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Education policy-makers and schools are adopting an increasingly evidence-based approach to teaching and learning, and the cultural sector needs better evidence about the value of the arts in schools, says Holly Donagh, Partnerships Director at A New Direction, on the Arts Professional website .
Two respected reports, the Education Endowment Foundation’s (EEF) 2016 report ‘Impact of arts education on the cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes of school-aged children’ and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) report in 2013, ‘Art for Art’s Sake: The Impact of Arts Education’, both call into question the basic tenets of the existing arts in education research base.
The bottom line is that the evidence that exists is not rigorous enough to be trusted and what is left is not particularly compelling when put in the context of other interventions. This is the case not only for academic impacts but also for behavioural or non-cognitive impacts.
In order to change this perception, Holly Donagh, partnerships director at A New Direction, lists three areas that she believes the cultural sector should engage with when conducting arts in education research:
1) Mechanism: many of the studies considered in the EEF report look at the impact of the arts on non-arts outcomes (eg visual arts supporting maths achievement). This approach is debunked in the OECD report. To understand the true impact in education the sector needs to spend longer thinking about the mechanism by which the arts impact on different factors and in what timeframe, with what intervention (which might in turn be linked to attainment or non-cognitive outcomes).
2) Design: the EEF says most studies looking at arts impact are weak or poor in terms of research design. We need to be intentional in our interventions and work at scale and across long time spans.
3) Quality: defining academic and non-academic outcomes may have distracted us from defining quality in arts education, and how this might be distinctive from arts in other contexts.
Ms Donagh concludes that the sector must make as coherent, reliable and compelling a case for the arts as it can before schools walk away from offering rigorous arts education within curriculum time.
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