Arts participation

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. 

How effective is it?

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.

How secure is the evidence?

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, based on experimental studies, effect sizes vary widely. 

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. 

What are the costs?

Costs vary considerably from junior drama groups with small annual subscriptions (about £20) and 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.

What should I consider?

Before you implement this strategy in your learning environment, consider the following:

  1. 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?

  2. Improvements in learning appear to be more achievable with younger learners.

  3. The evidence supporting the academic impact of learning to play an instrument is particularly promising.

  4. Arts-based approaches may offer a route to re-engage older pupils in learning, but this does not always translate into better attainment. How will you use increased engagement to improve teaching and learning for these pupils?

  5. Arts interventions have educational value in themselves, but they are not, on average, a highly effective way to raise core academic attainment.