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Theatre Tours in Road Safety Education: An Evaluation - Research Findings

DescriptionThis report is an evaluation of recent theatre tours as a method of providing road safety education to school children.
ISBN0 7480 2959 1
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateDecember 29, 1998
Environment Research Programme Research Findings No. 15 (1995)
Theatre Tours in Road Safety Education An Evaluation

The Scottish Council for Research in Education

ISBN 0-7480-2959-1Publisher The Scottish OfficePrice £5.00
The Scottish Road Safety Campaign (SRSC) and the Road Safety Council of Wales (RoSCoW) have been using theatre tours as a method of providing road safety education to school children since 1990 and 1992 respectively.
An evaluation of the theatre tour and its effectiveness as a medium for road safety education messages was jointly commissioned by The Scottish Office and the Welsh Office. The evaluation measured the relative effectiveness of three different modes of delivery in conveying a road safety message to secondary school students, namely the theatre tour, the Road Safety Officer (police or local authority) presentation and the teacher presentation. The play "Too Much Punch for Judy" about drinking and driving was chosen for the evaluation.
The study was conducted by The Scottish Council for Research in Education (SCRE) assisted by the University of Wales at Aberystwyth.
Main findings
  • All of the presentations influenced the students' knowledge and attitudes in relation to the road safety subject and message, namely drinking and driving.
  • Students expressed a clear preference for the theatre presentation. They found the presentation enjoyable, realistic, hard hitting and said that they had learned a lot about drinking and driving.
  • The play was seen by teachers as particularly effective in recognising and building on the students' experiences outwith the school.
  • The majority of students experiencing either the play or the presentation from a Road Safety Officer (RSO) considered it to be a better way of learning about road safety issues than from a teacher.
  • Three months after the presentations all groups of students, regardless of the type of presentation, were more firmly in favour of making it illegal to drive after drinking alcohol.
  • The theatre tour should be seen as part of a planned curriculum/programme involving different ways of presenting the message. However in reality there was a lack of follow-up work to the presentation due to time pressures from examined subjects.
  • Theatre tours should not be seen as an alternative mode of learning, but as a complementary part of a package. Theatre is particularly suited to dealing with the complexity of raising awareness, debating issues, and coming to terms with social pressures and alternative behaviours.
Road safety presentations
The play "Too Much Punch for Judy" (published by the Institute of Alcohol Studies and performed by the APE Theatre company) is based on a true story of two sisters from childhood to the night of a fatal road accident involving alcohol. One of the sisters is killed in a car driven by the other sister. The events leading up to and immediately after the accident are conveyed through the words of those involved when interviewed by the author, Mark Wheeler. The result is an absorbing and deeply emotional play lasting about 50 minutes. The play is followed by a workshop in the form of a group discussion and led by a cast member. To accompany the play the Scottish Road Safety Campaign developed "Alcohol and Driving: Teachers' Notes". These suggest preparatory and follow up work for students and provide guidelines on how the play fits into the 5-14 Scottish curriculum and the National Curriculum in England and Wales.
The presentations by the Road Safety Officers (RSOs) and teachers used in this study were matched as closely as possible to the drinking and driving message portrayed by the play. The RSO presentation was based around a video produced by the "World in Action" television team in conjunction with Somerset Police. The students were shown the video and this was followed by a 'brainstorming' session around the topics and issues which they saw arising in the video. This was then followed by a talk by the RSO on alcohol and driving, and a demonstration of the breathalyser test in Wales.
The teacher presentation also used a video, titled "It could happen to you" produced by the Portman Group. The video tells three stories each ending in the deaths of young people. The video was then followed by group discussions using discussion points outlined for the purposes of the research study. These included reviewing the events in the video and discussing alternative positive outcomes, legal limits for alcohol and sanctions for drinking and driving and difficult situations and decisions for young people.
The nature of the presentations was such that the topics discussed during each group/workshop session differed although they were all on a similar theme. There were thus some differences in the mode of the main presentations but all group/workshop sessions were concerned with similar themes.
Methodology and objectives
The evaluation of the theatre tour involved both qualitative and quantitative research techniques. The primary focus was on five study schools; two in Scotland and three in Wales, including one Welsh speaking school, where the research was conducted in the Welsh language. In these five schools researchers conducted interviews with the presenters and staff and discussions with groups of pupils aged 14-18 immediately before and immediately after they had experienced one of the modes of presentation. Further discussions with pupils were conducted three months later, in order to assess the longer term impact of the road safety message.
In addition, a questionnaire survey of pupils was conducted in the five study schools and in a further four schools; two from Scotland and two from Wales. The nine schools selected in total were chosen from urban and rural settings and with similar socio economic backgrounds.
A total of 2033 questionnaires were completed and analysed, covering 712 respondents pre-presentation, 708 post presentation and 613 three months following the presentation. From the five schools where group discussions were conducted in addition to the questionnaires, a total of 133 pupils took part in the discussions pre presentation, 131 post presentation and 105 three months later.
The specific objectives of the research were to look at:-
  • the effectiveness of the theatre tour in relaying an educational message, especially a road safety message, including imparting factual information, raising awareness of road safety issues and changing attitudes to drinking and driving:
  • how the theatre tour compares with other more traditional methods used in road safety education, namely a talk/presentation by a Road Safety Officer and classroom exercises overseen by a teacher;
  • the limitations of the theatre tour, and to develop guidelines on the use of alternative approaches to road safety education if appropriate.
Results
Students' knowledge and attitudes
  • Ninety two per cent of the students questioned said that they had tried alcohol and 35% said that they drank alcohol at least once per week.
  • Students were more likely to agree with negative statements about alcohol than positive ones. Over three quarters of the students questioned agreed that drinking is expensive, affects your health adversely and can lead to families breaking up.
In certain key areas students' knowledge and attitudes were influenced by the road safety presentations.
After the presentations students were:
  • more likely to acknowledge that they could not reduce the amount of alcohol in their bloodstream by, for example, drinking coffee
  • much more likely to accept that even one drink affects the ability to drive safely
  • more likely to agree that a zero alcohol limit should be enforced
  • very likely to agree that the drinking and driving message was relevant for them irrespective of their age or social circumstances
  • against taking lifts in cases where they suspected that the driver had been drinking
  • alert to circumstances that would make decisions more difficult to make, including: lack of personal judgement due to being under the influence of alcohol; peer pressure to go along with the group; and travelling distance to have with no other viable alternative means of transport.
Perception of the presentations
  • Students generally indicated more positive opinions and feedback about the theatre presentations than those from the RSO's or teachers.
  • The overwhelming majority of students (95%) who saw the play indicated that they found it enjoyable, compared with 63% of those receiving the RSO presentation and only 31% of those receiving the teacher presentation.
  • Those students who watched the play were more likely than either of the other groups to indicate that they found the presentation hard hitting and that they had learned a lot about drinking and driving.
Views about each kind of presentation
Theatre
  • Students most commonly indicated that, the message was realistic (44%), that the acting was good (42%) and that the style of presentation was good (40%).
  • Just over one third said that there was nothing bad about the presentation; 16% however thought the content was poor.
RSO presentation
  • The most frequent comments on the RSO presentations were that the video was good (56%), that they had learned about the subject (30%) and that the message was realistic (20%).
  • One quarter of students indicated that there was nothing bad about the presentation; 18% thought the content was poor.
Teacher presentation
  • Thirty five per cent of the students said that the video was good, 34% thought the message realistic and 25% said that they had learned about the subject.
  • Eleven per cent of students receiving this presentation thought there was nothing bad about it. Forty per cent thought the style was poor and 27% the content.
Putting the message across

