10 Year Evaluation - Key Findings

In the last ten years, Protégé has grown from a brave new concept to a versatile methodology for self-directed learning. Through innovative lateral development we have enriched our offer by delivering our services from an enterprising art gallery – this has enabled us to create a professional workspace for skills development and become an income-generating learning and training provider. Our model of alternative provision is unique in the education, arts, health and youth justice sector.

With exclusion and pastoral support services changing rapidly, Protégé’s work has had to be protected and sustained by becoming more useful and more irreplaceable. Our track record of ‘achieving the unachievable’ and having a transformative impact on the ‘hardest of the hard to reach’ is our strongest tool. But we cannot rest on this, and so we are strategically focussed on becoming well prepared for a funding sector that is rapidly reducing and commissioning services that are redefining.

In order to promote our uniqueness and usefulness it is crucial for Protégé to communicate its real-world impacts to relevant audiences. It’s imperative that we address questions pertinent to ‘value for money’ and linked to this are issues of size, scale, and sustainability.

Profiling Protégé’s achievements and developing the Protégé legacy are key elements of an iterative dissemination process aimed at achieving these strategic ambitions and implementing the next phase of activity. Through our delivery and evaluation of each project, we have been able to continually uncover unique ways in which to re-engage young people, at a higher rate of success than other offers.

Our working hypothesis, that Leonardo Da Vinci would struggle with today's curriculum, has evolved with our findings. Whilst not everyone is capable of being Leonardo, we have found that each young person has remarkable capabilities for learning that, if given the right environment, would allow them to excel in a chosen field.

Our ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ project provided an access route to the musical heritage of the UK. Themes of identity and immigration, fashion and creativity, in the face of changing culture and society turned our disengaged young people into avid researchers and cultural historians.

The approach of ‘young people in the driving seat’ is a distinctive feature of Protégé. Students engage with the programme in a quasi-professional manner as 'researchers' working alongside artists to test and refine our methodology for self-directed learning. Expanding on this responsibility, students now take the driving seat to articulate our findings and achievements.

Project link: Fluorescent Adolescent

This is further expressed through the following project ‘Adolescence: The Concept Album’ created as a direct result of the learning young people had gained from the ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ project. In this project young people and music industry professionals worked together to create a remix album of classic songs about the teenage experience.

It is Protégé’s ability to place our young people with the appropriate artist/industry expert that allowed for our young people to raise their ambitions to a level in which they felt capable of beginning this project. There is a chemistry we aim for between young person and artist. When it is found it greatly accelerates the rate of learning and development of the work of the young person.

Project link: Adolescence: The Concept Album

Not all creative working artists have the right combination of empathy, patience, work ethic, and ego to work effectively with the ‘hardest of the hard to reach’. Our ability to assess and select our artists is in itself an important internal process. The impact a choice of artist makes on a project can influence everything from how the project is delivered, logistically, and how engaged our young people feel. Both of which determine the success or failure of a project.

Young people trust at Protégé they will be supported by artists and mentors who support their learning, rather than simply direct it towards their own interests. This approach is further evidenced in the key partnerships we build. Our partners promote Protégé’s role as a trusted voice and thought leader on educational exclusion and its links to lost childhood, further solidifying our ambition of ‘Protégé as a trusted voice’.

The ‘High Street Experiment’ initiative aimed to develop the employability and workplace skills of divergent young people. Our new boutique gallery in Richmond is a dynamic space for students to work with our artists to learn new skills, curate shows, begin to develop their understanding of local business, and learn how they can, alongside our artists, offer bespoke art and design services to the community.

Working with Protégé, Amyn (student) identified opportunities for him to build a career in acting. The first step in this process was for him to identify work opportunities such as paid internship programmes and work experience placements. Traditionally this type of research would be conducted away from the public, however working from this public-facing space gave Amyn the opportunity to interact with the public, practice social and presentation skills, and being to understand the fundamentals of networking and presenting himself as an actor, not just a young person with a challenging and difficult personal past.

In his own words: “I now want to further myself in a productive environment to gain more experience in all dynamics of theatre. …I believe it would excel my strengths to work closely in a theatre-based environment, which would also give me an opportunity to further myself and my understanding of the industry."

Project link: High Street Experiment

The ‘60’s Boutique’ project was an opportunity to explore the boundaries of our new workplace as well as the development of the ‘teenager’ identity and persona in post-war Britain. 

In the words of the students: “Guided by Protégé artists we accessed this heritage by exploring various archives and creating our own versions of iconic designs and products. Many of us have been working on a weekly basis at the Protégé Boutique, and we have spent time exploring some of the earliest London boutiques. … We learned about how Mary Quant made the mini dress popular, and we learned from cultural historians and curators what this meant for the previously ‘buttoned-up’ women living in post-war Britain. Each design [we made] reflected our personal understanding and interpretation of what we had learned.”

The project allowed young people to re-live the explosion of creativity in London in the 1960s and they saw how that period permanently established Britain as a leader and a trendsetter in fashion, music and individual style the world over.  

