IT is known that performing arts boost confidence in youngsters and give opportunities to travel, perform and meet new people.

But what is arguably lesser discussed is the benefits of the arts on academic and social skills.

Ofsted inspectors recently praised a Winchester dance organisation which works with young people who have offended or are at risk of offending, have been excluded from mainstream education, or are in local authority care.

The Wessex Dance Academy 12-week programme aims to transform the lives of 14-18-year-olds through dance.

It is run in partnership with Hampshire County Council’s Children’s Services, its youth offending team and the Hampshire Cultural Trust.

The national reoffending rate for those leaving custody is 70 per cent, however the rate for those that have engaged with the project is just 34 per cent.

Speaking in March, Cllr Keith Mans, deputy leader and executive lead member for children’s services at the county council, said he is extremely pleased that Ofsted has hailed the programme as a leading example of how to turn young people’s lives around.

“The dance academy provides young people with a unique opportunity and a motivational focus for their lives, helping them find out just what they are capable of achieving through hard work, dedication and commitment,” he said.

“This is an innovative project that is proving to be tremendously successful, having a significantly, positive impact on the young people involved.”

Those that complete the course receive an Open College Network qualification at level one or two.

Winchester’s Theatre Royal has recently launched its Young Critic programme, which aims to enhance young people’s academic and social skills.

It encourages those aged 25 and under to attend performances and write critically, as well as receive mentoring from professionals.

Lyn Gardner (The Guardian), Kris Hallet (WhatsonStage) and Mark Shenton (The Stage) have all thrown their weight behind it and agreed to mentor writers.

Organiser and founder, Carl Woodward, said: “Media is changing so much there are fewer opportunities to write about anything and get paid and there’s new ways of getting into the industry.

“We want to open the door and get young people involved.”

He said the programme now makes a monthly contribution to The Big Issue, giving youngsters the chance to see their work in print.

He added: “I have seen improvements in confidence from participants, I have seen their social skills develop and seen them think about things differently, and the impact it has had on their writing.”

His thoughts are echoed by two Barton Peveril College students, who said their lifetime involvement with drama and music has taught them sociology, history and how to build relationships with others.

Former Westgate School pupil Felicia Gray, 17, studies A Levels in music, drama and theatre studies at the Eastleigh campus.

She said: “Since I have been doing more performing my confidence has improved so much, I was shy before.

“You’ve got to bond with people and spend more time with them and learn about working in a team. It’s like emotional skydiving with a stranger!”

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Alongside friend Jack Shaw-Downie (above), she is in the throes of rehearsing for the summer production Les Miserables (Schools Edition) but thinks she has learnt more than her lines.

“You get to learn about the French Revolution and the social issues of that period. It’s really cool,” she said.

“It’s not really like work,” Jack, 18, said. “You do it because you love it and although it may be full-on and intense I would not change it for one minute.”

Jack, who studies a BTEC in performing arts (musical theatre) and A Levels in drama and theatre arts, English literature and Spanish, said he has learnt the value of dedication and commitment.

“It’s not just four and a half hours of work in class,” he said.

“Because you are doing so much it requires commitment. Some of the themes [in Les Miserables] are not every day or common. Some of it’s very heavy and there are a lot of serious themes in it - as a company we have to work together. It’s not easy.

“It takes dedication and you have to be strong.

“You are with like minded people so it’s good to share the experience with other people who get the same enjoyment out of it that you do.”

Barton Peveril College is staging Les Miserables at Winchester’s Theatre Royal on June 25-27.