Act, Sing, Play

Act, Sing, Play

Testing the link between music instruction and academic attainment.

The project

Act, Sing, Play (ASP) offered music and drama tuition to Year 2 pupils. The aim of the programme was to evaluate whether music workshops had a bigger impact than drama workshops in terms of pupils’ maths and literacy attainment. The evaluation was based on the hypothesis that participation in high-quality music instruction promotes educational attainment over and above instruction in other artistic pursuits (see Schellenberg, 2004).

The ASP programme was developed specifically for this trial and ran from September 2013 to June 2014: 909 pupils participated in 19 schools across London, Essex, Sussex and Coventry. In each participating Year 2 class, pupils were randomly allocated to one of three groups: violin or cello workshops (ASP-strings), singing lessons (ASP-singing), or drama workshops (ASP-drama). The two music groups (strings and singing) represented the treatment arms of the trial. Students in the ASP-drama workshops represented the control. Each workshop had around 10 students. Workshops were held once a week over 32 weeks. The programme was delivered by Creative Futures, funded by the Education Endowment Foundation, and independently evaluated by NatCen.

Key conclusions

  • This evaluation provides no evidence that ASP-music workshops had a greater impact on maths or literacy attainment than ASP-drama workshops.

  • Analysis of students receiving free school meals similarly found no evidence that ASP-music workshops had a greater impact on maths or literacy than ASP-drama workshops.

  • The process evaluation suggested that some tutors—particularly those with less experience of teaching groups of primary school children—needed more guidance on how to run their sessions.

  • Although not necessarily typical, there were related concerns that some strings workshops struggled to keep students focussed on learning music.

  • Class teachers reported that confidence and social skills had improved for some pupils. Teachers also felt it was important that children from disadvantaged backgrounds had the opportunity to learn a new skill that they might otherwise not be able to access.

Security rating

Findings from this trial have a high degree of security. The trial was set up as a randomised control trial, with pupil-level randomisation. The trial was classified as an effectiveness trial, meaning that it sought to test whether the intervention can work at scale, and in situations where the developers are no longer the only deliverers. Before the trial started, there was a good balance of pupil characteristics between the group receiving music workshops and those receiving drama workshops (the control group). The attrition was low: in total, results from 814 pupils were assessed compared to 909 pupils who began the project (attrition of 10%). There was no evidence that systematic attrition had biased the results. There were some minor threats reported to the validity of intervention protocol. The security rating of 4 padlocks fits with the overall output of this report.


  • This evaluation found no evidence that the ASP-music workshops had a greater impact than the ASP-drama workshops in terms of maths or literacy attainment. Although small effects (positive and negative) were identified during the analysis, it could not be concluded that these effects were anything other than random chance. Each of the two different types of music workshop (strings and singing) was also analysed separately. As was the case with the main analysis, neither strings nor singing workshops showed evidence of out-performing drama workshops in advancing maths or literacy attainment.
  • Similarly, there was no evidence that, among pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM), music workshops had an impact on attainment when compared to the control group (ASP-drama). Again, effect sizes were close to zero, indicating that disadvantaged children did not particularly benefit from music instruction relative to drama workshops.
  • Interviews with school staff and workshop tutors suggested that there were differences in the way the programme was implemented by different tutors, reflecting the flexible nature of the programme. Tutors valued the ability to choose flexible approaches to music tuition. However, the process evaluation suggested that some tutors—particularly those with less experience of teaching groups of primary school children—needed more guidance on how to run their sessions. This led to related concerns that in some of the strings workshops, it was a struggle to keep students on task.
  • In general, the process evaluation suggested that pupils enjoyed participating in the program, and were engaged. Teachers also reported that some pupils’ confidence and social-skills improved during the program.
  • Last, it is important to reiterate that the design of this trial only allows for comparisons between music and drama workshops. This design was chosen for several reasons, including the fact that a previous study (Schellenberg, 2004) had found that music tuition increased attainment over and above other creative pursuits. This present study, which involved a much larger sample than Schellenberg, was unable to replicate this result.

How much does it cost?

The Act, Sing, Play programme had financial costs relating to tutor training, travel, purchase of musical instruments, and other resources associated with delivering the programme. Overall, the total financial cost to schools, for the programme to be delivered for one academic year, was £5,980 per class. This equates to around £219 per pupil per year. Costs in subsequent years will be less as the cost of musical instruments would not be repeated every year. The program imposed a low cost in terms of teacher time. In many instances, when children were at the workshops, teachers gained a period to focus on other responsibilities.

Test domain Group Effect size (95% CI) Progress compared to drama Evidence Strength** Cost
Maths* MUSIC workshops compared to drama workshops 0.003 (-0.01 to 0.10) 0 months £ £ £ £ £
Literacy* MUSIC workshops compared to drama workshops 0.03 (-0.07 to 0.13) 0 months £ £ £ £ £
*Standardised PIPs score