Arts participation is defined as involvement in artistic and creative activities, such as dance, drama, music, painting, or sculpture. It can occur either as part of the curriculum or as extra-curricular activity. Participation may be organised as regular weekly or monthly activities, or more intensive programmes such as summer schools or residential courses. Whilst these activities have educational value in themselves, this Toolkit entry focuses on the benefits of arts participation for core academic attainment.
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. Benefits have been found in both primary and secondary schools, with greater effects on average for younger learners and, in some cases, for disadvantaged pupils.
Some arts activities have been linked with improvements in specific outcomes. For example, there is some evidence of a positive link between music and spatial awareness and between drama and writing.
Wider benefits such as more positive attitudes to learning and increased well-being have also consistently been reported.
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. The two months’ progress figure reflects this pattern of findings.The evidence quality is rated as moderate because although there are five reviews, and they are based on experimental studies, effect sizes vary quite a lot.
A recent systematic review of arts education studies, conducted for the EEF, concluded that there were no individual studies of sufficient quality to establish that the intervention actually caused the reported effect. The summary presented here is based on a number of reviews, which, on average, suggest such interventions have a small positive impact. If the quality of studies included in those reviews is unusually low, then the average months progress reported here may be hard to achieve in practice.
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 (more than £1,500 per year for a weekly session). Overall costs are estimated as low.
The research evidence shows a wide range of effects from the programmes studied. What is the link between your chosen arts intervention and the outcomes you want to improve, and how will you tell if it’s successful?
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?
Arts interventions have educational value in themselves, but they are not, on average, a highly effective way to raise core academic attainment.