Engaging girls through the power of performing arts
Girls from Oz Ltd. is a Melbourne based not-for-profit organisation that provides education-based opportunities for Australian girls in remote and regional areas. With a focus on girls aged five to 18, Girls from Oz delivers engaging performing arts programs that encompass song, dance, drama, language, and storytelling.
Through this grant, the organisation trialled an 18-month program to build confidence, teamwork and leadership skills in female students attending Carnarvon Community College.
To increase levels of school attendance, confidence, teamwork and leadership in young girls in Carnarvon, positively influencing long-term individual outcomes and school completion levels.
Girls from Oz Ltd.
Children (12 years and under), Young people (aged 13-17)
- The program successfully engaged 405 students across 2013 and 2014, establishing productive relationships.
- Participants reported increased confidence and self-esteem, the opportunities to try new things and an enhanced sense of personal and community pride.
- The Carnarvon program functioned as a demonstration model, with outcomes informing the roll out of similar programs throughout regional WA.
- A clear objective to monitor, evaluate and learn from this pilot program enabled the organisation to collate information which informed delivery of similar projects in the future.
- Building lasting connections with students, teachers and school leaders enabled ongoing engagement in the school and community more broadly.
- An integrated evaluation project enhanced organisational capacity for the future evaluation projects and demonstration of outcomes and impacts.
- Community connection to the arts more broadly in Carnarvon did not grow over the delivery of the project.
High school completion is shown to have a strong influence on an individual’s long-term outcomes . Remoteness is a significant factor in school attendance, with levels decreasing the further you move outside of metropolitan areas . Where children have gaps in school attendance, it often begins in the first years of schooling and increases in secondary school . Several incentive-based strategies have been implemented in Australia to improve attendance, including sport and arts-based programs .
In 2014, Carnarvon Community College was listed as one of 44 ‘critical’ schools in the Federal Government’s Remote School Attendance Strategy (R.S.A.S.), as a result of the school’s low attendance figures . Girls from Oz identified that there was a successful and well-resourced program operating for boys and young men in the Gascoyne region, but there were no programs available that were tailored for girls and young women.
Girls from Oz used their grant to develop a project to build confidence, teamwork, and leadership skills in young girls in remote and regional areas and to encourage them to remain in school and pursue further educational opportunities in line with their life goals.
The 18-month Carnarvon project was modelled on a program operating in Halls Creek since 2009. As part of the Carnarvon project, Girls from Oz instructors delivered four, week-long, intensive sessions per year with school and community groups culminating in public community performances. The organisation also provided 23 teachers with professional development opportunities aimed at building their capacity to teach performing arts activities in the classroom.
The program provided a select group of participants with the opportunity to travel to capital cities for week-long excursions where they were hosted by families of the Australian Girls Choir. To be considered for an excursion, girls had to achieve at least 75% attendance at school, providing an attractive incentive. Girls from Oz leaders led week-long intensive sessions aimed at engaging the young girls to develop their confidence and performance skills.
Additionally, the program included professional development for teachers, Aboriginal and Islander Education Officers and school and community leaders to help them work with young people and ensure the program is sustainable.
Impacts and outcomes
Throughout 2013 and 2014, 405 students participated in the program in Carnarvon. An evaluation of the program found that a strong foundation had been established based on productive relationships and effective partnerships, and it was clear it has been successful in engaging girls across all school ages.
“It gives them a lot of confidence it encourages them to be more than what they are and makes them feel they are capable of anything.”
Michelle Ellis, parent of Girls from Oz participant
Overall, there was consensus that the program was achieving a high level of engagement across primary and secondary school girls at Carnarvon Community College. The most common themes picked up through the evaluation process included increased confidence and self-esteem, the opportunity to try new things, help in addressing curriculum changes in performing arts and an enhanced sense of personal and community pride.
Some participants of the program also reported expressing a desire to pursue post-school opportunities. This included wanting to participate in a student exchange, and pursuing possibilities in the performing arts, including the aspiration of attending the Western Australian Academy for Performing Arts (WAAPA).
These findings from the program’s evaluation were presented at the Girl from Oz summit at Carnarvon Community College in May 2015.
