Have You Heard Us? – driving up attendance and achievement

Liverpool World Centre used various global learning approaches including ‘forum theatre’ – participatory drama exploring concepts of ‘power’ and ‘oppression’ – to re-engage young people at risk of exclusion with learning and with school.

What did Liverpool World Centre want to achieve?

Forum theatre at Notre Dame College
Forum theatre at Notre Dame College

The project had several interlinked aims: to use global learning approaches to re-engage students at risk of exclusion; to develop their confidence, communication, critical thinking and teamwork skills; to explore their experiences of their own identity, school and community; to encourage them to make connections between their own experiences and those of others in the wider world; and to take positive action in their local community.

How did they set about doing this?

This pilot project linking Notre Dame College, a girls’ school specialising in the Performing Arts, with Liverpool World Centre (LWC), was supported by the local authority Inclusion Services with ‘Back on Track’ funding. The deputy head responsible for pastoral care recruited 15 Year 9 girls (ages 13-14) to the project, girls who had either been suspended or were at risk of permanent exclusion.

Two workers from LWC, a drama specialist and another with curricular expertise, used a mix of methods to get the group working together and to develop trust. This included fun drama activities, role play, Philosophy for Children discussion approaches and a mapping exercise which helped them to explore their sense of community.

Forum theatre in action at Notre Dame College
Forum theatre in action at Notre Dame College

The group then worked on a piece of forum theatre, planning scenarios (such as: a student being told her career choice would be impossible because of her behaviour; making choices between studying and social life) and working on staging and lighting. At a performance to parents and friends, the audience was invited by ‘The Joker’ (an intermediary between actors and audience) to suggest what the characters in the scenario could have done differently and to play out the scene showing how a different response can change the outcome.

How well did they achieve their aims?

The project was successful in terms of increasing participants’ confidence and re-engaging them with school. Preparing and presenting the performance required commitment and discipline, demonstrating that the girls valued the space and tools it provided them to express their concerns and feel heard. Attendance and achievement in other subjects increased, notably in Maths, which was timetabled before the drama sessions. The facilitators attribute this to negotiations with participants preceding the project, which was offered in the context of rights and responsibilities.

“I gained confidence, fun, better attitude to life, creative skills, communication skills… It taught me you can be anything you want and don’t let anyone put you down.” (Participant)

Before the project started, others advised that exploring relevant issues indirectly through a global context takes the pressure off disengaged young people and is more effective than looking at their problems directly. However, for this group, personal issues regarding home, school and local community were more pressing and needed to be worked through first, demonstrating the need to be flexible in response to participants’ needs. This meant that, although issues of fairness, the rights of women globally and the proportion of development aid they receive were introduced, there was less focus on global content than anticipated.

“The girls said they wished they could learn a lot more about the world and the issues others faced – they were really upset at the conditions they had seen and there was considerable discussion about issues of employment and poverty and a real desire to do something to make a difference – but they also wanted to explore more issues they faced in their local communities.” (External evaluation report)

However Jason Ward, facilitator, says that global learning processes were central. Traditional Western education approaches which Jason describes as ‘this is how the world is, understand it’ had not worked with these girls. In forum theatre, which has emerged from Brazil’s ‘Theatre of the oppressed’ the facilitator asks instead, ‘how would you like the world to be and how can you set about making this happen?’, introducing them to techniques by which they can make changes, with very different learning outcomes for the group.

What do they plan to do next?

The local authority Inclusion Services have asked LWC to work with the same group during their GCSE years, to see whether forum theatre approaches can have an impact on exam results, as well as with a new Year 9 group, using the first group as peer mentors. LWC plan to build on their success by working more closely with teachers, making stronger links with the curriculum and with global contexts, to see if a different approach to the same curriculum content engages disaffected young people and impacts on their learning in the classroom. Funding permitting, the Inclusion Services would like to disseminate the forum theatre approach to primary schools.

Find out more

Download this case study as a PDF: Have you heard us? case study

Liverpool World Centre: Visit their website at www.liverpoolworldcentre.org

With thanks to Jason Ward and Pablo Guidi. Case study © Think Global. Pictures © LWC. Researcher: Gillian Symons.

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