SEND schools research project update

In 2022, we embarked on a research project to better understand the potential benefits of the South Asian dance classes run by Akademi for autistic learners in the SEND schools as part of our Reach Out and Reveal project. This blogpost is written by the researchers on the project, Claire Farmer and Dr. Ashley McGill.

Akademi’s Reach Out and Reveal programme began in 2017 and has introduced classes in South Asian dance to children in special educational needs schools. In 2022 the programme received further funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to expand the work and include a longitudinal research project to better understand the potential benefits of the dance classes for autistic learners in the schools.

Claire Farmer and Dr Ashley McGill commenced a pilot research study in the 2022-23 academic year. This first year has been an exploratory process, looking at ways to gather meaningful data in a way that does not negatively impact upon the learners’ dance experience or take away from the artistic integrity of the work. Both researchers have experience in ‘dance for health’ projects and felt it was important to work collaboratively with Akademi, the dance artists teaching the classes, and the schools to determine relevant and meaningful research questions and methods. Initial meetings took place where all those involved in the project shared ideas, experiences, and movement concepts to better understand where the research efforts should focus.

As part of a mixed methods design, the first year of data collection focused on gathering quantitative as well as qualitative, observational data. Quantitively, the researchers have been looking at assessment tools already used within the schools to track progress and developmental milestones of the learners. In future years, this will help us to understand whether further progression takes place during terms when the learners are dancing. Some classes across the 2022-23 academic year were filmed allowing the researchers to trial different forms of observational analysis. An observational scale proved difficult given the individual nature of Autism and as such, the researchers feel qualitative approaches are more appropriate in capturing changes over time in this situation. A collection of films were observed and common themes drawn out to help develop a framework for future analysis. Laban Movement Analysis was noted as a potential useful tool in helping to describe changes in movement habits and qualities of movement using a language that is familiar in the dance sector. This will be further explored in the second year of the research.

The research will be drawing on feedback from a variety of perspectives including written reports from the dance artists who teach the classes, as well as a brief questionnaire to be completed by teachers and parents. This feedback will help us to understand how the dance classes may be benefitting the learners in other subjects at school and at home.

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