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Partnerships between schools and the professional arts sector


This article is adapted from the research paper Partnerships Between Schools And The Professional Arts Sector Published by the Education Policy and Research Division, Office for Policy, Research and Innovation, Department of Education and Early Childhood Development Victoria.

Partnerships between schools and the professional arts sector are becoming more common in Australia and around the world. They occur in a variety of formats, including artist-in-residence programs, where individual artists or arts organisations work in schools; venue-based programs in galleries, museums and performing arts centres; as well as performances and programs delivered in schools and online.

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in Victoria has produced, with Arts Victoria, a research report highlighting the growing body of national and international research into such partnerships. The current article briefly describes some examples of partnerships covered in the report, and highlights the role these partnerships play in the advancement of students' engagement, social learning, personalised learning, creativity and arts-related knowledge.

Student engagement

Many school and arts sector partnerships specifically aim to enhance student engagement with learning and with the school community. Bryce et al. (2004) describe the Northern Territory's Indigenous Music Education Program, established as 'a secondary level Indigenous instrumental music delivery program for remote community schools'. Student attendance improved on the days that the program was run, and the program also promoted students' self-esteem, engagement and their ability to work in a team.

A partnership between the Polyglot Puppet Theatre and Coburn Primary School, Melton, which serves a disadvantaged community in Melbourne's west, developed a complex performance built on the students' vision and aesthetic choices. Students designed and made puppets and props, wrote music and lyrics and ran the project evaluation as a documentary film. Teachers reported that students, and in particular at-risk students, were highly engaged by the program, and developed closer connections with the school.

Social learning

Most of the research reports that arts participation was seen to enhance personal confidence, develop skills of cooperation and collaboration, and help foster relationships of trust and a sense of belonging.

A five year partnership between Western Edge Youth Arts (WEYA) and Kensington Primary School, in a culturally diverse suburb of inner Melbourne, is based on cross-curricular, collaborative practice between teachers, artists and students to create high quality large-scale performances using drama, physical theatre and ICT. According to evaluation data collected, the program has a significant impact on students' personal and social learning; in fact for the students, it is the outcome they refer to most often when asked about what they gained from the program. Based on a survey of student resilience conducted by the school, a majority of students improved their resilience, confidence and coping skills during the course of the program.

The power of arts education to promote social learning is widely recognised. The DRACON project (DRAma for CONflict Management), operating in Sweden, Malaysia and Australia, aims to improve conflict resolution amongst students through educational drama. The DRACON approach has been found to develop students' ability to deal with conflict, cooperate and listen, and to feel and demonstrate empathy and respect towards others.

Hunter (2005) reports that teachers, parents and students in Australia believe that arts participation foster 'personal growth, group skills and social cohesion'. Research conducted by Bryce et al. (2004), found that participation in the arts improved students' ability to work cooperatively. In addition, several British studies, including Improving City Schools (Ofsted 2000), have highlighted the role of the arts in developing cultural awareness and supporting diversity in school and local communities.

Personalising learning

While there are differing views on the definition of personalised learning, the Department has identified some common characteristics (DoE 2007a) that have strong underlying links to school/arts sector partnership initiatives. In particular, personalising education involves a highly structured approach that places the needs, interests and learning styles of students at the centre of learning and includes a commitment to reducing the achievement gap. The learners themselves should also be informed and empowered through student voice and choice. Personalising education in this way requires a commitment to lifelong learning, the provision of flexible learning environments, and the availability of a range of educational pathways to meet the needs of all students.

The Empire State Partnerships in New York is a collective of 56 partnerships involving 84 cultural organisations and 113 schools (Baker et al., in Burnaford et al. 2007). One of the aims of the partnerships is to give students opportunities to encounter subject matter in a variety of ways, thus providing more avenues into the content for more students. For instance mathematics is first 'taught at the blackboard' but later encountered through dance instruction with teaching artists.

Catterall (2006) found that a theatre-based program for at-risk junior high school students in California resulted in gains on behaviours aligned to personalised learning, such as meta-cognition, problem resolution skills and self-efficacy.

