Guest Blog: Evaluating the value of our Speech Bubbles programme by Adam Annand, London Bubble Theatre Company

12 April 2018

Our Speech Bubbles programme delivers drama lessons in primary schools aimed at improving children’s communications skills, confidence and wellbeing.  We know different things about our Speech Bubbles programme and the different things we know we know in different ways. There has been a process of discovery that has improved our knowledge and led to significant developments in the programme.  What follows is a brief story of what led us to carry out a value for money assessment of the Speech Bubbles programme conducted by Pro Bono Economics and EY.

In 2014 Project Oracle carried out a study of creative education evaluations and made the point that arts organisations ‘…often demonstrate a capacity to bring hard and soft outcomes together in project delivery and to develop innovative approaches to evaluation which use the arts to capture the participant’s journey.’ Drawing from a ‘hard and soft’ approach, these are some of the things we know about Speech Bubbles:

We know what the problem is:

In 2008 the Bercow review of provision for children with speech, language and communication needs highlighted how ongoing struggles in these areas has significant, long lasting impact on confidence, social and emotional development, school progression and mental wellbeing.  

We know which children will benefit:

In 2009 an academic from Birkbeck, University of London carried out an action research project to identify which children were most benefiting from Speech Bubbles. We ask schools to refer children who; lack confidence in communicating, have difficulty organising their thoughts and communicating them and who have poor attention and listening.

We know what the programme looks like:

 In 2012 Dr Jonathan Barnes carried out an evaluation for Canterbury Christ Church University, he described the programme; ‘24 weekly practical drama sessions, including the dramatization of children’s own stories, for up to 10 children in Key Stage 1 referred because of their additional needs in speech, language and communication. It has a predictable structure, gentle relationships, clarity of purpose and consistent drama and child centeredness’

We know the changes that teachers see:

Teachers complete a pre and post assessment for every child, giving us quantifiable data and a commentary on the developments they see in Speaking and listening and behaviour. 

In 2016/2017 the results were as follows;

A typical post project comment reads, ‘confidence has increased in leaps and bounds this year. She is now much more confident to take risks, have a go and get involved. Her resilience is much better. She takes turns and shares, mostly interacting well with her peers and adults.’

This knowledge has given us the confidence to work with partner organisations to replicate the programme across London and Greater Manchester. However, as more and more children are referred we wanted to find out whether we could be sure that it is taking part in Speech Bubbles that leads to these changes and whether it is cost effective. This inspired further research;

A comparison group study carried out by Dr Heather Price at University of East London (UEL):

  • In this study children were referred to the programme and then randomly selected to either a control or an experiment group. The communication skill of both groups was assessed before and after the project. Dr Price concluded that ‘Speech Bubbles is a highly valuable intervention with proven impact’ and more specifically that ‘it is in the three areas of ‘understanding spoken language’, ‘storytelling and narrative’, and ‘social interaction’ that ‘Speech Bubbles’ really assists children to shine’. For the first time we could be sure that it was taking part that was making the difference.

Most recently, a cost benefit appraisal (CBA) by Pro Bono Economics and  EY:

  • This CBA was conducted using a conservative measure of potential lifetime earnings.  Other benefits such as wellbeing, happiness, health and social inclusion are likely to be correlated to earnings, but are not directly measured in this analysis. Happily, I can tell you that Pro Bono Economics and EY conclude that Speech Bubbles is ‘a low cost intervention that delivers good value for Money’.

The next research phase is qualitative, a Randomised Control Trial (RCT), undertaken with the support of the Education Endowment Foundation and the RSA. The findings will help policy makers, funders and schools to make informed decisions about supporting cultural learning activities and the anecdotes, the descriptions and the stories will continue to bring that evidence to life.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the blog’s author alone and do not necessarily represent those of Pro Bono Economics. Pro Bono Economics is not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied in blogs by external contributors.

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