New research being carried out at Staffordshire University is exploring how drama can be used to educate secondary school pupils about unhealthy relationships.
In September 2020, it will be compulsory for primary and secondary schools to include relationship education in its PSHE curriculum.
In anticipation of this, Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology Dr Em Temple-Malt is leading a research project to explore and evaluate different approaches for educating children and young people.
Em is working with Senior Lecturer in Drama, Paul Christie and undergraduate students from Sociology and Criminology and performing arts courses to investigate whether forum theatre workshops are an effective way of teaching young people to identify, challenge and change unhealthy relationship attitudes and behaviours.
The #MeToo movement has sparked international debate around unhealthy relationships and Em believes that better education could help to reduce domestic violence cases involving men and women. She also hopes this project will help to highlight less recognisable forms of abuse.
The research involves pupils watching performances that showcase coercive, mental and emotional abuse and examines whether giving pupils the opportunity to act out changes to the performance is more effective at discouraging young people from developing or tolerating abusive behaviours, rather than just talking about the changes they would like to make to the performances.
Em explained that there are two different performances: “One has a boy encouraging a girl to send a nude photo and pressurising her into that. The other story is around a very abusive, controlling girlfriend getting her boyfriend to quit his drama class, so you’re showing the different angles.”
“We anticipate that it is going to be more effective to act out the changes in terms of creating those long-term messages about creating healthy relationships for the future.”
This month, workshops were delivered to pupils at a Staffordshire high school and A-level Sociology students from St Chad’s Sixth Form in Runcorn visited the University’s drama studios to take part in the research.
Feedback already shows that the drama performances and workshops are proving popular with school pupils. Malachi McKenzie from St Chad’s Sixth Form said: “It does show an aspect of relationships that need to be seen because there are definitely relationships like that.”
“The way they got the audience involved in being able to change the outcome for better or worse does definitely add some level of education - so people can learn what happens and what could change if they get into a relationship like that.”
The research team will revisit the participating high school to measure the impact of the intervention and carry out follow-up interviews with educational professionals to get their perception of the impact that the study has had on the participating year 9 pupils.
Over the next few months, undergraduate Sociology and Criminology students will analyse the data and evaluate the success of the interventions. Em and Paul plan to develop a similar study with age-appropriate performances for a primary school audience.
Em added: “Preventative education on how to recognise abusive and unhealthy relationships is likely to be more cost-effective than services that deal with the aftermath of victims, or the rehabilitation of perpetrators. Educating children about healthy relationships is vital.”