Can dance help close the attainment gap in our schools?
Closing the Attainment Gap in schools is an issue in the news every week and as a teacher, something I am faced with tackling every day. Research by the ‘Joseph Rowntree Foundation’ highlights that there is clear evidence of a persistent gap in attainment between pupils from the richest and poorest households in Scotland. For example, Sue Ellis highlights in the report that:
A clear literacy gap in Primary 4 (ages 7–9) widens by Primary 7 (ages 10–12). By S2 (ages 12–14), more than twice as many students from the least deprived areas (as distinct from households) performed well in numeracy as those from the most deprived. The Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy found an attainment gap of 14–17 per cent for reading, 21 per cent for writing, and 12-28 per cent for numeracy from primary through to secondary school. Although overall attainment has risen slightly at the end of S4 (ages 14–16), the gap between the most and least deprived remains.
The gap starts in preschool years and continues throughout primary and secondary school. In most cases, it widens as pupils progress through the school years. Most importantly, the poverty attainment gap has a direct impact on school leaver destinations and thus, the potential to determine income levels in adulthood. In June 2015, the Department for Work and Pensions announced that child poverty figures had fallen by 100,000 from the previous year. This is good news, however, there are still 2.3 million children living in poverty in the UK and with the attainment gap seemingly getting wider something radical needs to happen in education if we are to change this. I believe dance education is one way in which we can start to ‘close the gap’ in our schools.
What are the key questions you want to be able to answer through this project?
- How can dance improve attainment in schools?
- How can this improvement of attainment close the attainment gap between rich and poor?
- How do I do this in my own practice?
Where will you look to find answers to these questions?
- The Joseph Rowntree Foundation – ‘Closing the Attainment gap in Scottish Education’
- The Scottish Executive – ‘Delivering the Arts in Scottish Schools’
- The Scottish Government – ‘Getting it Right for Every Child’
- BBC News – ‘Child Poverty Statistics’
- BBC News – ‘Confidence boosts pupils academic success’
- City of Edinburgh Council Report – ‘Improving Outcomes for Learners’
- John Hattie – ‘Visible Learning’
- The Youth Sports Trust – ‘Fit for Girls’
- People Dancing – ‘Tackling the Epidemic of Physical Inactivity’
- Dance Active – ‘Commissioning Dance for Health and Wellbeing’
- Education Scotland – ‘Positive and Sustained Destinations’
- Own school
Who are your stakeholders for this project – ie. who will be impacted?
- Students – there are obvious health and wellbeing benefits from dance education but I also believe that providing dance in schools raises confidence and self-esteem which in turn can raise grades.
- Dance Teachers – Will better understand the wider benefits if dance and how these can be used to improve attainment.
- Government – increased understanding of the value of dance education in schools, and hopefully therefore increased funding.
- Schools – like the government, schools should gain greater understanding of the benefits of dance education in schools and hopefully more and more schools will begin to offer it as a certified subject.
What benefits may arise from a successful project? (For you and/or for others)
- Closing the attainment gap
- Improving young people’s chances of reaching a positive destination
- Improving young people’s wellbeing
What do you hope to learn from undertaking this project?
- How can I, in my own teaching practice, best benefit the young people I teach?
- How dance can be best used to close the attainment gap.
- What schools need to do to improve opportunities for young people.
How will this project impact teaching practice and learners?
Raising Confidence, Raises Attainment – More confident young people are more likely to attain better grades. Recent research by ‘The Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics’ analysed test date of more than two million pupils in 2013 and came to the conclusion that “those children who were ranked highly academically at primary school did better in secondary school, partly because their academic success early on had made them more confident in their abilities.” The research also goes on to say that this confidence is linked to individual subjects: “The study also concludes that the effect of confidence on exam results was specific to subjects – so a child that had a high ranking in maths early on, and was confident in it, was more likely to get good results in the subject later in their schooling.” Dance breeds confidence. A study entitled ‘Dance Active’, funded by a collection of groups in the UK and written by Jan Burkhardt and Jo Rhodes, discusses a number of studies done with varying groups of dancers of all ages and abilities. One of the key outcomes of their project was that “Participants experienced the project as very positive and inclusive. Outcomes…included enhanced energy levels, increased self-esteem and improved self-confidence in participants.” Confident young people are naturally more equipped with the resilience needed for the work place. They tend to be happier young people and therefore have a higher sense of self-worth. Combined, this makes for higher levels of attainment and personal achievement regardless of background. Furthermore, if dance was to be available in all state schools we could begin to break down perceptions that performing arts subjects are only available to those who can pay. In a school environment everyone is equal giving ample opportunity to raise confidence and the dance studio would seem a perfect place of do that.
The Rise of Non-Traditional Subjects – Thankfully, more and more schools are recognising the benefits offered by subjects such as Dance and Drama: improved confidence and self-esteem, better social and communication skills, a higher level of emotional intelligence and sophisticated evaluation skills. In addition, a report by The Scottish Executive cites the “distinct and less formal learning environment” as having the potential to help students with behavioural or learning difficulties. In my own experience, this is true. Working as a learning and behavioural needs specialist alongside being a dance teacher at a large comprehensive secondary school we, for example, run dance therapy for children with complex learning difficulties and use dance as an aid to body confidence with a group of vulnerable young girls. This has lead to a health and wellbeing qualification in which learners must not only explore the foundations of positive and negative wellbeing but enter into a self-designed programme for improvement.
