Children from Kensington Children's Centre participating in the My Primary School is at the Museum project at Tate Liverpool (c) Jake Ryan

Cultural learning gives children better life chances, report finds

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 26.01.2017
Research sparks call for government action to protect arts education
Participating in cultural activities can improve attainment in maths and English, increase employability and enable children to develop skills and behaviour that help them do better in school, a report launched this week has found.

The ImagineNation report by the Cultural Learning Alliance found that learning through arts and culture could increase people’s cognitive abilities by 17%.

The report focused on four values of cultural learning - social, educational, economic and personal. It found that students from low-income families who take part in cultural activities are three times more likely to get a degree, and 20% more likely to vote.

Engagement with the arts made young offenders 18% less likely to reoffend, according to the report. The research also showed that people participating in arts and culture were 38% more likely to report good health.

However the report raised concern about the radically evolving policy landscape for education in the UK, particularly in England, where factors such as changes to the curriculum and the introduction of tuition fees have led to a decline in the number of children taking arts subjects and decreased access to university arts courses and informal learning programmes.

It advocated that schools and universities should provide a rounded education in science, technology, engineering, arts and maths subjects, and break down “artificial silos between the arts and sciences”.

"Every effort must be made to halt the erosion of the arts as an essential pillar in the structure of education," said a statement on the CLA's website.

A wide range of figures from the cultural, arts and education sectors have backed the research, including the Museums Association’s (MA) director Sharon Heal, who attended the launch event in Westminster earlier this week.

“The MA is delighted to support this new research that demonstrates the value of cultural learning," said Heal. "Museums have been at the forefront of developing practice in this area and providing accessible and inclusive opportunities for people of all ages to learn."

However Heal said that the government needed to do much more to support cultural education and protect its place on the curriculum.

“At the launch of the report, ministers from the department for education and the culture department in England pledged their commitment to cultural learning that reaches everyone regardless of background," said Heal. 

“This commitment needs to be followed up by action and funding. Initiatives such as My Primary School is at the Museum have shown the power of out-of-the-classroom learning and demonstrated the sector’s willingness to try new ideas and to reach new audiences.

“The government needs to work across departments to back the life-changing opportunities that museums are providing.”

The publication, a follow-up to the CLA’s 2011 ImagineNation report, is the latest in a series of research projects on the impact of cultural education.

The Education Endowment Foundation and the Royal Society of the Arts launched a fund this month to support cultural learning projects and evaluate their impact on educational attainment. The £2.5m fund aims to test different cultural learning approaches, and closes for applications on 15 February.

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