Between 2015, when the grant concluded, and 2021 the program has:
- Continued activities in Carnarvon with 35 week-long intensives completed by the end of 2021.
- Led to 53 girls from Carnarvon participating in travel programs to Adelaide, Melbourne, Perth or Sydney.
- Supported more senior participants, who have been involved with the program since primary school, to assist with teaching the junior program participants.
- Built a relationship with the Shooting Stars initiative, helping both organisations promote their activities.
- Informed the rollout of similar programs in Halls Creek, as well as in Lockhart River and Kowanyama (QLD).
- Resulted in performances with the Australian Girls Choir at some of Australia’s premier venues including Perth Concert Hall, Adelaide Town Hall, Hamer Hall in Melbourne and the Sydney Opera House.
Girl from Oz’s Carnarvon program has functioned as a demonstration model and its outcomes were intended to inform the roll out of similar programs throughout regional WA. The project included a strong element of action research to evaluate the Carnarvon model, which ensured the successes and valuable learnings were captured for sharing with other remote WA communities.
Research pilot enabled expanded rollout
By having a clear objective to monitor, evaluate and learn from the program, the organisation has been able to collate information which will help them implement similar projects in the future. This included developing a program logic infographic that provides the organisation with a clear way to understand their goals and communicate their strategy for making change.
Building lasting connections
The Girls from Oz project team was able to build traction and develop relationships with the students, teachers, and leaders by returning to the school each term. While the main focus is on girls from Year 4 to Year 12, the organisation works with all students (all genders) in Kindergarten to Year 4, broadening their reach through community groups and parent centres. By the time girls reach Year 4 they have gained valuable experience with Girls from Oz because of the organisation’s consistent presence in the community. This has been strengthened beyond the life of this grant with the program running continuously in Carnarvon since 2013. In regional and remote areas, it is not uncommon for school staff to turn over every two to three years. So, the consistent presence of the Girls from Oz program builds trust and encourages participation.
Integrated evaluation built organisational capacity for the future
The evaluation of the project was enhanced by the organisations interaction with Clear Horizon who led the evaluation process. This included a specific training session with staff on the Most Significant Change technique, which is often used when more detailed information is required to understand the complexity of a project and its outcomes. Research for the evaluation was generally undertaken with members of both teams, building capacity for the future which the organisation continues to use to demonstrate the outcomes and impacts of their programs.
Community connection to arts with the program
Girls from Oz had hoped the program would build a broader community connection with the arts in Carnarvon. However, no evidence was available to support this, which suggests more effort is required for engaging with and facilitating connectivity between community stakeholders through performing arts activities. Those interviewed for the evaluation highlighted the need to increase the opportunities for participants in the program to perform locally and extend performance activities beyond Girl from Oz visits. The organisation has since been able to prepare the girls for several community-based performances, including Tropi-COOL Festivals and the Gascoyne Food Festival. Additionally, the program has connected with the local dance teacher whenever she was running classes during their visits.
- Allen, J., Wright, S., Cranston, N., Watson, J., Beswick, K., & Hay, I. (2017). Raising levels of school student engagement and retention in rural, regional and disadvantaged areas: is it a lost cause? International Journal of Inclusive Education, 22, 1-17. https://doi.org/10.1080/13603116.2017.1370737
- Australian Government. (2020). Closing the Gap: Report 2020. https://ctgreport.niaa.gov.au/content/closing-gap-2020
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020). Health Performance Framework 2020 summary report. https://www.indigenoushpf.gov.au/
- Anthony, J. (2018). ‘Girls from Oz’ rising: An exploration into the impact of participation in the ‘Girls from Oz’ Sydney Tour program on the perspectives and academic progress of young Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal girls from Carnarvon, Western Australia. Federation University. Mt. Helen.
Acknowledgement of Country
The Western Australian Community Impact Hub acknowledges and pays respect to the Traditional Owners of the land on which we are based, the Whadjuk people of the Noongar Nation and extends that respect to all the Traditional Owners and Elders of this country. We recognise the significant importance of their cultural heritage, values and beliefs and how these contribute to the positive health and wellbeing of the whole community.