New: EEF publishes evaluation of arts based education programmes

Today the EEF has published the independent evaluations of five arts based education programmes, commissioned through a collaboration with the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) and with funding from Arts Council England (ACE) and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

The five programmes – which include whole-class music, drama sessions and illustration – were independently evaluated by a team from UCL Institute of Education and the Behavioural Insights Team through randomised controlled trials (RCTs).

The evaluations looked at their impact on academic attainment, as well as on skills and behaviours like communication, social skills, and creativity. While the EEF and the RSA believe that all children should have access to arts education opportunities for their own sake and the wider enrichment and enjoyment that they can bring, the focus of the trials was to get more information about whether these types of programmes can help pupils make more progress in reading and writing.

An overarching report – also published today – brings together the key findings and provides guidance to schools and arts organisations on the challenges and opportunities for evaluating cultural learning programmes.

It finds that:

Making substantial improvements to pupil attainment is an extremely challenging barrier to clear. In terms of their impact on literacy skills, the five trials had mixed results, but due to uncertainty in the estimates, it is difficult to say conclusively if the pupils taking part in the five interventions made more or less progress than a similar group of pupils who did not.

But including these types of programmes in the curriculum doesn’t prevent children making progress in literacy. The inconclusive findings do not mean that schools should not implement these programmes or discontinue programmes they already use. Improving pupil academic attainment is not the only reason for schools to implement arts-based interventions in schools and these findings show that they don’t prevent pupils from making progress.

Evaluating arts based education activities through RCTs is challenging. Building evidence of impact on attainment first requires an accumulation of evidence about how interventions affect their most direct, intermediate outcomes. More research is needed to understand how these activities are supposed to improve attainment, before we move to evaluate their impact at scale.

Commenting on today’s reports, Professor Becky Francis, CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“All children, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, deserve a well-rounded, culturally rich, education. But with schools increasingly accountable for the impact of all of their spending decisions on pupil attainment, we could do with knowing more about the relative benefits of different approaches and strategies.

“Today’s trials were commissioned to find out if arts based education programmes can help pupils make progress. While we’re unable to draw strong conclusions from the findings, they do tell us that including these programmes in the curriculum does not stop pupils making progress in literacy.

“No matter what causal link to attainment does – or doesn’t - exist, schools should still find space in their day to ensure all children benefit from a stimulating cultural education.”

Mark Londesborough, Head of Education for the RSA, said:

"The arts are critical to how schools help pupils develop a wide range of capabilities and improve their understanding of themselves and others. At a time when the pressure on headteachers to maintain good levels of progress in English, maths and science has been linked to reduced provision in the arts, it’s encouraging that these trials have found that arts-based approaches don’t stand in the way of progress in literacy. But they also provide evidence of other benefits, including that teaching through the arts can support children’s confidence and creativity as writers and that arts-based learning can inspire otherwise disengaged learners.

"We hope that these evaluations are an encouragement to arts-based learning providers to keep building our understanding of how this kind of activity can help children to flourish, in ever stronger partnership with the research community."

For further information, please contact Charlotte Bedford and Hilary Cornwell on media@eefoundation.org.uk

NOTES TO EDITORS:

1. The full report is available here.

2. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is an independent charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust, as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus, with a £125m founding grant from the Department for Education. The EEF is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement.

3. The RSA is an independent charity, committed to a future that works for everyone. A future where we can all participate in its creation. The RSA has been at the forefront of significant social impact for over 260 years. Our proven change process, rigorous research, innovative ideas platform and diverse global community of over 30,000 problem solvers, deliver solutions for lasting change.

4. The five arts based education programmes that were evaluated in this programme of work are:

OrganisationProjectNumber of settings (pupils)
Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE)The Power of Pictures101 (2,674)
Arvon, University of Exeter and Open UniversityThe Craft of Writing94 (2,604)
London BubbleSpeech Bubbles26 (1,006)
Paradigm ArtsThe Young Journalist Academy82 (2,137)
Tees Valley Music ServiceFirst Thing Music64 (3,004)