A PILOT scheme featuring trips to the theatre and sporting activities for Darlington children from challenging backgrounds looks set to be extended for three years after it was concluded the initiative had improved the youngsters’ wellbeing.

Darlington Borough Council’s Cabinet will consider using the £208,000 remaining from the sale of the Darlington Arts Centre site and the Eastbourne School site to help pupils at four primary schools and two secondary schools in the borough.

Councillors will be told the scheme is a response to longstanding challenges facing North-East schools around the transition from primary to secondary, leading to poor GCSE scores.

An officers’ report to the council’s leaders states pupils from Corporation Road Primary School and Longfield Academy took part in a ten-week pilot programme in the summer term, titled In2.

It aimed to use sport and the arts as early intervention tools to address aspiration, behavioural and health and wellbeing challenges in children, and in particular those unlikely to get access to cultural and sporting activities without outside intervention.

The project saw children take part in theatre workshops before being taken to Darlington Hippodrome and The Hullabaloo to watch productions such as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and Horrible Histories and learn how to play colourful plastic brass instruments before marching in the Darlington Community Carnival.

Officers said while the initiative had been well-received and appeared to have produced tangible benefits. Studies had shown children from disadvantaged backgrounds are three times more likely to develop mental health problems, including depression, than the rest of the population.

A report to the Cabinet states: “Children from the most disadvantaged communities also generally have the lowest access to leisure activities outside of school and this is compounded by the increasing disappearance of arts and sports from the academic curriculum.”