Project link: 60's Boutique

During these projects, our work has also extended to specialist school groups. The requirements for these students, though different from traditional schools, provided an opportunity to test the Protégé methodology within a school environment. One of the main concerns is the high drop-off rate of students once they leave a well-supported education environment. The types of sessions we employed, especially for these specialist school groups, were geared towards preparing them for post-graduate life.

Our ‘Hooker & Kew’ project focussed on explorer and botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker, who served as the Director of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, for 20 years. This choice was driven by our thinking that there is a high chance that these young people would not have come into contact or learned about Hooker as part of their curriculum, and secondly, the Protégé approach is such that we take someone with large-scale achievements and break them down in a way that is practical and applicable for our young people.

As a significant number of this cohort are approaching the school leaving age we worked closely with curators Cam Sharp Jones and Tom McCarter and learning head, Steve Crosby at Kew Gardens, and colleagues from pastoral support teams at the specialist school and mental health teams to develop course content so it also included ‘beyond school skills’ and workplace familiarity to increase the employability of young people who were considering their progression pathways. This was made possible by the flexible and supportive approach of our main partner Kew Gardens.

As a direct result of this project, 44 participants secured Arts Award accreditation in 2017 & 2018. For most of this group, this is their first and only formal qualification.

Project link: Hooker & Kew

National Lottery Awards

Protégé has been selected as a finalist in the National Lottery Awards

What is Protégé?

Protégé is a national initiative in which young people who are excluded from mainstream education work with artists and creative experts to design their own education.  It is an action research learning initiative developed by its founding Director, Sabita Kumari-Dass.

Why Protégé?

Too mad, too pregnant, too interesting, too complex, too recently arrived, too angry, too quiet - some of the different reasons why some talented kids were kicked out of school in recent years.

Protégé is a real life social experiment inspired by Leonardo da Vinci - based on the idea that if he were alive today – history's greatest polymath would struggle with the curriculum and probably be kicked out of school.

Globally, increasing numbers of children, including exceptionally talented ones are being excluded from school. If, like Leonardo, Einstein, Mozart and Edison they too could educate themselves, what might they become and what might we learn?

The Protégé experiment is with young people who have been declared by their own teachers as being 'exceptional' or 'different', but excluded because they are not responding well to traditional learning approaches.

Protégé both creates and documents the story of how we work with excluded young people to make the most of this radical opportunity. How we identify those who can really turn their exclusion and disadvantage into an opportunity and show us something useful about the ways we learn and teach.

With 100 million people moving around the world each year– difference is increasingly on our doorstep and in our classrooms – but education is not well equipped to respond to or acknowledge this, and a citizenship agenda to promote diversity and understanding is not a central priority of the curriculum.

The Protégé experiment is about nurturing and incubating the discarded raw talent of those who are falling through the gaps as society, family, schools, religious institutions struggle to stay in tune with a shifting world order. It's about seeing what happens when unique individuals are given the creative freedom to surprise, delight and shock us with their potential.

How are Protégé participants identified and recruited?

Working closely with a network of local authority inclusion teams, schools and other agencies dealing with alternative provision, we aim to identify excluded young people who, despite their circumstances and adversity, show signs of talent and individuality - be it through their passion, enquiring mind and curiosity, or through their untapped potential if not through proven academic achievement.

We steer clear of past performance and academic achievement as qualifying criteria. The Protégé x–factor is about spotting and nurturing 'eclectic curiosity' - however dampened it may have been by circumstance. The characteristic of creative thinkers (as documented by Guy Claxton and Bill Lucas in Be Creative, March 2004) is similar to the basis of criteria for selection into the Protégé programme, that is - resilience, resourcefulness, seeing and making connections, reflection and risk-taking, as well as the essential features of Leonardo da Vinci - his eclectic curiosity and passion. Sometimes these traits will not be instantly visible, so the purpose of Protégé is to look through a Leonardo-inspired lens at young people in whom these latent qualities may very well have been suppressed, but could be re-ignited through a nurturing and confidence-building approach.

Why Eclectic Curiosity?

The title 'Eclectic Curiosity' reflects the multi-dimensional nature of Leonardo da Vinci's breadth of interests and the progress of this programme of work. Eclectic Curiosity is founded in a belief that every child invents, and has a creative spark. The responsibility of education then is to devise a support structure where every child can ignite that spark. The enquiring mind of the young child pursues a myriad of observations and interests, but it is not clear what stimulates a particular temporary path of discovery. By exploring the context, influencing factors, and the signposts that guide a young person's curiosity, and by allowing the young learner to continue to explore experientially and according to their apparently serendipitous motivations we could learn a great deal about the acquisition of knowledge, skills and experience.

As it stands, the current emphasis on a structured curriculum-driven system of learning runs counter to eclecticism. The aim is to create a long-term engagement in which we jointly develop, with participants, an understanding of their lifestyles, abilities and aspirations. As self-directed learning is at the heart of this work, Protégé responds to the individual requirements of each participant, and respects the independence in learning and knowledge acquisition they might already be used to.