YDance raising attainment in primary schools one dance step at a time

27 Jan 2021

Image credit: Paul Watt Photography

YDance (Scottish Youth Dance) – the award-winning national dance organisation for children and young people in Scotland – have released the official findings of their innovative four-year primary education programme focusing on interdisciplinary learning and closing the poverty-related attainment gap.

In January 2017, YDance (Scottish Youth Dance) launched the Shake It Up programme to raise attainment for over 5000 primary school children in areas identified as part of the Scottish Government’s Attainment Challenge – Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, West Dunbartonshire and Clackmannanshire.

Funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Shake It Up was designed to enable children to learn a range of curriculum subjects through dance, increase pupils’ engagement through a kinaesthetic approach, and leave a sustainable legacy of teachers with the skills and knowledge to continue to develop this kind of integrated curricular lesson delivery. Sessions covered a range of subjects including numeracy, literacy, science, health and wellbeing, and social sciences.

Two full-time Dance Education Artists in Residence each worked one day a week across six primary schools for a period of two years to deliver the sessions. They worked in close partnership with selected teachers to plan and deliver the project ensuring the benchmarks of the subject were met through the dance workshops.

Kieran MacLetchie, teacher at Aitkenbar Primary School in Dumbarton said: “I certainly feel that dance and the Shake It Up programme is one of the factors helping raise attainment and lift some of those children – particularly the ones that find learning difficult or challenging – through kinaesthetic learning. It’s helping them achieve things that perhaps they wouldn’t have been able to achieve otherwise.”

Running alongside the delivery programme, a research and evaluation impact study was carried out by the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change at the University of Glasgow. The findings of the research are now available at

Linzi McLagan. Head of Education at YDance said: “In response to the attainment challenge, Shake It Up aimed to increase engagement in learning by supporting pupils and teachers explore the curriculum through kinaesthetic learning. Through the evaluation of SIU, we aim to promote the tangible benefits of using the arts within education by providing evidence of the beneficial factors of using dance as an educational tool.”


Image credit: Paul Watt Photography


The following are some of the key findings of the study:

  • Shake It Up was seen by most teachers as having a positive impact on pupils’ wellbeing. This was often expressed in terms of improved social skills and better self-confidence and perceptions of peers, skills and abilities which were transferable to situations out with the Shake It Up sessions.
  • Among the younger pupils, the programme was most frequently reported as a good help in relation to feeling happier at school (64%), getting on better with their teacher (62%) and remembering facts about subjects (60%).
  • Teachers frequently reported particular success for the programme in engaging those learners from disadvantaged backgrounds who were traditionally seen as being less likely to engage in learning.
  • Teachers commented on how the Shake It Up learning process helped bring another perspective to what was being learned in the classroom and assisted pupils to better conceptualise the topics and knowledge in different but complementary ways.
  • One headteacher stated that improvements in pupils’ literacy was observed for those involved with the programme, particularly those learners from SIMD 1 and 2. This had been highlighted in school data collected for their Pupil Equity Funding (PEF) monitoring.
  • The programme had also proven very helpful in promoting the learning engagement of pupils with social and emotional needs. In one example, a male P5 pupil who was difficult to engage with had enjoyed the programme so much he went on to join an after-school dance club and won a local authority award. “He is a different child; he’s found a passion.”
  • The evaluation reveals that the Shake It Up programme has made a positive impact in line with its stated objectives.


Shake It Up was funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation with additional funding from Garfield Weston Foundation, New Park Educational Trust, Gilchrist Educational Trust, James T Howat Charitable Trust and Commonweal Fund. To find out more about the Shake It Up project visit