Tracking Arts Learning and Engagement was a 3 year longitudinal research project funded by Arts Council England, with the TATE and the Royal Shakespeare Company. In our sample of 30 schools, we talked to students who were taking arts subjects who were in years 10,11,12 at start of the project and followed them through over the three years (12,13,14 by end) talking to them in focus group interviews.
We spoke to a mixture of girls and boys. The size of focus groups ranged from one-on-one, to seven students. Most were 4 students. We aimed for two groups per teacher per year group, so tried to interview 24 students per school, each year,though we weren’t always able to do that for a variety of reasons. The following slides show some of the points the students frequently made.
Overwhelmingly, students who are studying arts subjects talk about: how they developed their knowledge and critical thinking skills, enjoyment and wellbeing; and the way the arts relate to who they are, how they want to be and the things they might do ‘in future’. Some intend to try to pursue the arts further through formal education and/or careers but many emphasise the fact that they see the arts as being connected to the ways they want to live their lives.
What young people say about studying the arts
The TALE Project: Tracking Arts Learning and Engagement
What young people
say about why they
want to study the
Christine Hall, Pat Thomson,
Lexi Earl & Corinna Geppert
who we asked
In year 3 we talked to 96 focus
groups, n = 439 students
In year 2 we talked to 120 focus
groups, n = 484 students
In year 1 we talked to 124 focus
groups, n = 569 students
our interviewees were in
years 10-13 (aged 14-18)
arts are viewed as a
We did a curriculum evening and one of the
parents was asking me about Drama, and
what it was worth. This is what I was trying
to explain. But the response I got from them
was, ‘but it’s not really a subject. It’s not
really worthwhile doing’ (Y13).
Because I am quite academic, when I told
people I was going to do it [take Drama]
they were like, ‘you don’t want to be an
actress so why would you? Do Maths or
something’. They didn’t understand. We had
these university students who came in and
they were suggesting you don’t have to
want to be an actor to do Drama. I was
talking to my mum and saying there were
some people using it with people in hospital
who had gone through traumas. It can help
you empathise with people (Y10).
the arts relate to
things the students
want to do in future
• the arts are connected to the
ways they want to live their
• they see their arts practice as
something they could keep
going alongside paid work
• fewer than half intend to
pursue the arts further
through formal education
• they are generally vague
about possible careers in the
• they adopt a ‘next steps’
approach to thinking about
their own future careers
the arts are not like other subjects
It’s more laid back, free. They let you do your own thing. You’re learning in the
way you want to, not a strict way, ‘oh you’ve got to do this or that’. They give
you the guidelines of what you have to have completed by a certain point and
they let you get on with it, instead of telling you every step of the way (Y11).
You can learn how you want to learn it. Do you own research (Y10).
there is no right or wrong in the arts
Arts allowed students to develop
capacity for failure, and classes gave
space for experimentation,
exploration of ideas and imagination.
In lots of subjects there’s always one right
answer you have to strive to get right, but Art is
what you do and what you achieve (Y10).
In tests you get the marks back and you got it
wrong, and you think ‘oh I knew that’, but under
pressure you got it wrong. Art is not like that.
You can always go back (Y11).
Before, I was very confined
and I used to stop myself
from saying any of my ideas
even though my head was
bursting. Now I’m not so
afraid. That’s how I know
I’ve progressed (Y10).
studying the arts encourages self belief and
self expression The arts build confidence and team
building skills so when you go out into
the world you are not going to work with
your friends. It teaches you to work with
others and get along with them no
matter what. You get to see the world
from other people’s point of view (Y10).
the arts produce a sense of wellbeing
Now we are coming up to our exams and it is
all writing, and all the fun stuff is gone because
they’ve got to get you ready for your GCSEs. So
Art is something you can relax in. Don’t get me
wrong, you’ve still got a lot of work to get
done, it’s just a different type of work. It’s
more enjoyable (Y11).
Art is my relaxing subject because the other
subjects I chose are quite challenging and I
liked Art from when I was younger. It is very
therapeutic. It’s not just book work or where
you have to constantly keep up to speed. You
can go at your own pace. You are doing what
you want to do so it relaxes you more (Y11).
It’s a form of relaxation for me. It’s so cool that
there are subjects like this that bridge the gap
with real life (Y12).
the arts are demanding!
It quite angers me when people go
oh that’s not hard. Try and do
Maths. I did Maths last year and
compared to art, I found art harder
than Maths because it was so
much more work. I wanted to go
into it so I wanted to get good
I feel like it does demand a lot
more work. We've had to stay after
school a lot more than any other
subject, probably combined. We've
had to do lots of weekend and
after school on Tuesdays and
Thursdays. It's taken a lot more
time. Definitely (Y11).
arts teachers are different (and that’s a good
The teacher is always there.
You can ask for help if you
need to. They kind of let us
have freedom to do our work
and they're there to help you if
you need it. (Y13).
It's intense but you have a
relationship with the teachers.
It's a lot more easy-going. It's
a lot more conversations,
rather than this is the work
You get to have
independence but you
work more as a group
rather than individually.
The teacher is more like a
what these perspectives tell us
• Arts make the present more enjoyable,
interesting and meaningful
• Engagement in the arts promotes wellbeing, and
helps reduce stress
• Young people recognise that the expertise and
skills that they learn in arts are part of preparing
them for later life, even if they do not work
directly in the arts
• We must take students’ perspectives seriously,
when considering a case for the arts