The Youth Performance Partnerships (YPP) is a £5m scheme funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and administered by Arts Council England (ACE). It links schools and community groups with cultural organisations, helping young people to engage with drama, dance, music and theatre in areas where they lack the opportunity to do so.
Stage Directions, one of 5 YPP programmes across England, takes place in Salford and is delivered via the Local Cultural Education Partnership (LCEP), including The Lowry, Salford City Council, The University of Salford, Salford Community Leisure and a range of independent local and regional theatre companies.
The evaluation which took place between 2019-2022 sought to evidence a range of impacts, centred around the core value that children from any background deserve to receive the benefits of a creative cultural education. Intended outcomes addressed the full range of stakeholders, broadly defined as follows:
- More communities experiencing and appreciating performance for the first time.
- Young people develop self-expression, agency and self-efficacy through artistic development.
- Young people improve their professional, performance and performance-making skills.
- Communities feel better connected to their locality through high-quality performances.
- Schools, artists and cultural organisations improve their ability to engage diverse participants and audiences.
- LCEPs establish new and innovative models of effective locally bespoke partnerships.
The strategy for the evaluation was based on several good practice principles; early collaboration with a range of stakeholders, deep and continuing immersion in the programme, and methodologies that complement rather than interrupt the activities while providing robust evidence.
The programme's theory of change model was developed alongside stakeholders and existed as a living document responding to the changing needs of the programme. The education model, the 5 Creative Habits of Mind, was used as a way to develop a common language between the stakeholders, including beneficiaries, and as a tool to measure the progression of participants. Artists working as facilitators were trained to collect data and carry out regular reflection with children and young people. Qualitative and quantitative tracking and longitudinal methodologies demonstrated both repeat engagement and the impact of this.
- Monitoring attendance and demographics reached, including IMD.
- Depth interviews with a range of stakeholders.
- Observations and intercept interviews.
- Baseline and post-activity surveys for participants.
- Audience surveys.
- Artist, teacher and partner surveys.
- In-session creative methodologies.
Stage Directions has strengthened the partnership between the LCEP and has begun to change the way in which cultural and non-cultural organisations work together, helping them to learn more from one another and create a stronger sense of place for Salford. Evidence from the evaluation has more firmly established what Salford is able to achieve, raising its profile among the Greater Manchester Authorities and providing a firmer footing with which to gather further funding.
The evaluation demonstrated not just how many, but how, graduates could be engaged, supported and upskilled to contribute to the cultural sector in Salford and, through training and the development of networks, consider the area more positively as somewhere to live and work long-term.
The evaluation and ongoing reporting helped Stage Directions to refine and innovate. It informed a gradual change of approach over the three years from a centrally managed, prescriptive and fixed programme to one that was discursive, bespoke and power-sharing among the LCEP, schools, artists, trainees and young people.
Schools have, with the support of artists engaged via Stage Directions, gone on to be awarded other funding to continue performance activities with their learners. In a big departure for them, Salford Community Leisure, which formally provided only sports activities through their free youth programmes, will now be including regular theatre-based activities.
Since 2022 Stage Directions has received funding to continue their work, and hopes to do so again. Off the back of learning from Stage Directions, the LCEP is planning to pilot an arts-based CPD programme for teachers in Salford.
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