Outside Experiences – One of the issues with the Government’s ‘Closing the Gap’ agenda, however, is the assumption that schools are almost entirely responsible for improving young people’s outcomes. It would be dangerous and wrong to assume that all children share similar experiences out of school. Instead of compartmentalising what children do in school and what they do outwith, we, as professionals, must draw on their outside experiences to enhance pupils’ learning. This year, for example, one pupil I taught danced for the Sultan of Oman and at the Royal Edinburgh military Tattoo so we used these experiences to allow her to evaluate choreography and performance for part of the Higher course and she was able to use Highland as a dance form for one of her technical solos, using outside experiences at its most basic level. More seriously, by looking at pupils’ home lives teachers can identify those pupils at risk because of circumstances outside school. I took on a research task in school this year to identify pupils on the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) scale and then to look at their potential and current attainment levels. Having identified certain pupils we can now use targeted support to ensure achievement of potential , whether that be in academic or practical subjects.
Achieving Potential – By focussing on the number of learners gaining basic literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing awards more pupils should be able to leave to positive destinations, a government priority ensuring that all young people leave school and enter either education, training, or the workplace . By using the SIMD figures and continuous pupil tracking schools can look to close the attainment gap. Continuous tracking is becoming a more popular way of reporting in Secondary Schools (replacing the archaic ‘end-of-year’ reports). Tracking is recorded by classroom teachers four times a year, examined by principal teachers, guidance staff and the school’s senior management team and those pupils found to be falling below expectations can be picked up by assertive mentors (recognised key adults in the school who are best placed to support particular pupils).
Engaging Girls – Encouraging girls to be more active has been an age-old battle fought by PE Departments but through Dance many more young people are taking an interest in their fitness and their health. In the UK, women and girls are more inactive than their male counterparts at all ages. Only 38% of girls achieved the recommended hour of physical activity each day compared with 63% for boys. Dance is popular and effective at engaging women and girls in physical activity shown clearly by People Dancing’s ‘Mapping Community Dance’ research which revealed that of 4.7 million people participating in community dance, the majority are women and girls.
Health and Wellbeing – It is widely recognised that strong links exist between health and wellbeing and achievements in learning. This is why it is a Government priority in schools (together with literacy and numeracy) and why it is a core focus for key national policies such as Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC). Healthy children are obviously more able to attend school, and there is a huge correlation between attendance and attainment. They are also able to work markedly better when they are there.
Attendance – Of pupils who miss more than 50% of school only 3% manage to achieve 5 or more Level 5 qualifications including maths and English. 73% of pupils who have over 95% attendance do achieve 5 or more Level 5 qualifications including maths and English. Pupils with serious attendance issues often say that they only come to school when they enjoy the subjects that day. Often there is a correlation between learning difficulties and attendance problems and pupils cited mainly practical subjects as those which encouraged them to attend. So far this term dance attendance statistics are at 98%.
Dance provides a wealth of opportunities for teachers to work towards ‘Closing the Attainment Gap.’ When a child feels safe, happy and protected and is enjoying their learning teachers are more likely to succeed in helping to close this gap. By developing Learning and Teaching in Dance I believe schools, and society, will have greater success. In my own school, we have set up a Dance Academy whereby we currently offer extra-curricular dance, a national progression award in S3, National 5 and Higher Dance. I would like to use the research from this project and the dance academy set up we have in place to show other schools the possibilities if they buy into dance education. In my own practice, this is what my pupils have to say…..
BBC News. (2013). Confidence boosts pupils academic success. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-24223330 [Accessed 28 Nov. 2015].
Burkhardt, J. (2015). Dance – tackling the epidemic of physical inactivity. People Dancing: The Foundation for Community Dance, [online]. Available at: http://www.communitydance.org.uk/DB/animated-library/dance-tackling-the-epidemic-of-physical-inactivity.html?ed=34663 [Accessed 28 Nov. 2015]
Burkhardt, J. and Rhodes, J. (2012). Commissioning Dance for Health and Well-Being. People dancing: The Foundation for Community Dance, [online]. Available at: http://www.communitydance.org.uk/DB/publications/commissioning-dance-for-health-and-wellbeing.html [Accessed 28 Nov. 2015]
Byrne, C., Ewing, S., MacDonald, R., Sheridan, M. and Wilson, G. (2005). Delivering the Arts in Scottish Schools. Edinburgh: Scottish Executive Education Department.
Currie, C., Inchley, J., Kirby, J. and Mitchell, F. (2012). Fit for Girls. St Andrews: University of St Andrews.
Easton, M. (2015). UK has 2.3 million children living in poverty, government says. BBC News, [online]. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-33266799 [Accessed 28 Nov. 2015].
Education Scotland. (2015). Positive and Sustained Destinations. [online] Available at: http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/learningandteaching/thecurriculum/whatcanlearnersexpect/positiveandsustaineddestinations.asp [Accessed 28 Nov. 2015].
Ellis, S. and Sosu, E. (2014). Closing the Attainment Gap in Scottish Education, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, [online]. Available at: https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/closing-attainment-gap-scottish-education [Accessed 28 Nov. 2015].
Hattie, J. (2008). Visible Learning. London: Routledge.
The Scottish Government, (2008). A Guide to Getting it Right for Every Child. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.
Vickers, G. (2015). Improving Outcomes for Learners. Edinburgh: City of Edinburgh Council