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Durham University

School of Education

Research Projects

Publication details

See, B. H. & Kokotsaki, D. (2015). Impact of arts education on the cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes of school-aged children. A review of evidence. School of Education. Durham, Education Endowment Foundation.

Author(s) from Durham


This literature review was commissioned by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) to assess the
evidence of impact of arts education on cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes of children from pre-school
to compulsory school age (ages 3 to 16). In this review, we considered arts education to include a broad
range of subjects including the traditional fine arts (e.g. visual arts, music, dance, performing arts, theatre
and dance) as well as modern dance and movement, hip hop, poetry and creative writing.
The EEF was looking to identify arts activities that have evidence of promise, as well as an overview of
those where the results are inconclusive or which have not been evaluated. The summary results in this
section pull together all the studies to arrive at an overall judgment of the strength of evidence. No high
quality single studies were found. It is therefore difficult to state conclusively what the evidence of impact
of arts activities in education might be. However, given that a large number of weak or medium quality
studies do suggest positive effects more work in this area, taking into account the most promising
avenues, would be justified.
 A total of 199 relevant studies were identified from a search of eleven educational, psychological
and social sciences databases. The vast majority of studies were about music education and a
combination of arts forms. Most of these studies were conducted with primary school aged
children. Very few involved pre-school aged children.
 The review found no convincing evidence that demonstrated a causal relationship between arts
education and young people’s academic and other wider outcomes.
 There were a few interventions that showed evidence of promise. Pilot studies, or efficacy trials,
could be conducted to improve the evidence base for these interventions. These largely relate to
primary school age group.
 Music (instrumental, music education and music integration) shows promise across all age
 The evidence for integrating multi-arts for primary school children is weak largely because the
positive studies found were small scale (under 100) or lacked randomisation. They also tended to
compare arts-focused schools or arts-trained teachers with non-arts specialist schools and
teachers (who may differ in more than their subject expertise). There is potential here for more
robust studies.
 Kindermusik, Orff and Kodaly methods of learning music have been shown to be effective on the
cognitive development of young children.
 There is little evidence that visual art (painting, drawing, sculpture) had any positive effect on
academic outcomes.
 More research is needed for the pre-school aged children as there are few studies for this age
 Few empirical studies were found about the use of poetry for school-aged children, especially for
pre-school and primary school children. Although rhymes and rhythms are routinely taught in preschool,
its impact on children’s literacy has not been evaluated. The gap means that this could
be an area worth exploring.
 Most studies about poetry were about the beneficial effects of poetry in general or for older pupils
and undergraduates or about the methods of teaching poetry, or about the author’s or pupils’
experience with poetry. The majority of empirical work about poetry in schools was conducted pre
1980 and was largely about the teaching and assessment of poetry
 Few studies have been conducted on creative writing as an activity to support general literacy at
school. Most research in this area was either on creative writing as an outcome or for older
students in higher education. It could be valuable to explore if creative writing has any impact in
developing literacy for primary and secondary school pupils.
 Successful arts activities often involve professional artists. For successful implementation,
professional training of teachers is needed on how to effectively integrate the arts activities be it
drama, visual arts or music in the classroom.
 There is some suggestion that the mechanisms or factors that contribute to the learning
processes in most arts education are related to elements of enjoyment, engagement and
extension (e.g. DeMoss and Morris 2012). Otten et al. (2004) reported that the effect of dramatic
art on acquisition of history knowledge was mediated by enjoyment. which in turn, predicted
future performance on standardised tests.

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