Play It Straight

Play It Straight

ThamesValley Partnership

‘Play It Straight’

Work with young people at risk within Pupil Referral Units

Evaluation Summary

Judy Munday

August 2006

‘Face To Face’

During 2004 to 2006 Thames Valley Partnership worked with Theatre ADAD to deliver “Play It Straight” – a project using drama, interactive workshops and high quality resource materials to explore community and personal safety issues with young people in Pupil Referral Units. As well as promoting personal, social responsibility and citizenship, “Play It Straight” provided teachers and students with a powerful and effective way of tackling difficult issues such as drugs, relationships, gangs and peer pressure and the consequences of offending.

The project was piloted during 2004/5 in 4 PRU and 1 LSU sites across the ThamesValley. The reaction from staff, students and Theatre ADAD themselves was extremely positive and, with funding secured from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, we were able to roll the programme out to a total of 13 sites during 2005/6. Each site was visited 4 times throughout the academic year with 4 pieces of drama on different topics. (see Appendix for sites and details of the dramas)

A detailed evaluation has been carried out by Theatre ADAD, following one to one conversations with a member of staff at each site and with additional feedback from the pupils themselves.

Some highlights of the evaluation are:

  • High levels of engagement from the young people

“some of the Year 11s who could have been off today have chosen to stay and see the play” (staff)

“young people carried on discussing as they went to next lesson. Participation provedengagement!” (staff)

  • The power of returning 4 times in one year was highly commended. It enabled the young people to form a bond with actors from the theatre company, they knew what to expect and immediately engaged with the format of the session, feeling comfortable and safe enough to open up.

“safety and respect are fundamental to the effective working of our PRU and your team bought into this from the very first visit” (staff)

  • Most staff commented that they believed the sessions did affect some sort of change, though maybe only in the short term.

“one lad that we brought last time….. actually did some of the acting himself. He has been quite a naughty boy in the past and has very much been at risk of exclusion from school. He’s made quite a lot of progress since then, and his confidence… you could see that he was really confident after having got up there and done that and it’s raised his self esteem. I think it did make a difference to him.” (staff)

“… on the way back she sort of burst into tears and had a chat with me. So I think for her, it made her realise that perhaps she wasn’t the only one and other people suffer the way that she was suffering.” (staff)

  • Use of drama as a style of learning can be very effective:

“I learnt that you can get yourselfs out of situations.” (pupil)

“I will never carry a knife or wepone” (pupil)

“the plays showed you everything rather than just telling you” (pupil)

“they get in a situation and I think they can see it when you act it out… how easy it is to get drawn into something that with your other head on, you’d never have thought of getting drawn into… how easy that is” (staff)

  • Outside agencies, such as drugs advisors, helped support the work and cemented relationships they may already have had with the PRUs
  • Little prior work was done in the PRUs on topic specific work – the dramas were often used as a springboard for discussion, rather than the culmination of previous work. In most cases staff followed up the themes both formally and informally. Some unexpected disclosures were made as a direct result of the work. The information packs left by Theatre ADAD supported the staff in exploring any particularly difficult issues raised.

“… more keen to disclose anxieties. … quite a number of kids coming up after and saying ‘can I talk to you about my friend’, which clearly wasn’t their friend”


The evaluation demonstrates that interactive theatre continues to be an extremely powerful and effective way of engaging and working with some highly marginalised vulnerable and extremely difficult young people. The power and impact of drama, the highly skilled and effective approach of the actors together with the relevant and challenging material has again proved to be extremely effective.

What also became clear was that PRUs in some areas are very poorly resourced, isolated from mainstream education and struggle to provide even the basics for the highly disadvantaged young people in their care. Our attempts to help them secure continuing support and funding from local authorities or from other sources has been disappointing and at the end of two years we are not confident that the work will continue or gain the necessary support.

However, the overwhelming positive feedback we have received from the “Play ItStraight” programme has convinced us even more that PRUs are the right settings for us to reach these young people at risk and that the PRUs themselves very much welcome outside support. We are now interested in building on this work by exploring the use of other art forms which require more involvement from the young people in the creative process. These could include activities such as dance or aerial skills, which work on image, self-confidence and team building skills. We are actively seeking support to be able to further progress our work within PRU settings.

Appendix 1

Pupil Referral Sites

  • St. Edmunds House PRU – Maidenhead (Berkshire)
  • Cantley Park PRU – Wokingham (Berkshire)
  • Haymill PRU – Slough (Berkshire)
  • Active 8 – Slough (Berkshire)
  • Wycombe Grange PRU – High Wycombe (Buckinghamshire)
  • Oxford PRUIS – Oxford (Oxfordshire)
  • Northbrook/Springboard PRU – Slough (Berkshire)
  • The Boundary/ChESS – Reading (Berkshire)
  • Bridgeway PRU – Newbury (Berkshire)
  • Badgers’ Hill PRU – Reading (Berkshire)
  • Young People Out Of School (YPOS) – Milton Keynes (Buckinghamshire)
  • Manor Road Centre – Milton Keynes (Buckinghamshire)
  • The Excellence Clustser – Milton Keynes (Buckinghamshire)

Drama pieces

  • September/October 2005 – Behind Closed Doors – Relationships and Domestic Violence
  • January/Februatry 2006 – Wasted – Substance Misuse
  • March 2006 – Crossing the Line – Knife Crime and Street Robbery
  • May 2006 – Face To Face – Consequences of Offending and Restorative Justice

Number of attendees

BoysGirlsTotal % seen before

Behind Closed Doorsdata not collected

Wasted9736133 49%

Crossing the Line9626122 51%

Face to Face8122103 64%

Staff attending the sessions averaged between 1 and 13 depending on the size of the PRU.

Judy/Theatre ADAD/0506/summary evaluation