Harland, J., Kinder, K., Lord, P., Stott, A., Schagen, I., Haynes, J., … Paola, R. (2000). Arts Education in Secondary Schools: Effects and Effectiveness. National Foundation for Educational Research: The Mere, Upton Park, Slough, Berkshire, UK.


The purpose of this large-scale study was to examine the effects of secondary school arts education (in visual arts, drama, dance, or music) in England and Wales. The data were derived from four sources: (1) case studies of five secondary schools, (2) a secondary data analysis of information from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER)’s Quantitative Analysis for Self-Evaluation (QUASE) project, (3) a survey of Year 11 students and schools, and (4) interviews with employers and employees in the work sector. Results demonstrated positive effects of arts education in several areas including students’ intrinsic enjoyment, art form knowledge and skills, social and cultural knowledge, creativity and thinking skills, communication and expressive skills, personal and social development, effects that transfer to other contexts (e.g., learning in other subjects, work-related benefits such as teamwork), culture of the school, and benefits to the local community. However, arts education coursework was not predictive of general academic performance as measured by scores on standardized national exams.

Key Findings:

  • Results from the case studies of secondary schools indicated positive effects of arts education in technical knowledge and skills in the specific art form of study, as well as a heightened sense of enjoyment, fulfillment, and stress relief. Other effects were increased knowledge of social and cultural issues; development of creativity and thinking skills; enhanced communication and expressive skills; and increased self-confidence, self-esteem, and teamwork skills.
  • Distinctive effects were found for the specific art forms. For example, dance increased awareness of the body and movement; visual art promoted expressive skills, drama enhanced empathy and valuing others; music increased active listening skills.
  • Results from analyses of national data from the NFER’s QUASE and the Year 11 survey found no evidence of arts education enhancing academic performance on national exams once background variables such as social class and previous academic performance were taken into account.
  • Interview data indicate arts education had positive institutional effects on the culture of the school (e.g., positive and adventurous ethos and school climate). Arts education was also found to encourage involvement and support of parents (e.g., helping with productions or being a spectator) and the local community (e.g., performing at primary schools or in retirement homes).

Significance of the Findings:

Findings reveal an interesting discrepancy regarding the effects of arts education in the UK. Students and teachers in schools with strong programs in arts education perceive many positive effects that range from increased arts-based knowledge to personal and social benefits in self-confidence and development of teamwork skills. However, national data do not demonstrate a link between arts education coursework and general academic performance. Researchers note that differences in the quality of teachers and arts coursework available to students may help explain these differential effects. For example, case study schools may have better than average arts programs available to students, given they were “renowned in their strong support for the arts.” Another issue to consider is the types of benefits found from case studies are from different domains than those assessed in national exams, that is, arts-based skills or personal/social benefits, versus transfer of effects to non-arts subjects (e.g., Mathematics or English).


This study examines effects of education in visual arts, drama, dance, and music using: (1) case studies of five secondary schools, (2) secondary data analysis of information from the NFER’s QUASE project, (3) survey of Year 11 students and schools, and (4) interviews with employers and employees in the work sector regarding the relationship between arts education and work.

The case study schools represented a diverse range of institutions and settings (e.g., urban, rural, and of various sizes and socio-economic context), but all had in common reputations for having strong support for the arts. Across a three-year period, the researchers interviewed teachers and staff and two cohorts of students twice a year. They also observed arts lessons.

The researchers examined national GSCE performance data in English, mathematics, and science in relation to students’ arts coursework (amount and type of arts courses). Data were derived from the NFER’s QUASE database of 152 schools with up to three cohorts of Year 11 students for a total of 27,607 students.

The researchers also collected survey data via questionnaires from 2,269 students in Year 11 across 22 schools. Each of these schools completed school-level questionnaires. Questions included students’ involvement in the arts outside of school, and socio-economic background, which the researchers examined in relation to GSCE scores and arts coursework.

Interviews with staff from 20 companies throughout the UK were conducted to investigate the relationship between arts education and the work domain. A wide range of businesses was represented including banking, advertising, politics, retail, manufacturing, and arts-related venues (e.g., museum, theatre).

Limitations of the Research:

Given the discrepancy in findings based on the case study reports and general academic performance scores on national exams, it would be helpful to have test score data available for the five case study schools to see if positive benefits in academic performance exist for these particular students who have access to somewhat exceptional arts programs. Given that case study schools were exceptional in their strong support for the arts, and the students interviewed were those “making good progress” in at least one art form, results from this data source may not be generalizable to typical schools in the U.K.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Do test scores for the case study schools indicate a positive effect due to arts education? Would case studies of schools that do not have strong reputations in arts education yield similar positive outcomes for studies in the arts? Also, would the current findings extend to younger, elementary school children? Would positive benefits be found for elementary students in general academic performance scores?