RSA Report: The impact of arts-based education

The RSA’s final report on the Learning About Culture project is published. It explores what we can learn from the five evaluations of arts and cultural activities in schools commissioned by the RSA and the Education Endowment Foundation, and the RSA’s work to support evidence-rich practice in arts-based education.

This report provides an overview of the RSA’s Learning About Culture project, that began in 2017. The project aimed to improve the evidence base for the impact of arts-based learning on academic outcomes and improve the use of evidence and evaluation in arts-based education.

The paper makes three high-level recommendations for policymakers and practitioners.

1. Schools should maintain an arts-rich curriculum

The evaluation results indicate that teaching through the arts does not get in the way of children’s progress in literacy. In addition, arts-based approaches provide children and teachers with many other benefits, only some of which are linked to attainment. Doing the arts well in school depends on school-wide commitment, championed at senior leadership level. 

2. Advocacy for the arts in education should build on moves in education policy that encourage breadth and balance, rather than focus on generalised claims of impact on attainment.

Impact on pupil attainment isn’t the main reason why schools and cultural sector practitioners provide arts-based learning. The results of the LAC trials leave us no more certain about a causal relationship between arts participation and improved attainment and suggest that making the case for the arts in schools based on impact on attainment can be confusing for schools. In the context of policy moves towards a broader scope for assessing the quality of school curricula and in the post-Covid context where interest in pupil wellbeing has come to the fore, the importance of demonstrating impact on attainment is waning.  

3. Funders of arts-based education should support and encourage stronger relationships between practitioners and the research and evaluation community.

Arts-based learning is often expected by practitioners to facilitate, rather than be the direct cause of improvements in educational outcomes, but this process is not well-enough understood. More research is needed to understand how and when arts-based approaches create a supportive context for improved educational outcomes. Engagement between the practice and research communities can lead to mutual learning and better designed activities, but practitioners can feel intimidated in the unfamiliar milieu of research.

Download the report here