New study proposes nationwide campaign to boost dance in Scottish primary schools

New study proposes nationwide campaign to boost dance in Scottish primary schools

Published: 04/11/2022

Dance is part of the curriculum for primary schools in Scotland yet 48% of primary school teachers say that dance is ‘non-existent’ or ‘almost non-existent’ in their schools. While 85% per cent of teachers believe dance is an important part of the curriculum, many lack confidence and feel unprepared in bringing it into the classroom.

The aim now is to provide support for teachers, and also for higher education providers of initial primary teacher education who are supporting the next generation of primary teachers.

The findings are part of Dance Education in the Primary School in Scotland, a research project by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland to create an accurate picture of dance in primary schools in 2022.

Dance Education in the Primary School in Scotland is led by Eilidh Slattery, lecturer and researcher in Arts Education at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and data scientist and researcher Andrew Rae.

Access the Dance Education in the Primary School in Scotland report

Dance is for everyone. Dance can be inclusive and accessible for all. It brings joy and helps build relationships. When children dance, it is fun, it is active, and it is an excellent way to learn. Research shows that in addition to the subject-specific benefits of dance, learning through dance can be beneficial for learning in many other curricular areas including literacy, numeracy, and health & wellbeing.

Eilidh, who currently teaches on the Conservatoire’s PG Cert and MEd Learning & Teaching in the Arts programmes, is a former dance teacher, primary school teacher, and lecturer in teacher education and Primary Initial Teacher Education. This range of experience gives Eilidh valuable insight into the priorities and needs of those involved with the research.

Eilidh said: “Dance and creative movement are excellent vehicles for learning across all curricular areas and can nurture creativity and critical thinking skills, but it’s an often-neglected area of learning within our primary schools.

“While the report highlights a teaching profession that recognises the value and importance of dance in a primary school setting, teachers’ confidence in their knowledge, skills and abilities to deliver dance is significantly impacting how often pupils are able to experience dance and creative movement.

“There are so many benefits of dance – research shows that its nurturing and inclusive nature helps build confidence, connection and relationships. Teachers indicated they were keen to enhance this area of their practice. It’s important now that we look at how we can support teachers in developing their confidence and skills.”

Dance Education in the Primary School in Scotland gathered data through an online survey open to all general primary teachers working in Scotland. Additionally, the nine Initial Teacher Education (ITE) university providers in Scotland were asked for information on dance-specific content in their programmes.

The report revealed:

  • In schools, 85% of teachers believe dance is an important part of the curriculum
  • 48% of teachers stated dance was ‘non-existent’ or ‘almost non-existent’ in their schools
  • 84% of teachers stated feeling unprepared (to varying degrees) to teach dance following their Initial Teacher Education
  • 80% of teachers saw no dance being taught on their school placements during their Initial Teacher Education
  • 76% of teachers were not aware of any career-long professional learning (CLPL) opportunities focusing on dance in the primary school
  • Information from the Initial Teacher Education programmes shows great disparity: some did not cover dance at all despite it being in the curriculum

Eilidh said: “There are some really excellent examples of practice happening in schools and in Initial Teacher Education in relation to dance, but where this is not happening there is a negative cycle that continues to impact each new generation of learners and each new generation of teachers. This is something we can address to enact positive change.

“We need to address the potential disadvantage faced by many student teachers who enter Initial Teacher Education with little or no experience of dance. Our study showed that 52% of teachers had little or no prior experience in dance. These teachers accounted for 100% of those stating they do not feel confident to use dance with their classes. Initial Teacher Education has a key role to play here. We also need to address the lack of opportunities for student teachers to see dance being taught when on placement in schools.”

The research project was supported by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Athenaeum Awards, which are open to all staff members to fund small projects up to £3,000. The awards are intended to either help seed or fully fund projects, collaborations, or research led by RCS staff.

The Dance in the Primary School in Scotland report recommends:

  • A national campaign to raise awareness of the value and inclusive nature of learning in, about and through dance in primary school.
  • A national support network that can be accessed by teachers, student teachers and ITE providers. This supportive community of practice would provide evidence-informed information, ideas and advice and would be a hub for sharing ideas and experiences, as well as providing CLPL opportunities.
  • Pilot studies ideally situated within the Scottish context should be carried out with primary schools to share experiences and practice as well as to add pupils’ voices to the discussion. Partnership studies involving primary schools and Initial Teacher Education (ITE) programmes should be piloted to boost opportunities for student teachers to see and experience the teaching of dance in primary schools.

Eilidh said: “We want to work with teachers, with schools, with student teachers, and with Initial Teacher Education providers to help raise awareness of the value of dance in primary school and provide support in how this can be done.

“There is an issue with teacher confidence. We want to help teachers see that they already hold hugely valuable skills which will make a significant contribution to their use of dance in the primary school. With teachers’ in-depth knowledge of all aspects of the curriculum and the invaluable relationship they develop with their learners, all we need is an extra spark of inspiration and a network of support to help teachers see that having the confidence and ability to provide experiences for their pupils to learn in, about and through dance is most definitely within their grasp.”

The report acknowledges the fragility of the position of the arts within the education system as a whole and, in particular, it notes that the potential of dance appears to remain unexplored within primary education.

Eilidh continued: “The many factors explored in this study point to what could be described as an acceptable norm within education in Scotland, that it is okay not to deliver learning experiences in this area of the curriculum. But as one respondent states, ‘we are depriving pupils of opportunities’ to explore the wonder of dance in primary school. The report also highlighted some excellent examples of how primary teachers are using dance to enhance learning experiences and we’d like to see these being shared and celebrated.

“The recommendations set out by this report are achievable and impactful and although this journey will take time, we can act now to build a community of knowledge and support that can create sustainable and transformative change for the position of dance in the primary school in Scotland.”

It is hoped that the work which will develop as a result of this report will inspire and bring joy to learners and teachers alike.

Dance Education in the Primary School in Scotland follows the Music Education in the Primary Classroom in Scotland research report in 2021, led by Dr Lio Moscardini and Dr Angela Jaap of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, along with Andrew Rae and Alastair Wilson.

Researchers at the Universities of Aberdeen and Dundee are working on projects in drama and art in primary schools in Scotland. It is planned that the four pieces of research will form a joint publication on arts education in Scotland’s primary schools.

Dance Education in the Primary School in Scotland can be accessed on the RCS website. The report Music Education in the Primary Classroom in Scotland can also be accessed on the website.

Eilidh Slattery will give an Exchange Talk at RCS on November 14. Exchange Talks are weekly series of public events in which members of RCS staff, academia and the professions share their research insights on art and society.

Eilidh will be part of an Arts Education Symposium at the Scottish Education Research Association (SERA) conference on November 25.

Visit Eilidh’s research profile.

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