Cultural Learning Alliance

The principal difference I can see between young people at Eton and those in our partner state schools is that the cultural reservoirs of our boys are continuously filled.

Tony Little
Head Master, Eton


Finding 2: Cognitive abilities

Participation in structured arts activities increases cognitive abilities

The CASE review found across a range of high quality evidence that taking part in structured arts activities could increase children’s cognitive abilities test scores by 16% and 19% on average (1). The CAT (Cognitive Ability Test) is widely used in UK schools as an indicator of ability. Improving children’s cognitive skills makes them better learners, able to apply the knowledge they acquire.

Structured arts activities offer a way to improve children’s thinking skills and thus improve their performance across the board at school, with knock-on effects of better life chances as adults. We know using data from the British Cohort Study that an increase of 1 standard deviation in cognitive ability at age 11 is associated with a 20.2 percentage point rise in the likelihood of staying on at school post-16 and with approximately a 10% increase in hourly wages (2) at the age of 42.

We also know from work on early years development that a home-learning environment which includes music, art and visiting the library is critically important to the intellectual and social development of children and that when fathers and mothers talk, play, read, paint, investigate numbers and shapes or sing with their children it has a positive effect on children’s later development (3).

(1) Culture and Sport Evidence Programme (CASE), Understanding the impact of engagement in culture and sport (London: DCMS, 2010), 29.

(2) Pedro Carneiro, Claire Crawford and Alissa Goodman. Which Skills Matter? (London: Centre for the Economics of Education, 2006), 11,14.

(3) Department for Education and Department for Health, Supporting Families in the Foundation Stage (London: Department for Education, 2011), 36.

engage: Peckham Park Primary at South London Gallery. Image: Richard Eaton
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