The future prospects of students (DfE, 2010).

The General Certificate of
Secondary Education, more commonly known as the GCSE, is an academic
qualification taken by 14-16 year old secondary school pupils across England,
Wales and Northern Ireland to mark their graduation from Key Stage 4 (Nidirect,
2018). There are a large variety of GCSE subjects, ranging from Sociology to
Spanish; however the majority of students take some of the core subjects: English,
maths, and science (Carroll and Gill, 2017).

In 2010, the English
Baccalaureate (EBacc) was introduced as a school performance measure (Armitage
and Lau, 2018) to encourage schools to offer an extensive set of academic
subjects throughout secondary school, in the hope of enhancing the future
prospects of students (DfE, 2010). The five sets of subjects required to
achieve the EBacc are: English, maths, science, history or geography, plus a
modern or ancient foreign language. There has since been even more emphasis on
subject choice, with Attainment 8 and Progress 8 performance measures
introduced last year (DfE, 2017), as well as the requirement of 90% of students
from cohorts after 2015 to enter the EBacc (DfE, 2015). Unfortunately, the
exclusion of the arts from the EBacc, and consequently limited options to
fulfil Progress 8 and Attainment 8, has caused the arts to reside at the bottom
of the priorities list. With increased pressure on the more rigorous core
academic subjects, coupled with ‘frozen’ funding per pupil; which translates
into a reduction of approximately 6.5% between 2015–16 and 2019–20 (Belfield,
Crawford and Sibieta, 2017), many schools are now encouraging students to turn
away from the arts.

This has led to the number of
students taking arts subjects at GCSE reaching its lowest point in a decade in
2015/16 (Turner, 2017), with provisional data for 2017 suggesting this trend
will continue (Johnes, 2017). In 2011, drama and performing arts were the most
common subjects (23%) to be dropped in schools which had withdrawn a subject,
closely followed by art (17%) (Greevy et al, 2012). One grammar school has recently
been found charging pupils £5 per week for their GCSE music lessons (Bennett,
2018), thus sparking outrage across the UK. The creative industries are the
fastest growing sector of the UK economy, worth around £92 billion, and the UK are
celebrated as world leaders in this field (Norris, 2018). So why is the talent
for this industry being cut off by an abandoning of creativity in education?

There has been a long debate as
to whether the arts have any impact on academic achievement for school children.
This paper will review the literature on the potential benefits of studying
arts for school children, both in the UK and worldwide, and evaluate the
strengths and weaknesses of this research. Suggestions for future research are

The effect of the arts on personal and social skills

argument that participation in the arts has benefits on academic attainment has
been ongoing and inconclusive for many years, with many studies discovering
mixed results. There has however been greater accepted research into the effects
of the arts on non-academic skills, such as self-esteem and wellbeing. Many
researchers, arts educatiors and policymakers are passionate about the arts and
believe they are fundametal to human expression, and shouldn’t need to be
beneficial to more academic subjects to be accepted. Eisner wrote in his famous
paper that we must ‘interpret what arts education can contribute to the young’
instead of focusing on what they can contribute to other subjects such as English
and maths (Eisner,
1998). Welch (2012) insists that the arts offer just as much importance as the
science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) subjects, and the emphasis
of the arts within the curriculum should match that of STEM subjects. There has
been a number of positive studies looking into the effects of playing an
instrument in primary and secondary school. Degé and Schwarzer (2017) found
that children who took part in a year of extended music curriculum (EMC)
reported a higher academic self concept of statistical significance when
compared to those who did not attend. Other studies have found an association
between participation in the arts and adaptive skills such as creative thinking
(Moga et al., 2000), self-esteem (Camilleri, 2000) and self-efficiacy (Root
Wilson, 2009).

individually these studies present fairly weak evidence, due to small sample
sizes and generalisation, taken together they provide agreed conclusions, and
suggest that there is a potential for future research to be pursued.

has been some large scale studies using correlational analysis of psychometric
data; knowledge
(e.g. scores on a test), abilities, attitudes, and personality traits (Ramsay,
2001), to investigate the effects the arts may have on social and personal
skills, and whether this may lead to the development of transferable cognitive
skills (Boyes and Reid, 2005). One example of this is Wylie (1979) who
attempted to correlate psychometric measures of self-esteem with means of
assessing creative ability and success (e.g. nominations by teachers, or scores
on creativity tests). Wylie concluded that these associations did exist, and
the analysed results could be used to predict trends, however the the majority
of the data was inconclusive. A similar and conclusive study in search of a
connection between intelligence, creativity, art judgement, and academic
achievement found  positive correlations
between all four psychometric measurements (Washington, 1988). It was concluded
that the experiences of an arts education gave students curiosity and
opportunities to self express.

and Hetland (2008) decided to look in to the modes of thinking that are taught
by the arts, following a greater focus on high test scores and disregard to
life skills. They observed five visual arts classrooms from two schools in Boston
over an academic year and analysed pupils behaviour and interactions, and
carried out interviews with both students and staff. Interestingly, not only
did students gain arts skills, as expects, they were also taught a variety of
mental habits such as self-criticism, experimentalisation, and reflection. This
was so important as these skills were not emphasized elsewhere within the
school, therefore many students could be left without these abilities which are
vital for future careers.


