Evidence for Learning: Arts Participation

Arts Participation

A summary of the research evidence on arts participation in the Australasian context.

The Teaching & Learning Toolkit focuses on impact; it presents an estimate of the average impact of arts participation on learning progress, based on the synthesis of a large number of quantitative studies from around the world.

This page offers a summary and analysis of individual Australasian studies on arts participation. In contrast to the Toolkit it includes studies which do not estimate impact, but instead investigate the implementation of interventions and how they are perceived by school leaders, teachers and students. This information is valuable for school leaders and teachers interested in finding out more about particular examples of arts participation interventions that have been delivered in Australia and New Zealand.

This Australasian Research Summary was generated by Melbourne Graduate School of Education in 2016.

Arts participation is defined as involvement in artistic and creative activities, such as dance, drama, music, painting or sculpture. It can occur either as an additional part of the curriculum or as extra-curricular activities. Participation may be organised as regular weekly or monthly activities or more intensive programs such as summer schools or residential courses.

In an Australasian context, there remains very little examination of the impact of arts participation on students’ academic outcomes (Harris & Ammermann, 2015), with only one post-2008 article comparing Arts participation to standardised measures of academic achievement (Vaughan & Caldwell, 2014).

The lack of Australian-based studies examining the impact of arts interventions on academic achievement may be due to the variability in the type and number of interventions, which poses difficulties for deriving statistically significant data to provide evidence of impact (Ewing, 2011). Harris and Ammermann (2015) argue for a need to quantify creativity and its presence in schools, and track its implications for teacher education, policy development, curriculum and pedagogy. Despite these challenges, the available research suggests that the Arts in education impact positively on academics, engagement and learning, as well as student self-esteem, collaboration, emotional communication and social skills; for Indigenous communities, the introduction of the arts into the curriculum can lead to greater attendance and subsequently greater academic achievement (Ewing, 2011).

Vaughan and Caldwell (2014) used a quasi-experimental model to examine the impact of The Song Room (TSR) program participation on the academic performance of students in 10 New South Wales primary schools in highly disadvantaged settings. This study built on an initial report produced for TSR (Vaughan, Harris & Caldwell, 2011). The participating students were divided into three groups: 1) longer-term TSR (12−18 months, n=109); 2) initial TSR (6 months, n=140); 3) control (non-TSR, n=121). Students in TSR programs outperformed non-TSR students in school achievement tests (Literacy, d=0.77) and in NAPLAN (d=0.79). The gain in achievement in reading is approximately 1 year. This effect is larger than those observed for most education interventions. In addition, a higher proportion of students in TSR programs demonstrated much higher levels of Social-Emotional Wellbeing and resilience in comparison to their non-TSR counterparts.

Mansour (2013) investigated the link between school, home and community arts participation and students’ academic and non-academic outcomes. A survey was used to measure in-school arts tuition, arts engagement, parent-child arts interaction, home-based arts resources, receptive arts participation, active arts participation, and external arts tuition. These measures were combined with psychological wellbeing. Results from fifteen Australian primary and secondary schools were recorded at two time points, n=1,172 at time point one and n=1,162 at time point two, as well as longitudinally (n=643). While the link between arts participation and non-academic outcomes was clear through the study, the impact on academic outcomes is less conclusive. Further analysis of the longitudinal data by Martin, Mansour, Anderson, Gibson, Liem and Sudmalis (2013) found that school‑, home‑, and community-based arts participation factors influenced non-academic measures even after socio-demographic and prior achievement factors were accounted for. However, the measures of academic outcomes in this study were motivations and engagement, which do not directly indicate the impact of arts participation on academic achievement.

Relatedly, McFerran and Crooke (2014) conducted an Australian case study on the implementation of a string ensemble program in a low socio-economic school and found substantial changes in attitudes and community engagement. While a best practice model for arts-based education has been explored (McMahon, Klopper & Power, 2015), the impact of such a model on academic outcomes remains unknown.

Ewing, R. (2011). The arts and Australian education: Realising potential. Retrieved from the ACER Website: http://research.acer.edu.au/aer/11

Harris, A., & Ammermann, M. (2015). The changing face of creativity in Australian education. Teaching Education, 27(1), 103 – 113.

Mansour, M. (2013). The role of school, home, and community Arts participation in students’ academic and non-academic outcomes (Doctoral thesis, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia). Retrieved from: http://hdl.handle.net/2123/11680

Martin, A. J., Mansour, M., Anderson, M., Gibson, R., Liem, G. A., & Sudmalis, D. (2013). The Role of Arts Participation in Students’ Academic and Nonacademic outcomes: A Longitudinal Study of School, Home, and Community Factors. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(3), 709 – 727.

McFerran, K. S., & Crooke, A. H. D. (2014). Enabling Tailored Music Programs in Elementary Schools: An Australian Exemplar. Journal of Education and Training Studies, 2(4), 138 – 147.

McMahon, A., Klopper, C., & Power, B. (2015). Excellence in Arts Based Education – One School’s Story. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 16(5), 1 – 23.

Vaughan, T., & Caldwell, B. (2014). Improving Literacy Through the Arts. In G. Barton (Ed.), Literacy in the Arts (pp. 203 – 214). Cham, New York: Springer.

Vaughan, T., Harris, J., & Caldwell, B. (2011). Bridging the gap in school achievement through the arts: Summary report. Retrieved from: https://www.songroom.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Bridging-the-Gap-in-School-Achievement-through-the-Arts.pdf

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Arts in education; arts/​fine arts/​performing arts participation; arts/​fine arts/​performing arts; music education; drama education; dance education.