In their report Serious Play: an Evaluation of Arts Activities in Pupil Referral Units and Learning Support Units, Wilkin, Gulliver and Kinder (2005) review the work of seven arts projects (four PRU based and three LSU based) that have taken place in recent years.

The review took place between September 2003 and July 2004 and involved:

  • a retrospective study of four completed projects
  • a study of three projects in progress
  • a follow-up phase focusing on the longer-term impacts of the projects in progress.

Key findings Findings from the evaluation are outlined from the perspective of three key stakeholder groups involved in arts activities: pupils, teachers and artists/arts organisations. Effects of being involved in the projects included the following.

For pupils:

  • increased knowledge and skills in the particular art form
  • improved listening and communication skills and ability to interact within a group setting
  • increased confidence and self-esteem, leading to positive changes in behaviour
  • the ‘buzz’ of participating: pupils gained a sense of achievement, satisfaction and, above all, enjoyment from the projects.

For teachers:

  • improved knowledge and skills in the particular art form
  • an impact on general classroom practice, eg using demonstration rather than instruction, new approaches to managing challenging behaviour, including the arts in their own lessons
  • higher expectations of their pupils.

For artists and arts organisations:

  • the development of specific teaching skills, particularly a dual artist/teacher role
  • more understanding of the issues and needs of the client group
  • greater enthusiasm for further involvement in arts projects.

Factors influencing the impact of projects included those relating to pupils, artist, project and the host institution (see panel). Overall, the distinctive contribution of the projects evaluated was attributed to the fact that they were different from pupils’ usual mainstream learning experiences. The arts activities were practical rather than academic, contemporary in nature, allowed pupils to achieve (when previously they had experienced mainly failure) and to express themselves more positively, and focused on developing the whole child, particularly his/her sense of self.

However, lack of sustained funding was perceived to be an enormous barrier to the sustainability of the positive outcomes reported. For the impact of the projects on all those involved (pupils, PRU/LSU staff and the institutions) to be sustained in the longer term, funding beyond one-off grants was felt to be crucial.

Conclusions/recommendations The authors of the evaluation, whilst acknowledging its small scale, highlight how arts activities contributed to the educational, social and personal development of children and young people. They also note, though, that positive short-term arts experiences did not necessarily have a lasting effect, and needed underpinning with appropriate longer-term funding. Too often, it seemed that arts projects depended on injections of money from voluntary sector organisations, and were not regarded as core business – in resource terms – by host settings themselves. A central message was that successful projects ‘cost’, for example, in providing the time for effective planning and efficient administration, taking pupils to external venues, and ensuring a ‘showcase’ end product. However, this cost was considered worthwhile, because of the way that projects enabled pupils to participate more fully within the educational and wider community.

Finally, the authors note that the success of arts projects in PRUs and LSUs is not solely dependent on funding. It also required adaptability and collaborative practice that cuts through the traditional barriers that exist between professional cultures. The key driver in this appears to be developing a shared commitment and the active seeking of opportunities to work in new strategic partnerships. This resonates well with changes in policy following the implementation of the Children Act 2004, but will need linking to a coherent framework of financial resourcing.

Impact factors Pupils – several pupils noted their preference for more practical or creative activities. They felt they had ‘got more’ out of the arts activity because it suited their particular learning style.

Artists – Artists’ background and personality was perceived to be a key factor in success. They were seen as being ‘on the pupils’ wavelength’, more informal and relaxed, with a positive attitude towards young people.

Project design – project factors affecting outcomes were identified as: effective planning, the relevance of the project content, the venue, timing (whether full or half days), the celebratory end product, and having some form of follow-on to sustain and strengthen the impact.

View of the host setting – the value placed on the arts in the culture and ethos of the educational establishments involved was seen as central to the success of the projects.

Report reference Wilkin, A, Gulliver, C and Kinder, K (2005), Serious Play: an Evaluation of Arts Activities in Pupil Referral Units and Learning Support Units. London: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

Copies may be obtained from: Central Books Limited, 99 Wallis Road London E9 5LN Tel: 0845 458 9911 Fax: 0845 458 9912


Related references Ings, R (2002), The Arts Included: Report of the First National Conference on the Role of the Arts in Pupil Referral Units and Learning Support Units. Pershore: Nick Randell Associates.

Ings, R (2004), Creating Chances: Arts Interventions in Pupil Referral Units and Learning Support Units. London: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.