has been a large focus in the area of music in the last twenty years, with many
studies finding positive effects of music training on both academic and
non-academic skills across a range of school ages (See and Kokotsaki, 2016).
A meta-analysis of twenty six studies of american schools identified a causal
relationships between listening to music and spatial temporal reasoning (Hetland and Winner, 2001),
an important cognitive power. However, most of these studies were
correlational, therefore relationships could only be inferred; the very few
experimental studies also lacked randomisation. 

recent study conducted in the United States included 207 10-14 year olds, who
completed a number of questionnaires and assessments relating to
health-enhancing behaviours and self-efficacy (Root Wilson, 2009). The results
suggested that the students who were involved in music programmes reported
significantly higher levels of health enhancing behaviors (e.g. exercise,
healthy diet, and sleep) than non-music students for one school. There were however
limitations to this study, one being that the data was acquired via self
reports, therefore response bias may have occurred, thus affecting the validity
and reliability.


Can participation in the arts lead to increased academic achievement?

there has been accepted research into the economical and social importance of
the arts, recent studies into the academic benefits of studying the arts
alongside more traditional subjects have been sparce and inconclusive. Many of
these studies have either been carried out in the United States or remain
unpublished, therefore it can be difficult to accomplish any conclusive
results. Nevertheless, these papers could prove useful in identifying factors
that could relate to school children in the UK. Hetland and Winners (2001)
meta-analysis of 80 reports found causal links between participation in class
drama lessons and verbal skills, such as oral understanding, written
understanding and recall of stories. These literacy skills are highly valued
and may assist pupils in their English classes and examinations.

study that investigated a combination of four longitudinal studies in America
ranging from 1988-2008 established a positive correlation between a students
academic success and their involvement in the arts (Catterall et al, 2012). The
study followed children from the ages of 5 to 26 from low socioeconomical
status (SES) backgrounds, and found that those who had in-depth involvement or
learning in the arts were more likely to achieve better grades and enroll in
college, and showed more positive outcomes than peers not engaged in the arts,
whether they be of a low SES or not.

(1994) also used correlation to identify relationships between creativity and
academic achievement. Using the Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient,
Stumm established that scores on a creativity test (the Torrance Test of Creativity
scores (Torrance, 1966)) could be used as a predictor of academic ability, thus
suggesting that these two factors are interacting and not separate skills.

has also been some unpublished theses on this topic, for example Glismann
(1967) found that when comparing maths achievement between students who
participated in arts and crafts and those that did not, students who did
participate made ‘gains’ that were statistically significant.

a different note, a paper by Eisner (1998), and subsequent ‘response’ papers by
Catterall (1998),  talk more of the
possible oversimplification of declarations made fromstudies – that students
who participate in the arts are found to be academically adept due to the
skills acquired through the arts. Eisner wonders whether those who studied the
arts throughout their childhood have the same academic background as those who
did not participate in any arts – a factor not controlled in many of the older

Why can’t studing the arts as a well-rounded education be enough?

With research focusing on the academic or instrumental
purposes for the arts, some are worried that the appreciation of arts related
outcomes from arts education will be overlooked (Catterall, 1998). With the
EBacc focusing on a ‘rigorous academic core’ with rigour often interpreted as
perceived importance (Armitage and Lau, 2018); it is no surprise that those in
arts education feel as if they are fighting a losing battle. Many feel as
though the EBacc ignores curricular qualities such as critical thinking and
creativity, qualities which the arts are rich in, which is unfair to the
younger generation (Welch, 2012). But the arts have shown to provide children
with skills they will require later in life, skills that are not emphasized in
a ‘knowledge based’ curriculum where teachers are under pressure to produce
high test results from their students.

Myerscough’s (1988) work investigating the economic
significance of the arts in the UK was pioneering in opening up research into
the importance of the arts. Although funding was increased following the
report, it was still highly controversial and criticised by cultural economists
(Belfiore, 2003). Nevertheless, Myerscough found that 99% of his participants
reported that they observed encouraging community benefits in the arts. There
has since been many studies based on economic impact from the arts, Matarasso
(1997) looked into how the arts can play a role in community redevelopment.

Mussoline (1993) carried out a qualitative study in which
she analysed a vast collection of interview and observation data from a number
of schools to find that children find the arts a ‘joyful experience’,
regardless of academic ability. Two years later, Harland et al. (1995) carried
out interviews with 700 14-24 year olds, who were interviewed to gain a wealth
of information about young people’s experiences, thoughts, and attitudes
towards the arts.


of the studies surrounding this topic, the possible benefits of participating
in the arts,are greatly limited due to high proportion of correlational data,
self report methods, and sample sizes. There is a noticeable gap in the
literature for large scale qualitative studies which can be analysed and a
causal relationship identified. Although for many the arts are fundamental to
human expression, culture,and ethics, and thus should not need justification in
the English National Curriculum, it may be possible that the only way to stop
the neglect of the arts is to provide solid evidence that the arts are
beneficial to ‘core’ subjects.