News: Imaginate publishes new research on primary schools engagement with theatre, dance and drama

21 April 2022

Children holding small mirrors and reflecting the sun as part of In a New Light project with St Ninian's Primary
Children holding small mirrors and reflecting the sun as part of In a New Light project with St Ninian's Primary

“Performances have sparked imagination, led to more participation and engagement across the school, given vulnerable children (who have often missed out) new experiences and opportunities to thrive, feel included, shine, learn and provided insight and a safe place to explore the world.” (teacher survey)

The research, carried out by Wellside Research Ltd between Oct 2021 and Feb 2022, aimed to understand how primary schools in Scotland engage with theatre, dance and drama and provide data to improve the access and quality of expressive arts experiences for school learners.

You can download a summary report here and the full report here.
A list of steering group members is available here.

The report found that 81% of schools had taken part in theatre, dance or drama with many highlighting successful experiences which had hugely benefited their pupils.

The main benefits that pupils gained from engaging with theatre, dance or drama included: building confidence; learning new skills and being exposed to new experiences; developing both academic and cultural engagement; developing personal and inter-personal skills; developing interests and widening horizons; and promoting inclusion.

One of the teachers interviewed said: “The main benefits of using theatre and dance in schools are the rich cultural experiences, where our learners develop a respect for the values of others around them. It’s also the listening skills that they gain through working closely with their peers; the empathy they develop from taking on the role of another; their use of language as they learn and take on board the contributions from those around them; and of course, the enjoyment they experience from engaging in fun and exciting learning experiences that provide hope and prospective careers for the future.”

The report's main recommendations included:

  1. Increasing communication and dialogue between schools and artists to ensure projects are best suited to pupils' needs.
  2. Making curricular links clear to help schools identify the value of projects or performances when allocating finite resources.
  3. Communicating the benefits to the children’s learning.
  4. Giving children agency in performances and projects, as schools are very keen for children to take ownership of their learning.
  5. Developing a central online portal for schools to search and identify possible projects or performances
  6. Helping create a legacy, through upskilling staff and developing longer-term relationships with schools. 

Colin Bradie, Head of Creative Learning, Creative Scotland said:

“This report highlights the benefits of children and young people experiencing live theatre, dance and drama thorough their education. It boosts confidence, self-expression, sparks imagination and enables them to develop creativity skills that are the building blocks to future prosperity and improved wellbeing. The findings of this report demonstrate examples of best practice and what barriers are faced to accessing and participating in high quality cultural and expressive arts experiences. We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with partners, including Imaginate, Education Scotland and Scottish Government, to mitigate these barriers to embed creativity at the centre of Scottish education to ensure all learners are given best possible foundations to become empowered, creative and confident individuals.”

Belinda McElhinney, Chief Exec of Imaginate said:

“Imaginate is committed to working with schools across Scotland to inspire children with both exciting performances and artist-led projects, and we are delighted to discover how teachers value the impact the arts can have on their pupils. This research confirms that live arts experiences are essential for children’s growth not only in an educational context but also for building their confidence and contributing to their well-being. The report provides interesting insight on the barriers faced by schools and we look forward to working with artists to tackle these and build effective relationships with schools, so that all children are given access to these life-shaping opportunities.”

The report’s findings will be disseminated through schools and the arts community in a drive to help benefits the way artists and companies engage with schools in the future.