Creative skills as a key component of innovation

Creativity and innovation are considered essential to success in the twenty-first century workforce. A study by Moga et al. (2000) suggests that the arts may help open up processes of thinking and questioning, while research by Burton et al. (1999) found that students exposed to arts instruction for at least three years scored significantly better on creative thinking scores than students with less exposure to the arts.

ICT is increasingly used in an arts education environment, and there are many examples of partnerships involving online media. Bamford (2006) suggests that these partnerships not only foster creativity, but help students develop skills and literacies in ICT and other technologies.

In Victoria, the In My Day project, which ran at Natimuk Primary, used a partnership between an animator and school students to portray the lives of senior citizens in the community. The students interviewed senior members of the community, and developed drawings that were then animated. They also created 'behind the scenes' footage to document the project.

Other projects that have bridged the arts and ICT whilst giving students room for creative growth include the Arts About Media program run by the Australia Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) and the National Gallery of Victoria. Participating students examined identity through visual arts and film, and created self-portraits with a new media artist using digital media and 3D masks using more traditional materials. 

Development of arts-related knowledge and skills

Research is lacking in the area of arts-related knowledge and skills. The majority of arts education research focuses on the impact of the arts on other learning areas, social or welfare outcomes. A commonly held assumption, however, is that a positive transference is taking place in these partnerships.

Bamford has reported on a survey of the impact of arts in education conducted in over 60 countries: 84 per cent of respondents saw aesthetic learning as being the main goal of arts education and that partnerships boost the arts curriculum. A three-year study by Harland et al. (2000) into the effects and effectiveness of arts education programs in English and Welsh secondary schools found that they increased students' knowledge and skills in relation to particular art forms and improved knowledge of social and cultural issues. They also enhanced creative and thinking skills and communication skills. Many of these effects transferred to other subject areas.

Similarly, Brice Heath (1999) found a Washington DC program where at-risk youth collaborated with professional artists to develop artistic products, displays, or performances which encouraged participants to draw on and develop their skills in areas such as problem-solving, critical thinking and constructive evaluation.


International and Australian research and case studies illustrate a variety of ways in which arts partnerships engage students and result in positive effects on learning. Arts partnerships can influence learners' social and interpersonal skills, as well as strengthen problem solving skills, cultural awareness and creativity. The findings from the report have been used to guide the second stage of the project, which will evaluate the impact of the school and arts sector partnerships on Victorian students' learning and engagement. A second research project, due for completion in late 2010, will examine the outcomes of more than 30 arts partnerships programs across Victoria.


Bamford, A 2006, The Wow Factor: Global Research Compendium on the Impact of the Arts in Education, Waxmann, Germany.

Burnaford, G, Brown, S, Doherty, J & McLaughlin, HJ 2007, Arts Integration, Frameworks, Research & Practice: A Literature Review, Arts Education Partnership.

Burton, J, Horowitz, R & Abeles, H 1999, 'Learning in and Through the Arts: Curriculum implications', in EB Fiske (ed.), Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning, The Arts Education Partnership and The President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, Washington, DC, pp. 35–46.

Bryce, J, Mendelovits, J, Beavis, A, McQueen, J & Adams, I 2004, Evaluation of School-based Arts Education Programmes in Australia Schools, ACER, Camberwell.

Catterall, J 2006, 'Inside Out's School Project', Teaching Theatre, Winter 2006.

Department of Education 2007a, Personalising Education: From Research To Policy And Practice, Education Policy and Research Division, DoE, Melbourne.

Harland, J, Kinder, K, Lord, P, Stott, A, Schagen, I, Haynes, J, with Cusworth, L, White, R & Paola, R 2000, Arts Education In Secondary Schools: Effects And Effectiveness, National Foundation for Educational Research, UK.

Hunter, M 2005, Education And The Arts Research Overview: A Summary Report Prepared For The Australia Council For The Arts, Australia Council for the Arts, Sydney.

Moga, E, Burger, K, Hetland, L & Winner, E 1999, 'Does Studying the Arts Engender Creative Thinking?' Journal of Aesthetic Education, vol. 34, no. 3–4, Fall/Winter, pp. 91–103.

Ofsted 2000, Improving City Schools, HMSO, London.

Key Learning Areas

The Arts

Subject Headings

Arts in education
School partnerships
Educational planning
School and community