New trials will find out if music lessons, drama sessions, or journalism can help boost primary pupils’ achievement and key skills - RSA

New trials will find out if music lessons, drama sessions, or journalism can help boost primary pupils’ achievement and key skills

Press release

  • 9000 pupils in 400 schools across England will take part in five new trials to find out if different cultural learning approaches can help boost primary pupils’ achievement, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) announced today. 

The Learning About Culture programme includes five different projects – including whole-class music, drama sessions and illustration – to be evaluated through large randomised controlled trials that will test their impact on academic attainment, as well as on skills and behaviours like resilience, self-confidence and creativity.  In a separate strand of the project, the RSA will also research how arts-rich schools get the most out of this kind of activity and provide training to encourage more effective use of evidence in the design of cultural learning projects.

The delivery and evaluation of the programme is being funded through a partnership between the RSA and the EEF, with support from Arts Council England, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Foyle Foundation and Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

1,800 nine and 10 year olds (Year 5) will take part in a trial of The Power of Pictures, delivered by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education. Teachers and their pupils will work with author-illustrators to learn how to use picture books to boost reading and writing skills. Over three days of training, they will develop specific techniques to use illustration to support children’s reading comprehension and creative writing.

A trial of a project developed jointly by Arvon, the University of Exeter and the Open University programme will find out if developing teachers’ skills as writers can help improve Year 5 (eight and nine year olds) pupils’ writing confidence and their motivation to write. Over two weekend courses, teachers taking part in The Craft of Writing will work with professional writers and apply the techniques they learn to their classrooms.  

500 pupils in 25 primary schools across England will take part in a trial of the London Bubble Theatre Company’s Speech Bubbles programme. Over three terms, teaching assistants will work with theatre practitioners to deliver weekly drama sessions where the pupils will take turns as authors, performers and the audience. The programme is aimed at five-to-seven year olds who lack confidence in communicating, have difficulty communicating or have poor attention and listening skills. Parents will be invited to take part too.

Primary school pupils will get to set up their own newsroom in an evaluation of Paradigm Arts’ Young Journalist Academy. Journalists will work alongside the pupils to help them write and publish newspaper articles, as well as to put together radio and TV packages. 3,000 Year 5 pupils (nine and 10 year olds) will take part in the trial to find out if this approach can boost literacy skills, as well as the children’s confidence, communications skills, and collaborative working.

Finally, Lindsay Ibbotson and Tees Valley Music Service will deliver First Thing Music,a structured music education programme based on the Kodály approach with 1,800 five-to-six year olds in 60 schools. In this trial, students will learn the basics of music through daily singing and musical games, their teachers being trained by members of the British Kodály Academy. It is hoped the whole-class approach will help develop pupils’ literacy, as well as their social and emotional skills.

All five projects will be evaluated by a team of independent evaluators led by the University of London - Institute of Education and the Behavioural Insights Team.  The evaluations will look at the impact on children’s learning and development, as well as how different approaches to delivery maximise the benefit to children and schools.

Each of the organisations delivering projects is seeking schools to take part in the trials in different parts of England, particularly those in areas where deprivation is high and arts participation is low. 

Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

"All children, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, deserve a well-rounded, culturally rich, education. But 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. 

“Not only will today’s new trials provide cultural learning opportunities to thousands of primary pupils who might not otherwise have the opportunity, but they will give us much needed evidence on the impact of different approaches.”

Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the RSA, said:

“Ensuring all children get to participate in arts and culture depends in no small part on the access that schools provide. With provision decreasing, we need to think systemically about how to strengthen the place of arts in our schools, not just campaign for its survival. 

“Evidence of how arts can make a difference to learning can help make the case, but on its own, it can’t guarantee effectiveness.  That is why we’re pleased to be working with arts educators and teachers around the country, to help them turn evidence into more effective practice and ensure that all children can get the full benefits of participation.”

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Hilary Cornwell at the Education Endowment Foundation (020 7802 1676) or Ash Singleton at the RSA (07799 737 970).


  1. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is a grant-making charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus Trust (now part of Impetus–The Private Equity Foundation), with a £125m founding grant from the Department for Education. The EEF is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement. Since its launch the EEF has awarded £87 million to test the impact of 142 projects reaching more than 960,000 children and young people in over 9,200 schools, nurseries and colleges across England. The EEF and Sutton Trust are, together, the government-designated What Works Centre for Education.
  2. The RSA aims to enrich society through ideas and action. We believe that all human beings have creative capacities that can be mobilised to deliver a 21st century enlightenment. We work to bring about the conditions for this change, not just amongst our diverse Fellowship, but also in institutions and communities. Our work ranges from the future of our cities and communities, to education, moving towards a more creative economy and the redesign of public services.
  3. Further information about the Learning About Culture programme and a programme prospectus is available to download here.
  4. Cultural learning activities involve learning about culture and through culture.  Usually involving collaboration between schools and arts and cultural organisations, they cover a wide range of artistic practice and offer opportunities to visit venues, see performances and exhibitions as well as learn through practical activity. 
  5. Schools interested in taking part in any of today’s new trials should contact the delivery organisations directly.
  6. The five grants have been awarded to:

Lead organisation


Number of settings (pupils)

Grant awarded

Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE)

The Power of Pictures

120 (1,800)


Arvon, University of Exeter & Open University

The Craft of Writing

96 (2,880)


London Bubble

Speech Bubbles

25 (500)


Paradigm Arts

The Young Journalist Academy

100 (3,000)


Tees Valley Music Service

First Thing Music

60 (1,800)


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