Active learning is more than playing a role
Troubled young people are gaining confidence, life skills and a qualification not in school but on the stage of a Cardiff theatre.
The success of the Acting Out Cardiff scheme at the Sherman theatre in turning around the life chances of young people is so profound that I wanted to share it with TES Cymru readers.
One of the success stories concerns Michael Regan, who was once described as a 17-year-old aggressive dyslexic who struggled in lessons, found exams and assessments difficult and was badly behaved. He says: "The teachers just thought I was naughty but I didn't understand the work."
The extending opportunities co-ordinator sent Michael on the scheme in 2004 as a last resort. Paulette Hanscombe, his teacher, said: "His behaviour in class was sometimes unacceptable as he tried to cover up his disability."
But there has been such a change in Michael that she remarked recently how different he was. He has now graduated from the scheme and has gained a BTEC in performing arts as well as GCSEs in English, maths and entry-level science.
He now mentors students on the course and hopes to go on to pursue a career in the arts.
He says: "It's inspired me to pursue a career in something I've found that I love. I've set up a theatre company with some other former Acting Out students, and so far things are going really well."
Acting Out Cardiff co-ordinator Jess Naish is inspired by the principle that education is not just something to implant in people but a tool for uncovering hidden talent and potential. She says the scheme is not a soft alternative to school pupils get a lot out of it on both a personal and academic level.
Pupils mostly 14 to 16-year-olds are released from their school timetable for one day a week. They learn theatre skills including performance, script writing, lighting and sound control. They work extremely hard on each production and are also required to hand in written coursework.
The course culminates in the Peer Education Project, requiring pupils to devise an issue-based production and to go on tour. Past productions have addressed the subjects of joy-riding, bullying and asylum seekers.
Four years into the scheme, Acting Out Cardiff has a 100 per cent pass rate, with 60 per cent of pupils gaining a distinction. For half of them this has been their only form of qualification.
Acting Out Cardiff is part of the extending opportunities programme in the city. Pupils are sent on the programme by their schools, although a few young people and parents have contacted the theatre directly, often in desperation.
Vicky Lenthall, 16, has been on the course for the past two years and is set to graduate this June. Bullied at school, Vicky used to have little confidence and belief in herself.
"I honestly don't think I'd be around if it wasn't for the course," she says. "I never in a million years imagined I'd get on a stage but I've learnt so much, not just about theatre skills but about myself too."
With only three schemes of its kind in the UK, many teachers would like to see similar projects throughout the country, providing more young people who struggle in the classroom to explore an alternative way of learning.
As Ms Hanscombe points out: "Even if the students don't continue in the world of theatre, all the young people have used the skills they've learnt and have the confidence to go into work or FE."