Oaklands case study

Bamboozle Theatre Company’s production Down to Earth c. Jonny Thatcher

I cannot emphasise enough how special this experience was. It truly felt like our pupils were accepted and celebrated for exactly who they are.

—Teacher, Oaklands

Oaklands is an Edinburgh school for children with profound and multiple learning disabilities. They welcome children with long-term additional support needs, including significant visual/sensory, health and medical conditions.

Oakland’s vision statement is: ‘Supporting our children to dream big, go far, and unlock their potential with a range of enriching experiences’. One of these experiences is taking pupils to see live theatre and dance.

Oaklands has been bringing groups to the Children’s Festival for many years. These trips require careful planning, to ensure there is space for large wheelchairs and access to changing facilities. There are challenges involved in taking the pupils out, but staff manage these by personalising their approach to each child during the journey and its transitions. With this support, pupils can access world-class performances, like their peers from mainstream schools.  Oaklands returns to Children’s Festival year after year, because they know their pupils will have a quality experience: “Although many of our pupils cannot verbally express how they feel, we can tell by their responses when they really enjoy a show.”

Unfortunately, it is hard for Oaklands children to access these kinds of events. In this world-leading Festival city, children with complex disabilities are still ‘shut out’ from many experiences of live performance because there is little work appropriate to their needs. Most Oaklands pupils cannot access a conventional ‘sit-down’ performance where they are expected to stay still and quiet. Therefore, shows which are specially made for their needs give them an important, safe, space for wonder and imaginative play.

The Children’s Festival seeks out, supports and presents this type of work as part of its international programme. A highlight for Oaklands in recent years was a trip to see the show Playful Tiger at the 2019 Children’s Festival. Principal Teacher, Fiona Smith said it was the best schools’ performance she had ever seen: “The performers were completely fluid and responsive to the movements and vocalisations our pupils were making. This meant our children could be fully immersed in every aspect of the show and could respond naturally, without limitation. All the performers interacted with each individual pupil in their own way and at their level. I cannot emphasise enough how special this experience was. It truly felt like our pupils were accepted and celebrated for exactly who they are.’”

At Imaginate, we believe it is vital to provide experiences which connect with children’s individual imaginative lives. Working with Oaklands helps us better understand the barriers which their children face, and the artistic potential in performances created for this audience. We are actively  developing new projects to support artists creating more work for children with additional support needs.

We look forward to sharing enriching experiences with Oaklands pupils for many years to come!