Arts organisations outside of school can help disaffected pupils, says study

5 November 2015

New research conducted by Oxford University says arts-based interventions designed for young people who are disaffected with school can be very effective. Researchers from the University’s Department of Education observed a range of programmes and carried out interviews with staff and the young people who attended them. Their report concludes that the out-of-school interventions that gave young people the opportunity to try activities, such as acting or photography, gave them ‘space’ to discard their old identity and find a new one. This could have a ‘profound’ effect on how they see themselves and others around them, the study reports.

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.’

The research team from the University’s Department of Education attended sessions organised by Pegasus Theatre in Oxford and OYAP Trust, based in Bicester, over six months in 2014-2015. 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.

At Pegasus Theatre, researchers went to an ongoing 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. Those attending the programmes said they were a ‘safe space’ where they could be themselves, and where staff members were ‘caring’ and ‘non-judgmental’.

One young person said: ‘When you’re in school they are more full-on, and when we come to a group outside and it’s like you’re still learning, but it’s more fun. Like they’re more relaxed and you feel like you can interpret more and you don’t feel so pressured.’

The OYAP Trust projects that the researchers attended were a weekly, five-hour flexi-school programme for young people who had refused to go to school or had high levels of exclusion and disengagement, as well as a programme offering support to young people who were leading positive social change in their communities through the arts. The researchers also attended workshops for song-writing, music recording and photography. The young people worked towards Arts Awards, accredited by Trinity College London in association with Arts Council England, which the study says provided ‘opportunities for celebration and praise’. One of those interviewed said about film-making: ‘You can express, kind of like how you feel, and try out new things that you’ve thought’; another said of poetry-writing, ‘it’s just something to take my mind off and keep my imagination going’.

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.’

Director of OYAP Trust, Helen Le Brocq, said: ‘The research was important for OYAP Trust as it gave us the chance to examine our approaches to inspiring young people through irresistible opportunities to engage with artists, and to developing creative adventures designed by young people themselves. Disengaged young people need encouragement to experiment and be fascinated by things. This research has enabled us to unpack our instincts and be confident in our practices.’

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.

For more information or the report, contact the University of Oxford News Office on +44 (0) 1865 280524 or email: [email protected]

Notes for editors:

A photograph is available to the media. It should be credited ‘David Fisher’.

Oxford University Department of Education
The Oxford University Department of Education (OUDE) has been making a major contribution to the field of education for over 100 years and today the department has a world class reputation for research, for teacher education and for its Masters and doctoral programmes. All full-time academics in the department are research-active, many producing publications of outstanding international quality. In 2014 the evaluation of research in the UK (The Research Excellence Framework) placed the Department as the clear leader for educational research in the country. This achievement builds on the already outstanding success and position in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise.

Professor Harry Daniels
Harry Daniels is Professor of Education and joined the Department in 2013 having held Chairs at the Universities of Bath and Birmingham. His research examines exclusion from school; drama and marginalised youth; and multiagency working.

As the Bridge organisation for the South East, funded by Arts Council England, Artswork works to strategically connect the education, arts and cultural sectors with families, schools and children and young people - particularly those with least access to arts and culture. We deliver this role through partnerships and co-investment, through the delivery and support of Arts Award and Artsmark and through knowledge exchange and online resources.

Pegasus Theatre 
Pegasus is a professional theatre that aims to spark creativity, imagination and empower young people from all backgrounds. They do this through a programme of creative learning, participation and training, at the heart of a professional theatre producing and presenting drama, dance and music. Each year the organisation works with over 3,800 young people at the venue or in the community, supports more than a dozen emerging artists and companies, and creates brand new in-house productions alongside visiting professional work. Added Extra provides projects for young people who are at risk or excluded from school and looked-after vulnerable young people. This service is aimed at young people who are vulnerable or at risk and experiencing multiple disadvantages, providing an opportunity to engage positively in regular arts activities. The sessions involve group discussion and pieces of theatre using dance and drama to perform on the stage, creating films and where appropriate complete Arts Awards. This also involves one-to-one meetings, communication with participants and schools/carers/social services on participant's progress. The programme is funded by BBC Children in Need and in the past has also been part funded by Oxford City Council.

OYAP Trust 
OYAP Trust is an arts charity working across Oxfordshire, in partnership with communities and local organisations, to support developing creative talent and ideas with young people in its home town of Bicester and county-wide. It provides specialised arts projects designed to reach out to the county’s most vulnerable young people: those at risk of isolation due to disadvantages such as poverty, special learning needs, school exclusion, mental health problems and family breakdown. Working in Oxfordshire’s most deprived pockets, OYAP partners schools, Early Intervention Hubs, and youth centres, identifying the most relevant participants. It aims to provide inspirational arts projects that give young people aged 7-25 the support, encouragement and skills needed to learn and reach their potential. It aims to help young people to make creative change happen in their community, challenge the perception of young people as ‘trouble-makers’, raise aspirations, generating pride & increasing employability/education prospects, and help young people gain an Arts Award accreditation.