In October, eleven Year 8 students from Soham Village College arrived at the Fitzwilliam Museum, ready to embark upon a new project. Over the next eight weeks they would work with staff across the University of Cambridge Museums (UCM) to explore the context of their English set-text, Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, while completing their Bronze Arts Award. As one of the UCM’s strategic partner schools, Soham Village College has worked with the UCM, and in particular the Fitzwilliam Museum, for many years to offer a project like this to a group of students on Pupil Premium.      

This project aimed to improve the students’ motivation towards their school studies and their attitude towards the play. It also aimed to improve their cultural capital and their confidence in taking on new challenges, to encourage them feel at home in our collections, and to improve their soft skills such as working with their peers. 

Students visit St. John’s College and think about their futures.


Over the course of the two months the students worked with the UCM weekly: for most sessions, the activity took place in our collections but some sessions also took place at the school. The students took part in a range of activities to explore the context of “Romeo and Juliet”. At the Fitzwilliam Museum, they learnt about clothes and armour worn in Tudor times; they studied portrait miniatures and painted their own versions; they found out about heraldry in the Founder’s Library and designed their own coat of arms; they created a short stop-motion animation of Brueghel’s “A Village Festival” to show an aspect of daily life for people in Tudor/Stuart times; and they discovered objects which related to the plague, before making their own pomanders and plague masks. They found out about the uses of plants in medicines and poisons at the Botanic Garden and took part in a drama workshop at school with theatre director, Michael Judge. They also had the opportunity to visit St. John’s College, part of the University of Cambridge, to learn about university and to think about their futures. At the end of the project, the students were delighted to find that everyone had passed their Bronze Arts Award.  

One student gets to grips with Tudor armour.


In order to evaluate the project, students completed feedback forms at the beginning and end of the project so that we could see if their attitudes had shifted in the course of the project. They also recorded weekly reflections on the sessions they had taken part in. The evaluation found that at the end of the project, 90% of the students agreed or strongly agreed that they felt welcome at the Fitzwilliam Museum and 70% agreed or strongly agreed that they felt a sense of achievement, having completed their Arts Award. We can also see some positive shifts in the students’ self-assessments of their abilities and confidence between the beginning and end of the project. For example, at the start of the project 58.3% of students agreed or strongly agreed that they were confident in taking on tasks that were challenging to them; by the end of the project, 80% agreed or strongly agreed with this statement. Through conversations with the students, staff were also able to see how the project was having an impact on some of their ambitions for the future: for instance, one student asked the Arts Award moderator enthusiastically how he could progress to taking the Silver Arts Award and another spoke about how one of the paintings we looked at gave her inspiration for a project she would like to pursue when she takes GCSE Art.   

Students explore some of the antics going on in Brueghel’s “A Village Festival”.


Here, the students describe the elements of the project they enjoyed and benefited from in their own words: 


“Lots of fun art and looking around the museum, and it’s really fun and I DON’T WANT TO STOP.” 


“Today I learned to act with confidence and to be so loud I’m heard.” 


“I have learnt a lot about the Fitzwilliam and about Shakespeare, and I love art, so I really enjoyed it.”


I really enjoyed running this project: the students and teachers involved in the project were an absolute pleasure to work with and I look forward to planning a project for another group from Soham Village College next year. The students were always eager to take part in activities and discussion about the objects, produced some beautiful artwork and were a credit to their school. I learnt some important lessons that I’ll bear in mind when I do get round to planning the next project. For instance, the timing of this project was not optimal in that it aimed to boost motivation towards studying “Romeo and Juliet” -a text they would not be studying till next term- and so it was not possible to track whether their interest in the text had increased during the course of the project. Next year, I will be sure to discuss the wider curriculum with the school so that we can plan a project which relates to an area of the curriculum they are currently studying and, therefore, feels relevant to the students.   

Many thanks to all staff who took part at the University of Cambridge Museums and to Anna Harvey and the Art Department at Soham Village College for making this project possible.