Arts participation is defined as involvement in artistic and creative activities, such as dance, drama, music, painting, or sculpture. It can occur either as an additional part of the curriculum or as extra-curricular activities. Participation may be organised as regular weekly or monthly activities or more intensive programmes such as summer schools or residential courses.
Overall, the impact of arts participation on academic learning appears to be positive but low. Improved outcomes have been identified in English, mathematics and science learning. Benefits have also been found in both primary and secondary schools, though on average greater effects have been identified for younger learners.
In some cases, specific arts activities have been linked with benefits on particular outcomes. For example, there is some evidence of a positive link between music and spatial awareness. Wider benefits on attitudes to learning and well-being have also consistently been reported.
There are a number of systematic reviews and meta-analyses which have found small benefits for arts participation. However, these effects vary according to the type of approach and the age group targeted, so are hard to generalise.
A recent systematic review conducted for the EEF found no individual studies that passed a high benchmark for their security and convincingly demonstrated that arts participation had an impact on attainment. This Toolkit strand synthesizes meta-analyses, and gives a general picture of the pattern of findings in the literature.
Costs vary considerably from junior drama groups with small annual subscriptions (about £20), through organised dance groups for young people at about £5 per session to high quality music tuition at about £35 per hour. Costs are estimated at £150 per year, though it should be noted that some activities would be considerably more expensive (e.g. nearer £1,500 for individual music tuition). Overall costs are estimated as low.
The research evidence shows a wide range of effects from the programmes studied, suggesting that achieving learning gains from arts programmes is not straightforward.
Benefits for learning appear to be more achievable with younger learners, with some promising evidence supporting the academic impact of programmes which develop skills in music performance in particular.
Arts-based approaches may offer a route to re-engage older learners in school.
The transfer of learning to the classroom is not automatic and needs further exploration. For example, how can you encourage pupils to apply their learning from arts participation to more formal contexts?