Issue date: 19 March 2004

ISSUE DATE: 19/03/04

Embargo 00.01 Monday 22 March
Taking part in the Rock Challenge performing arts competition has a range of broad health benefits for schoolchildren, according to a report published recently. The Rock Challenge is an initiative that aims to make a major contribution to drug education through providing young people with opportunities to get a ‘buzz’ out of taking part in a large-scale performance.

The benefits of the 2003 competition were evaluated by researchers from the University of the West of England in a study funded by the South West Regional Public Health Group. The research team looked at nine state secondary schools in the region that took part in the competition in 2003, and compared them with six further schools who did not take part.

“We based our study on interviews with students and staff before and after the competition, and questionnaires on attitudes to and consumption of drugs and alcohol,” said Simon Murphy, director of the research project from UWE’s Research Centre for Public Health and Primary Care Development.

“We found that the Rock Challenge has positive effects on alcohol use. Drinking frequency did not change amongst participants, but rose from a mean of once a fortnight to once a week within the comparison group. Illicit drug use decreased very slightly amongst Rock Challenge participants but this was in a context where there were generally low levels of reported drug use. We found no significant effects on smoking.

”The Rock Challenge is to be commended to schools wishing to extend their programme of performing arts activities. It is popular with students and the high profile competition event provides a good showcase for the work of school teams. It is also sustainable – schools have returned to the programme for three or four years in a row.”

However, the researchers noted that there was further scope to develop the programme as an inclusive activity. The vast majority – 92% - of participants were female and appeared to start out with relatively higher self-esteem and more positive attitudes to school. Among the recommendations were that schools could benefit from sharing best practice regarding promoting the involvement of vulnerable or socially disadvantaged students, and the further involvement of males.

The study’s conclusions also pointed out that although the programme was a low-cost one, it required school fundraising, much commitment and personal time from teachers and students, and benefited from supportive families. There was a need to develop further the links between performing arts and the personal, social and health education (PSHE) elements of national school curriculum: in most cases, teachers involved with the Rock Challenge were drama teachers, and not PSHE specialists.

Finally, the report recommends greater clarity as regards the drug education element of the programme. Schools chose to implement this in different ways – some asked children to sign pledges to be drug-free throughout the build up to the competition, others only expected this commitment on the day of the event itself, while still others believed that students already understood the drug-free message as part of their school’s ethos.


Editor’s notes

1. The report is entitled: The Rock Challenge – An Evaluation of a Drug Prevention and Performing Arts Programme, published November 2003 by the University of the West of England. The findings are independent of the South West Regional Public Health Group who commissioned the study.

2. Rock Challenge is co-ordinated by the charitable organisation Be Your Best Foundation, which says in its production guide: “The experience of working on a shared project, engaging in exploring a theme through music and dance, and of course the thrill of performing shows that it is possible to get fun and excitement and a buzz without using any sort of drug.” (BYBF, 2002, p.6) For more information on the initiative, visit

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