Being Other: The Effectiveness of Arts Based Approaches in Engaging with Disaffected Young People

Photo credit David Fisher
Photo credit David Fisher

Aims and Objectives; Pegasus Theatre, in the east end of Oxford, and OYAP Trust, working across Oxfordshire, asked researchers in the Department of Education at the University of Oxford to examine the effectiveness of their creative arts and theatre programmes that are designed to offer alternatives for marginalised young people.
In a published report the researchers present analyses of these data alongside verbatim accounts in order to help further the understanding of the benefits of such provision for some of the most vulnerable young people in our society.

Funding Sources Co-investment from Artswork,  Cherwell DC, and various other Trusts and funders.

Timescale and delivery dates: October 2014- May 2015, report published August 2015

Context: Bridge organisations support innovative programmes and step change through partnership investment, levering co investment opportunities from non-arts sources

Location: Banbury Bicester, Oxford

Description of the arts activity

Description of the arts activity (including artistic approach and medium, participant engagement)  The activities run by these two arts based organisations aim to enable young people who find it hard to work with others to work as a team, learn negotiation and communication skills, and develop the ability to listen to and appreciate other people’s contributions and points of view. Through their participation in theatre they develop confidence to perform a role and also acting in role helped them to feel less likely to be judged.  One aspect of the way the work is realized  is  through the experimentation and reflection involved in completing an Arts Award qualification (Howard, 2015). Theatre, drama, dance,  visual arts photography, film, songwriting and recording were all arts activities engaged with.

Project management

Young people were referred into the programmes via their schools. The three Pegasus programmes  are Looking Forward, Added Extra and School Plus. For Looking Forward and Added Extra, as for Pegasus’s other ongoing programmes, every effort is made to get to know the young people and provide personalised provision for each of them. Looking Forward is an ongoing weekly group for vulnerable young women, ranging from secondary school to post-school age. Each session lasts one hour. Group leaders and young women work to produce a piece of theatre and dance to present to family and friends in the Pegasus Performance Platform. They utilise a collaborative approach to create a piece ready for performance. It is a space in which the young people are supported by each other and create strong ties to the group leaders. OYAP Trust works across Oxfordshire in partnership with communities and local organisations. As well as running projects that are open to all young people, OYAP provides specialised arts projects designed to reach out to the county’s most vulnerable young people: those at risk of isolation as a result of disadvantages such as poverty, special learning needs, school exclusion, mental health problems and family breakdown. Their projects are intended to enable young people to realise their own personal, social and leadership skills, grow in confidence and build self-esteem and resilience. They make sure that there are opportunities for young people to enjoy “small victories”, so that they come to understand what success feels like. They enable young people to commission their own cultural opportunities Kick Arts is a 12 week creative flexi-school programme for 11-16 year olds. Sessions are held during school time and last for five hours. Young people are referred to Kick Arts for a variety of reasons, including school refusing, high levels of exclusion and disengagement, or home schooling. Kick Arts begins with a two-day creative residency. OYAP artists and young leaders from the Stepping Up programme work intensively with participants, showcasing a wide range of art forms to spark young people’s interests. A Lead Artist Educator and support workers identify each child’s particular learning style, interests and talents. Based on these, OYAP bring in relevant artists to run workshops and mentoring sessions. At the end of the programme an exhibition is held to showcase the young people’s work. The programme encourages collaboration between artists and participants whilst also aiming to be “young person specific”, with the young people having autonomy, ownership and control over their own education. The Arts Award is also integrated into the Kick Arts model.

Evaluation methods and findings

Too many young people find themselves on the margins of education or excluded from school. Secondary schools, in particular, report that many of their pupils struggle to cope with the twin demands of a results driven education system and the difficult transitions that they have to negotiate in their personal and social lives.

Much of the research suggests that marginalisation in education has negative long-term consequences for young people in terms of social engagement in the wider world, academic attainment, emotional development, and future employment (e.g. Ball, 2006; Duckworth & Schoon, 2012; Lumby, 2013; Stamou et al., 2014). Arguably many of these young people have become estranged from forms of schooling that they find difficult to navigate. Within schools the remedy offered to those who struggle to engage with an academic curriculum has traditionally been to offer more of what has failed in the first place. The interventions that the arts organisations offered young people provided alternatives to these personal, cultural and historical ways of experiencing the world. Through offering the possibility of different forms of experience, of experimenting with other identities, they provided opportunities for reflection and personal transformation. These experiences of being ‘Other’ offered a means of engaging in the social world through a new lens of experience. The arts based projects helped disengaged young people by replacing a difficult current social situation of development with a new social situation of development based on increased self-esteem and more positive social interaction.

This latest publication from Oxford University with support from Artswork examines the impact of work led and delivered by Pegasus and by OYAP and the effectiveness of arts-based approaches in engaging with disaffected young people.

Published report:

Supported using public funding by the Arts Council England