- views of the actors, Road Safety Officers and teachers about theatre tours

Advantages of a theatre tour
  • Presenters consistently see theatre as a highly suitable method of dealing with sensitive social issues.
  • Theatre is seen as having greater 'impact' than other presentation types in its ability to motivate and influence students' future decisions and behaviour.
  • Involvement of people from outside the school provides the staff and students with additional relevant resources and experiences.
  • The play is seen as particularly effective in recognising and building on the students' experiences outwith the school.
Circumstances in which theatre tours are most successful.
Presenters identified three main factors as contributing to the effectiveness of theatre production - good quality of the presentation and the materials used; planning and inter-agency liaison; and relevance.
In practical terms, the logistical arrangements made by schools are very important in maximising the potential of the play and workshop. There should be adequate liaison about the content of presentations with the outside agencies to help teachers to prepare students for the play and assure consistency in ethos and values conveyed in the presentation with those of the schools. Liaison between schools and outside agencies should continue after the presentation to realise the full learning potential of the event.
Conclusions
This evaluation has implications for the content, method and resourcing of future teaching and learning related to drinking and driving.
Students were consistently more positive about the theatre and provided a more favourable assessment of the theatre group presentations than of either the RSO or teacher presentations. The RSO presentation was in turn more favourably than that of the teacher, and as effective as the theatre presentation on learning about drinking and driving. Students' positive reactions regarding the theatre were echoed by teachers who thought it a highly suitable medium for dealing with a variety of sensitive issues; they would like all classes of the older students to have had an opportunity to watch the play. Members of the theatre company indicated that the play was usually very effective but probably more so for students near the top of the age band - 14 year olds are perhaps not mature enough to deal with the emotional impact.
Although the theatre tour was rated so highly, the impact in terms of acquiring factual knowledge was not significantly different from other forms of presentation. The evidence suggests that general changes in knowledge and attitude among students were equally likely to be achieved by any of the modes of delivery. What was different was the enjoyment of the play compared with the other modes and students' belief that they were learning more.
Reviewing comments from all informants, it is clear that a theatre tour is not guaranteed success just because of the mode of presentation. Circumstances in which theatre tours are likely to be successful include careful advance planning to ensure that the players have suitable accommodation for the presentation and that students get the most from the play and ensuing workshop. This involves liaison between the theatre company and the schools beforehand - subsequent liaison after the presentation could also be desirable, though logistically difficult. The key, however, is a top quality production with sufficient flexibility to adapt to the particular conditions and students of each school.
"Theatre Tours in Road Safety Education - An Evaluation", the research report summarised in this Research Findings, may be purchased from:
The Scottish Council for Research in Education
15, St John Street, Edinburgh, EH8 8JR.
Telephone: 0131-557 2944.

The report can also be ordered online from:www.thestationeryoffice.co.uk

Further copies of this Research Findings may be obtained from:
The Scottish Office Central Research Unit
Room 5/72
New St Andrew's House
Edinburgh EH1 3TG
Telephone 0131-244 4426