Academics from three Welsh universities have recently been awarded seedcorn funding for an interdisciplinary project that originated through discussions at the 2023 Welsh Crucible. Dr Rob Smith (University of South Wales), Dr Edith England (Cardiff Metropolitan University), and Dr Phil Smith (Cardiff University) will be carrying out research with students from a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) in Wales.


PRUs offer alternative educational provision for students unable to attend mainstream schools. Students in PRUs typically have a range of risk factors, including high levels of poverty, experiences of social care, and other social, emotional, behavioural, and mental health needs. This places them at an elevated risk of adverse outcomes, such as loneliness and homelessness, prison, substance misuse, and long-term poor physical and mental health. Likewise, 50% of PRU leavers were found to not be in education, training, or employment at 16 years old in 2020 (Wilcock, 2020).

Improving young people’s outcomes is a key strategic priority of the Welsh government, such as addressing youth homelessness and preventing and reducing childhood adverse experiences. Music has proven to be a highly effective way of tackling this among students who have already experienced exclusion, by providing a social forum to develop and maintain student engagement with education and positive self-esteem (Knapp and Silva, 2019). However, research on the preventative potential of music education remains limited.

This project aims to establish a proof of concept framework for subsequent music-making activities, enabling the potential for a trial of this intervention on a larger scale in the future. It will also establish the unity of this approach in improving engagement amongst PRU pupils.

Activities and Methods

The Music for Social Change project will use both qualitative and quantitative methods to explore the impact of creative music-making on young people at high risk of social exclusion. By working with 8 pupils (aged 15-16) and four staff members from one PRU in Wales, this project will explore how creative musical participation can improve protective factors for young people at risk of social exclusion. The project is an inclusive music intervention, where PRU pupils and staff will take part in three workshops participating in creative music activities.

A psychometric test (the Warwick-Edinburgh scale) will be completed by the pupils before and after the workshops, to assess changes in their wellbeing and sense of belonging. Through observations, the conditions which improve engagement with music-making among young people will be identified. Additionally, focus groups will take place before and after the workshops to gain greater insight into the young people’s experiences and views of the music workshops.


The findings of this research will be shared widely with stakeholders, including through an end of project event.

Academics and Researchers

Senior LecturerDr Rob Smith – University of South Wales
​Senior LecturerDr Edith England – Cardiff Metropolitan University
Research AssociateDr Phil Smith – Cardiff University
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