Sport and PE Premium: Making a song and dance

Written by: Chris Parr | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Dance activities are not the first thing you might think of when it comes to the PE and Sport Premium funding, but it is a popular way of spending the money. Chris Parr takes a look

“Over the years, we’ve found that it’s the pupils who often have difficulties in other subjects who really excel at dance – and it’s always a lovely surprise for us and their school when they realise which pupils really getting into it.”

So says John Darvell, artistic director and choreographer at NOCTURN, a dance company based in Berkshire which has been working with primary schools across the county thanks to funding made available through the PE and Sport Premium initiative.

According to an independent report by NatCen Social Research, published by Department for Education, increasing dance provision is one of the most commonly mentioned activities by schools when declaring their use of the PE and Sport Premium.

It is no surprise. The Go Dance Research project, which was commissioned by a consortium of dance organisations and providers in Eastern England and funded by the Department for Health, among others, examined the impacts of dance on physiological health and psychological wellbeing on young people in year 6.

It found an “increasing tide of evidence” that dance is a “viable, sustainable and vital contributor to enhancing and maintaining the physiological health and psychological wellbeing of young people”.

Specifically, it reported that participating in a dance project during school time can inspire “positive behaviour change”, with male participants and their teachers finding that participation in dance projects resulted in “increased focus” in other curriculum subjects.

“Schools are still suffering financially, so the extra funding through the Premium has helped us – but it’s still a battle, and I feel like a lot of work needs to be done advocating for dance, and how key it is in schools,” Mr Darvell continued.

Working in partnership with local theatres, Mr Darvell and his company have gone into primary schools to deliver weekly dance provision linked to themed topics chosen by the school. Two of the schools – Hampstead Norreys CofE and The Ilsleys Primary School – opted to focus their creative skills on “what art means to them”.

Pupils from years 2 to 5 produced a diverse list of different art forms and worked with Mr Darvell to create a dance piece which was performed to the whole school.

“Our pupils had not only the chance to work with a professional dancer but a rewarding opportunity to let their voice lead the creative process, creating something that they own and understand the wider context of what art is,” explained Kate House, executive headteacher of the schools.

In another project, pupils walked into the school hall and found a large crack had appeared in the ground.

“We created a scenario where an invisible family had come from an alternate universe, and they had their own values – all of which were grey, dull,” Mr Darvell explained. “Over the year we looked at what values were important to the pupils, who produced a dance based on their values and made videos of them, which they passed through the crack to get a response the following week.”

These are just two examples of the work NOCTURN does with primaries in the area, and Sue Wilkinson, chief executive of the Association for Physical Education, believes there are many more examples up and down the country of where dance projects funded by the PE and Sport Premium have made a lasting impression on primary pupils. It is important, she says, for primary schools to remember the range of activities for which the money can be used.

“First of all,” she explained, “it is important to dispel some myths about the funding – namely that it is not just called the ‘sport premium’, it is the primary Physical Education and Sport Premium. If you just focus on traditional sport, then you might easily forget about things like dance or yoga. They might not be included, or get overlooked.”

Ms Wilkinson is also keen to stress that schools should be using the money in a way that most benefits the demands of their students: “Schools should first of all do a review to find out how good their provision is. They should be asking how many pupils are attending after school clubs, and which pupils are attending them.

“Schools don’t just want to be offering the traditional male sports like football or rugby. If you do, you can disenfranchise some groups – typically young girls and less active boys. To have dance put in at a school is a brilliant extra use of funding – be it bhangra, or ballroom, or using dance to get fit or for emotional and mental health – it’s a sociable activity, it is uplifting.”

One Dance UK, an organisation which advocates for the increased profile and importance of dance, has a range of case studies on its website demonstrating how primary schools have used the PE and Sport Premium to fund dance projects. Among them is Archibald First School in Newcastle, which has set up a trust with nine schools in the area which sees each school pay a portion of their Premium funding to employ a full-time PE dance specialist teacher across the group.

Another looks at the work of Jump, Start, Move, which promotes keeping fit through high-energy dance routines with primary schools in South Yorkshire and London and delivers dance CPD support. This can involve dance artists being placed in a school to work alongside teachers, training them in the delivery of personalised dance plans for pupils.

“Dance allows students to explore some big concepts, it makes them more accessible,” Mr Darvell concludes. “It is an activity that allows you to get the whole school involved even if they are not all doing the actual dancing. If the headteacher is really engaged it trickles down through the school to the rest of the staff and the pupils. It is all about making sure that nobody sits and does nothing.”

  • Chris Parr is a freelance education journalist.

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