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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Evaluating the impact of school-arts partnerships


This article is adapted from the research paper Partnerships Between Schools and the Professional Arts Sector: Evaluation of Impact on Student Outcomes, published by Arts Victoria.

Partnerships between schools and the professional arts sector have been found to play an important role in deepening students' engagement with learning. As well as developing knowledge that is directly relevant to the arts, schools-arts partnerships promote students' social learning, personalised learning, and creativity.

National and international research into school-arts partnerships has been examined by Arts Victoria and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD). The results of the research were published in 2010 in the report Partnerships between Schools and the Professional Arts Sector (see Curriculum Leadership's summary article).

This year Arts Victoria has published a second report documenting a further stage of research: Partnerships between Schools and the Professional Arts Sector: Evaluation of Impact on Student Outcomes.

This report evaluates the impact of school-arts partnerships on five student outcomes linked to the Prep to Year 10 Victorian Curriculum known as the Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS). These outcomes are student engagement, student voice, social learning, creativity and the development of arts-related knowledge and skills. The report then discusses the characteristics of effective school-arts partnerships, and implications for future programs and practices. The current article summarises key elements of the report.

Two types of programs were investigated.  One type are the ‘artists-in-residence’ programs, which themselves take two forms. Some artists-in-residence programs are known as Artists in Schools programs, in which individual artists work in partnership with students and teachers on a creative project in a primary or secondary school for up to 20 days. The other form of the artists-in-residence program is known as Extended School Residencies, in which creative collaborations between arts organisations and primary or secondary schools are undertaken over a minimum of two school terms. The second type of programs investigated are known as 'exposure-to-arts programs'. Some are venue based – programs in arts venues such as galleries or performing arts centres (school excursions). Other are school based – short programs in schools delivered by visiting arts organisations (school incursions).

All the programs evaluated were funded through Arts Victoria; some were also supported by DEECD.

Research strategy and methodology

The data in this report was collected from primary and secondary students, teachers, arts professionals and school leaders involved in artists-in-residence programs or exposure-to-arts programs. Data was collected from a number of schools that had undertaken programs in the past (2005–2008), and from schools with programs underway during the year of data collection (2009). Two extended school residencies projects and five artists-in-schools projects were selected for in-depth examination by researchers.

Impact is challenging to measure in programs involving a wide range of activities across a diverse population. This is particularly so when measuring people's opinions, emotions, feelings and reactions to a phenomenon. It is widely accepted that the measurement of these types of qualities should, where possible, use a variety of methodological approaches. In keeping with this trend, this evaluation used a mixed methods strategy, with pre- and post-program attitudinal surveys producing quantitative data summarising general trends, and qualitative data comprising transcripts from interviews, in situ observations, and analysis of project documentation. This range of qualitative and quantitative analysis generated a rich profile of the programs.

The evaluation drew on over 150 hours of interviews and on-site observations, 390 attitudinal surveys, over 40 site visits, and comprehensive documentary analysis of artists-in-residence programs, school documentation and other reports. Participants included more than 410 students, 50 teachers and other school leaders, as well as 34 arts professionals. Students varied in age from 10 to 16 years, with the majority being primary students 11 years of age.

The impact of the programs

The partnership programs were found to have a positive impact on the five student outcomes. The artists-in-residence programs, in particular, produced improvements. Overall, students participated more actively in their learning, persisted more, and took more pride in their work. The behaviour of previously difficult students improved. The programs generated more family and community involvement in schooling. The level of discussion in the classroom rose, as students volunteered their opinions more often and sometimes displayed hitherto unseen abilities. In terms of social learning, there was consistent evidence that the school-arts partnerships challenged students to work with peers and adults in new ways. The school-arts partnerships had a positive impact on students' creativity, as students made use of novel levels of independence in the classroom. A more detailed picture of the program's impact is available in the full report and its Executive Summary. The current article now considers some of the lessons drawn from the research on what makes for effective school-arts partnerships.

Characteristics of effective school-arts partnerships

The research identified characteristics common to effective school-arts partnerships that improve student outcomes. These characteristics provide a snapshot of 'what works', and constitute a valuable template for planning future school-arts partnerships.

Student Engagement

School-arts partnerships that include credible praise from arts professionals, authentic encouragement and respect, and celebrate students as artists, improve engagement. So do those that involve active student participation in art-making. Students are engaged by programs that take a lighthearted approach to learning, and pedagogies that utilise humour and fun. Partnerships that focus on relevant and purposeful content and that enable students to make connections between arts activities, the wider curriculum and their life outside school increase student engagement.

Student Voice

Student voice improves in student-driven programs that include active student involvement in program design and planning. Arts professionals that encourage student input and are adept at taking on student opinions make a significant contribution to student voice; as do partnerships that support student-centred learning with students leading and directing art-making processes.

