Arts participation


Low impact for low cost, based on moderate evidence.

Cost Per Pupil Cost estimate: Up to £170 per pupil per year. cost per pupil
Evidence Rating Evidence estimate: Two or more rigorous meta-analyses. evidence rating Average impact: + 2 additional months. Impact +2 months

What is it?

Arts participation is involvement in terms of performance and creation in artistic and creative extra-curricular activities, such as dance, drama, music, painting, sculpture. Participation may be organised as regular weekly or monthly activities or more intensive programmes such as summer schools or residential courses.

How effective is it?

Overall the impact on academic learning tends to be low, though greater effects have been identified for younger learners of primary school age in terms of impact on cognitive tests. Wider benefits on attitudes and well-being have also consistently been reported. 

There is reasonably consistent but weak evidence that participation in artistic and creative activities is beneficial. Outcomes have been identified from arts participation in terms of impact on English, mathematics and science learning in school at both primary and secondary school level. Specific benefits are linked with some particular activities (such as spatial awareness and music for example). There is some evidence that younger learners may benefit more from these approaches.

How secure is the evidence?

There are a number of systematic reviews and meta-analyses which have found small benefits for arts participation. However, these vary according to the detail of the approach and the age group targeted so the effects are hard to generalise and not conclusive.

What are the costs?

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.

What should I consider?

  • The research evidence shows a wide range of effects from 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?