eBASE, effective basic services:Arts participation

Arts participation

Moderate impact for low cost based on moderate evidence
Implementation cost
Evidence strength
Impact (months)

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. Arts-based approaches may be used in other areas of the curriculum, such as the use of drama to develop engagement and oral language before a writing task. 

Participation may be organised as regular weekly or monthly activities, or more intensive programmes such as summer schools or residential courses. Whilst these activities, of course, have important educational value in themselves, this Toolkit entry focuses on the benefits of Arts participation for core academic attainment in other areas of the curriculum particularly literacy and mathematics.

1. Arts participation approaches can have a positive impact on academic outcomes in other areas of the curriculum.

2. The research here summarises the impact of arts participation on academic outcomes. It is important to remember that arts engagement is valuable in and of itself and that the value of arts participation should be considered beyond maths or English outcomes.

3. If the aim of the arts approach is to improve academic attainment it is important to identify the link between your chosen arts intervention and the outcomes you want to improve.

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

Overall, the average impact of arts participation on other areas of academic learning appears to be positive but moderate, about an additional three months progress. 

Improved outcomes have been identified in English, mathematics and science. Benefits have been found in both primary and secondary schools.

Some arts activities have been linked with improvements in specific outcomes. For example, there is some evidence of the impact of drama on writing and potential link between music and spatial awareness.

Wider benefits such as more positive attitudes to learning and increased well-being have also consistently been reported.

Some qualitative studies on the importance of arts education in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) reveal an increase in positive student attitudes toward their learning. Studies in Botswana, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa suggest that engagement in the arts can increase pupil’s perceptions of their cognitive, communication and critical judgement skills. A study conducted in South Africa suggests that arts education may contribute to the social-emotional skills of economically disadvantaged students by supporting their self-esteem, optimism and perseverance.

  • Impact is similar for both primary and secondary school pupils.

  • Effects tend to be higher for writing and mathematics than reading.

Arts participation relates to a broad range of subjects including traditional fine arts, theatre, dance, poetry, and creative writing. It also includes teaching strategies which explicitly include arts elements, such as drama-based pedagogy.

Some components of arts education approaches might include:

  • Explicit teaching of creative skills and techniques.
  • Opportunities for pupils to practice, reflect on their strengths and identify areas for improvement.
  • Access to materials, equipment, extra-curricular activities and cultural experiences.

Arts education may be organised as regular lessons or monthly activities, after school clubs, small group or one-on-one tuition or whole school approaches. Activities can also be delivered through more intensive programmes such as summer schools or residential courses.

Overall costs are estimated to vary from low to moderate depending on the type of provision. Costs may include teacher professional development, the cost of materials or equipment, and teacher time to plan and deliver of arts activities.

Costs are greater where activities fall outside of the school day or involve small group or 1:1 tuition from specialist teachers.

Implementing arts education will require a small amount of additional staff time compared with other approaches as it is part of the core curriculum. Arts activities may also involve professional artists, certified drama or music teachers.

Alongside time and cost, school leaders should consider how to maximise professional development needs of staff to effectively integrate arts activities (such as drama, visual arts or music) in the classroom and evaluate their impact on pupil outcomes.

The security of the evidence around Arts Participation is rated as moderate. 80 studies were identified. The topic lost a padlock because a large percentage of the studies were not independently evaluated. Evaluations conducted by organisations connected with the approach – for example, commercial providers, typically have larger impacts, which may influence the overall impact.

There are no high-quality experimental studies on the impact of arts participation on educational outcomes in SSA. Most of the studies, which have demonstrated the positive outcomes of arts education, are qualitative or single studies. Local evidence is therefore very limited with additional research being required to build the evidence base locally and explore effective implementation.

As with any evidence review, the Toolkit summarises the average impact of approaches when researched in academic studies. It is important to consider your context and apply your professional judgement when implementing an approach in your setting.

Evidence strength
Number of studies80
Review last updatedJuly 2021