‘Human Spaces’- An evaluative case study of the work of Big Brum Theatre in Education Company

The Human Spaces research project is a small scale case study in order to evaluate the impact of arts education on the curriculum.

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Big Brum, which was founded in 1982, delivers Theatre in Education programmes and special projects to schools and other learning settings, working with children and young people from infants to post-graduates. They work with over 4,000 young people every year, and work extensively in areas of deprivation in Birmingham and the wider West Midlands. The company was awarded an Action for Children's Arts Members Award in 2010 for its outstanding contribution to the aim of enriching children's lives through the arts, and Big Brum is recognised internationally as a leading centre for excellence in arts education.

The on-going partnership between Birmingham City University’s School of Education and Big Brum is vital to support local access to arts education for our young people and their teachers. This work supports the position of Big Brum whilst also strengthening links between the university and arts education in the region more generally. The findings continue to inform the well-established curriculum provision on the PGCE Secondary Drama course.

As part of a Paul Hamlyn Foundation funded evaluation called ‘More and Better’, Big Brum were seeking, and continue to seek, to capture the impact of their work on young people across the West Midlands. One of the Big Brum’s key success criteria is that “Young people have been given a space to explore what it means to be human.”

Big Brum recognise that it is challenging to turn this success criterion into traditional evaluation criteria, so instead we proposed that this aspect formed the focus for small scale academic research, which resulted in a case study suited to wide dissemination. Consequently, the theoretical framework from Birmingham City University’s, Erasmus+ funded project Democracy Through Drama (Demo:Dram) project will serve as the main tool for analysis. 

The Human Spaces research project is a small scale evaluative case study to explore the impact of Big Brum’s latest work, ‘Flee’; a theatre in education programme based on a new play by local theatre writer, Suriya Aisha. Linked to this, the University’s drama team is leading the cross-European project Democracy Through Drama.

There are clear synergies between the two projects and it is intended that this small evaluation work is beneficial to both. This project-within-a-project involves the observation and analysis of Big Brum working with a group of young people on ‘Flee’ in a school.

Research Aims
  • To explore how Young people have been given a space to explore what it means to be human
  • To explore the impact of arts education on the curriculum of one primary school
  • To inform and strengthen the case for arts education in the West Midlands region more generally
  • To create an accessible output that makes the case for Theatre in Education to key audiences, such as Arts Connect, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Schools/Academies across the West Midlands, the Arts Council England
  • To provide robust qualitative evidence that underpins this aim, which can be accessed by those wishing to know more
Method of Research

The process is seen as an opportunity for dialogue, partnership and alliance-building and this aspect contributes to larger evaluative work on behalf of Big Brum, namely the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.  As a purpose beyond the formal project aims, Big Brum are also contributing to the development of alliances in defence of the arts in schools.

This small-scale evaluation report will support and contribute to Big Brum in evaluating their work in schools and thus strengthen their case as a Theatre in Education company. Using an instrumental case study approach (Stake in Denzin & Lincoln, 2000, p.437) it is intended to assemble three inputs to create the written evaluative report. These inputs include:

  • A recorded semi-structured interview, pre and post programme, with one actor-teacher and one school teacher
  • Written evaluations from one school teacher and the observer
  • ‘Live’ written responses during a programme from one teacher and the observer

The evaluation would therefore become an assemblage of data that will be edited together to create a co-constructed evaluation of the impact of the work. This would mirror the main aim of Big Brum’s work in that the meaning is created between the company and those experiencing the work.


Early findings from the project include:

  • Big Brum’s method of Theatre in Education is inclusive, engaging and challenging for young people
  • The work has helped community cohesion and enabled spaces for young people to discuss important issues ‘beyond the curriculum’
  • The work can help young people learn about the ‘other’ and ultimately themselves
  • The work created safe democratic spaces in which young people could test ideas