RefugeesWellSchool (RWS) researchers in the UK (Professor Charles Watters and Emma Soye) have just completed the ‘classroom drama’ intervention in an East London secondary school. The classroom drama workshop aims to provide social support to young people through creative expression relating to themes of migration and diversity.
Supported by a classroom teacher, drama therapists run weekly sessions with students from mixed backgrounds during the school day. In the East London school, PhD student Emma Soye evaluated the intervention through pre- and post-intervention questionnaires and focus groups with students, parents, and teachers. She also conducted her own ethnographic research into young people’s relationships in the school and local community, in order to understand where social support may be most necessary.
London is the most ethnically diverse city in the UK. The secondary school in East London where the research was conducted reflects this ‘super-diversity’. Unlike in other European countries, young migrants and refugees new to the UK directly enter mainstream schooling (although often only after a long waiting period). Students at the East London school come from all over the world – some arrived in the city in recent years, while others are second or third generation migrants. Some students have refugee backgrounds. Many families in the area struggle to make ends meet, in a context of low wages and increasing rent costs. The school runs a food bank and provides regular housing and legal advice to families.
January and February were spent preparing for the intervention by recruiting drama therapists and conducting questionnaires and focus groups. Using existing tools, the questionnaires enquired into areas including mental health, social support, resilience, school belonging, and stigma and discrimination. The focus groups were designed by the RWS team and aimed to gain insight into local understandings of wellbeing. The intervention ran for nine weeks, with some interruptions. Two drama therapists conducted weekly sessions with two groups each. Once the intervention was over, Emma conducted the post-intervention questionnaires and focus groups.
Although analysis of the questionnaire and focus group data is still to be completed, initial findings on the success of the intervention are mixed. Some students reported having found the workshop useful, while others noted no change in their wellbeing. Contrary to expectations, migration and diversity did not emerge as key themes during the intervention. Instead, students were interested in exploring issues such as domestic abuse, knife crime, gangs, and deprivation. Concern around these issues is in line with Emma’s qualitative research in the school and local community. She found that for young people from different backgrounds, the main issues drawing them together and dividing them tended not to be around migration, racism or discrimination, but rather linked to social inequality, and gangs in particular.
The RWS project will continue in a school in Brighton in autumn, where the ‘PIER’ programme, designed by the UK team, will run from October to December.
Emma Soye, August 2019