Social learning

Programs involving well-structured and mediated group work improve social learning outcomes. This is most noticeable where there are multi-age groups across a range of year levels and where student partnerships from outside normal friendship groups are involved. The research also found evidence that community and parental involvement in programs improves social learning.

Creative skills

Improved student outcomes in creative skills occur in programs where student choice in art-making is encouraged and where arts professionals model creative approaches to generating ideas and problem solving.

Arts-related Knowledge and Skills

Arts-related knowledge and skills improve through participation in hands-on, high-quality, production-orientated art-making activities. Students' skills improve when programs build on prior experience in the artform as well as regular exposure to and involvement in arts activities.

The role of teachers, arts professionals and school leaders in effective programs

The research identified several characteristics of effective leadership in the programs that clearly influenced the success of the school-arts partnerships.


It emerged as critical for teachers to participate and learn alongside their students, be involved in the logistical planning and  coordination of the program, assist with classroom management and team-teach with arts professionals as appropriate.

Arts professionals

It was also apparent that the approach of the arts professional should be flexible to capitalise on the thinking of the students and enable opportunities for students to communicate their own experiences and interests. This required the arts professional to be a good communicator, and be able to develop a rapport with students to create and foster a positive, inspiring working environment throughout the program.

Importantly, arts professionals need to possess the ability to impart particular arts techniques to students, guiding and assisting them throughout respective artistic processes. They need not 'dumb down' or overly simplify content or language; but rather actively introduce, explain and encourage the use of arts-related vocabulary.

School Leaders

School leaders create the environment for school-arts partnership programs by ensuring students have frequent and regular exposure to and experience in a number of artforms. School leaders play an important role in supporting student-centred learning, exploring a variety of approaches to learning and teaching and by respecting and recognising that arts skills and processes have relevance for other curriculum areas.

The role and function of the school leadership team was an important characteristic contributing to effective partnerships. It was significant that the school leader valued and saw the importance of the arts professionals' work and 'the arts' in general. The connection of the school leadership team to the program, by contributing to managing program logistics, was also seen as important. In the effective school-arts partnerships, the school leadership team maintained an obvious awareness of student work and accomplishments throughout the program.

In a number of cases, the arts partnership program became a catalyst for change in a school, whereby school leadership teams made plans to integrate the arts more resolutely into other subject areas, and use the arts as a vehicle to motivate and inspire students.

Implications for future policy, programs and practice

Program Design, Implementation and Evaluation

The research indicates that effective school-arts partnerships are designed by teachers and arts professionals with input from students. They build on student needs and interests, enrich or provide stimulus for student work in other discipline areas of the curriculum, provide clear learning and development opportunities for teachers, and explore opportunities for broader community involvement.

The research highlighted the fact that arts professionals approach learning and teaching differently to teachers. This is to be recognised and celebrated. At a minimum, teachers are encouraged to embed the program within their curriculum planning and develop lessons that connect and complement program activities. Both arts professionals and teachers are encouraged to introduce and promote the use of art-specific vocabulary in the classroom and to demystify and explain concepts. Research findings suggest that teachers benefit both students and themselves when they create opportunities to team-teach with arts professionals and participate in art-making activities.

School leaders have an important role to play in supporting teachers to use school-arts programs to enhance learning in other disciplines as well as supporting flexible approaches to timetabling. Artists-in-residence programs in particular require considered planning and input by all parties at the school level. School leaders are also encouraged to directly observe the work of arts professionals and to promote the programs within the school community.

Program evaluation and reviews are important for capturing and building on student feedback, as students tend to be more critical of the programs than the adults involved. Feedback from school leaders, teachers and the arts professionals involved is also crucial. Program designers should explore mechanisms to capture longitudinal data on the five student outcomes.


A number of implications stemming from this research suggest consideration at a broader policy level. Creativity and creative skills appear to be complex concepts to define and discuss. This presents an opportunity for those involved in policy development in the arts and education sectors to develop shared understandings and common language about key concepts such as creativity, design and innovation as they apply to 21st century skills.

While there was a great deal of art happening in the schools, there was not a great deal of speaking about the associated learning. The role of the nominated 'arts specialist' teacher is diminished in some primary school settings if they do not have specialist knowledge of arts education theory or arts vocabulary.

The research indicates that the quality of the school-arts partnerships experiences would be greatly enhanced by systematically sharing knowledge through high-quality digital curriculum resources. It suggests that the development of the Australian Curriculum: The Arts could potentially support a new step in the evolution of school-arts partnerships in Victoria and across Australia.

Key Learning Areas

The Arts

Subject Headings

Arts in education
Educational planning
Educational evaluation