What is it?
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 programs 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 achievement.
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 students.
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.
A 2011 review of arts in schools was commissioned by the Northern Territory Department for Education and Training. The authors noted that, in Australia, few large-scale research studies have looked at the causal impact of the arts on academic achievement.
Since then, there has been only one article examining the relationship between arts participation and standardised measures of academic achievement. One Australian study examined the impact of arts participation on the academic performance of students in ten New South Wales primary schools in highly disadvantaged settings. The lack of Australasian-based studies on the topic may be due to the variability in the type and number of interventions, which poses difficulties for providing evidence of impact. The available studies tend to focus on students in disadvantaged settings.
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.
What are the costs?
Costs vary considerably from junior drama groups with small performances (estimated at $10 per student), through to organised dance groups for young people ($175 per class per session) to high quality music tuition ($100 per student per hour). On average, costs are estimated at $280 per student per year, though some activities would be considerably more expensive. Overall, costs are estimated as low.
What should I consider?
The research evidence shows a wide range of effects from the programs 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?
Improvements in learning appear to be more achievable with younger learners.
The evidence supporting the academic impact of learning to play an instrument is particularly promising.
Arts-based approaches may offer a route to re-engage older students in learning, but this does not always translate into better achievement. How will you use increased engagement to improve teaching and learning for these students?
Arts interventions have educational value in themselves, but they are not, on average, a highly effective way to raise core academic achievement.