidence and articulate the impact of the work on their students and have an established relationship with the RSC, having engaged with a range of their programmes over time.


The Associate Schools programme is supported by Paul Hamlyn Foundation, The 29th May 1961 Charitable Trust, The Goldsmiths’ Company Charity, Teale Charitable Trust and The Grimmitt Trust. The work of the RSC Learning and National Partnerships is generously supported by Paul Hamlyn Foundation, The Clore Duffield Foundation, The 29th May 1961 Charitable Trust, GRoW@Annenberg, The Polonsky Foundation, Stratford Town Trust, The Goldsmiths’ Company Charity, Teale Charitable Trust, The Grimmitt Trust and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.


Regional Theatre Partners:

  • The Alhambra Theatre (Bradford Theatres)

  • The Grand Theatre Blackpool

  • Hall For Cornwall

  • Hull Truck Theatre

  • Intermission Youth 

  • The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

  • The New Vic Theatre

  • Northern Stage

  • The Theatre Royal & Royal Concert Hall Nottingham

  • York Theatre Royal

  • Silhouette Youth Theatre


About Artsmark


Artsmark Award is the only creative quality standard for schools and education settings, accredited by Arts Council England. Since 2001, Artsmark has been supporting schools to develop and celebrate their commitment to arts, culture and creativity.


ACE’s Artsmark Alliance acknowledges the impact of established school programmes of outstanding quality that share the strategic aims of Artsmark. The alliance will create partnerships that strengthen networks, build capacity and increase reach, to ensure quality creative experiences for more children and young people.


The RSC Artsmark Alliance Platinum Award is awarded to Lead Associate Schools to acknowledge and celebrate the qualities they demonstrate through their long-term partnership with the RSC and Regional Theatre Partners

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