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Arts make you a better pupil

Drama, music and dance can boost attendance, social skills and creativity, reports Diane Spencer

THE arts improve children's personal, social, creative and artistic skills. Schools strong in drama, dance and music also had a better attendance record, atmosphere and fewer exclusions, according to a study published this week.

But the three-year study - commissioned by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) - found no conclusive evidence that children's involvement in arts subjects boosted academic achievement.

It also found that older secondary pupils thought their music lessons exclusive, specialist and dull.

Evidence for the study was collected through case studies of five secondaries with a reputation for excellence in arts. There were also questionnaires and interviews involving nearly 30 schools and more than 3,000 people - including pupils, business employers and staff.

The RSA concludes that opportunities for a broad education in the arts are a lottery for most pupils, with huge differences among schools in the amount and quality of arts experiences they offer pupils. The report alsofound that individual teachers - more than the ethos of the school - had a crucial effect on arts teaching.

Some pupils remained ignorant of the benefits of the arts as they believed they were only for the talented. And there was a risk that specialist arts schools might reinforce that belief among children in other schools.

This fear was echoed by the Secondary Heads Association, which warned specialist schools could lead to a two-tier system of arts provision.

The steering group for the study, chaired by former senior HMI Professor Eric Bolton, said the arts should have equal status with all other curriculum subjects, and that all art forms should have the same status. Dance should not be included in physical education, for example, nor drama with English.

The report also suggests that appproaches to teaching music need to be rethought, as researchers found most 16-year-olds were turned off by lessons.

The report says: "Few chose to continue with it. That reality sits uneasily with the rhetoric about music in education, as well as with the enthusiasm for music among primary children and young people outside school."

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