The educational impact of taking pupils to the theatre and visiting exhibitions will be tested under a new £2.5 million trial.
The project will be focus on schools in deprived areas where cultural participation is low, and will be run under a partnership between the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Royal Society of Arts (RSA), supported by Arts Council England.
The EEF said there is currently limited high-quality research into the impact different arts approaches have on pupil outcomes, and the new trial would be used to deliver and evaluate the various learning activities on academic attainment, as well as skills and behaviours like resilience, self-confidence and creativity.
The trial, which is expected to be run in 200 schools, will cover a range of cultural learning experiences including visiting venues, seeing theatre performances and exhibitions as well as learning through practical activity.
Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the EEF, said the results from this work will help to put “schools, government and arts organisations in a much better position to decide between the relative merits of different cultural learning approaches”.
He added that with schools “increasingly accountable” for the impact of all of their spending decisions on pupil attainment, there is an “urgent need” for more and better evidence on the relative benefits of different approaches and strategies.
There have been fears across the schools community that the government is pushing schools away from arts education with the introduction of the EBacc – a performance measure for ranking schools whose pupils secure a grade C or above across five “core” academic subjects: English, mathematics, history or geography, the sciences and a language.
This year’s GCSE results saw an eight per cent decline in creative arts and technical subjects and a 1.7 per cent decline in the number of pupils taking at least one arts-based GCSE.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA, said the current decline in provision of arts education in schools is “deeply concerning”, but added that a stronger evidence base for their impact are “crucial to sustaining their presence and to improving practice”.
“Schools derive a wide range of benefits from engagement in cultural learning activities and these randomised control trials are part of a wider programme of research to develop a broader understanding of how schools can benefit most,” Taylor said.
The research will be welcomed news by the Labour party after leader Jeremy Corbyn announced in September that he would introduce an “arts pupil premium” to pump £160 million of extra funding into schools if his party wins the next general election.
Corbyn said the cash boost would help pupils learn to play instruments, learn drama and dance and have “regular access” to theatres, galleries or museums in their local areas.
Applications for the EEF funding is open to arts and cultural organisations, schools, universities and other non-profit organisations. The initial call for projects closes February 15.