Arts can help disaffected pupils

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Arts-based interventions for troubled schoolchildren can be very effective, Oxford University researchers claim.

New research conducted by the University’s Department of Education says that by working with arts organisations outside of school, young people can make significant improvements in their attitudes to school.

The chance to try activities, such as acting or photography, gives them ‘space’ to discard their old identity and find a new one and can have a ‘profound’ effect on how they see themselves and others around them, the study reports.

Researchers observed a range of programmes organised by Pegasus Theatre in Oxford and OYAP Trust, based in Bicester, over six months in 2014-2015. The classes included one-hour weekly theatre and dance group for vulnerable young women, weekly 90-minute drama and script-writing sessions for a mixed group, and courses of eight to ten drama sessions for Year 7 pupils who had been selected by their school because of their behaviour or poor attendance. The researchers also attended workshops for song-writing, music recording and photography. Interviews conducted with the young people showed that such arts-based interventions could free them from their fear of failure or what they saw as the constraints in their life. Some of the young people also reported improved attendance at school and a better attitude in class.

Lead researcher Professor Harry Daniels, from the University’s Department of Education, said: ‘There has been much anecdotal evidence about the benefits of arts programmes for disaffected young people and our research backs this up. Through working with adult professional artists and young leaders, young people receive some of the emotional tools they need to interact with the world, which can transform the way they see themselves and others around them.’

Pegasus Theatre’s chief executive Jonathan Lloyd said: ‘This research has been invaluable. It has helped us reflect on our own practice and makes a compelling case for the impact of the work we do with disadvantaged young people. Thanks to our funders we are able to offer a level of depth, care and support to young people over a sustained period of time. Oxford University’s Department of Education’s research has provided clear evidence for the value of working in this way.’

Professor Daniels added: ‘This research does not suggest that mainstream arts activities would have the same results. The programmes studied were designed specifically for particular groups of young people and featured elements that directly tackled some of their problems. There were sometimes issues with how often the young people could attend due to clashes with school timetabling or family commitments and these tensions do need to be addressed.’

The research was supported with investment from Artswork, the South East Bridge. The study, Being Other: The Effectiveness of Art-based Approaches in Engaging with Disaffected Young People’  will be published at: http://www.education.ox.ac.uk/research/osat/research/being-other/

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