Museum and theatre trips do not yield higher GCSE results, study finds

Research suggests that reading activities have more impact on GCSE grades than highbrow cultural capital

Maryam Zakir-Hussain
Sunday 13 March 2022 12:40 GMT
Trips to the museum and theatre do not improve GCSE results, study finds
Trips to the museum and theatre do not improve GCSE results, study finds (Getty Images)

Trips to museums and theatres have long been thought to sharpen a child’s intellect, but a new study has revealed that such cultural outings do not produce higher grades after all.

Academic research examining the impact of cultural capital, activities often labelled as “middle class”, looked into the ability of cultural visits to improve the life chances of children, and the extent to which it explains the inequality experienced by children from different financial backgrounds.

While many suggest that children from wealthier families are at an academic advantage due to their access to exhibitions and art galleries, the study did not find any correlation between higher attainment of grades at school and cultural encounters.

(Getty Images)

Instead, the researchers from the Universities of Sussex and Edinburgh found that reading activities by both parents and their children had a bigger effect on exam results. Activities such as reading for pleasure, visiting a library and discussing books at home significantly boosted GCSE results.

The authors from the study, which is due to appear in the British Journal of Sociology of Education, said that the concept of cultural capital has taken up a larger space in the government’s education policy, thus their research will have real implications for ministers.

New guidance from Ofsted states that schools will be inspected on how much exposure to cultural capital they are giving to students.

The research paper says the theory that cultural capital will increase GCSE results is “beguiling” but ultimately reports that “a set of empirical findings that do not lend any support to the view that increasing cultural capital will reduce the size of social class inequalities in school GCSE outcomes”.

However, the paper does not suggest that cultural capital activities in schools are void and highlights that extracurricular trips may in fact promote “educational enjoyment”.

Researchers used statistical models based on data from the Understanding Society survey which records the changes and stability of households in the UK.

This data was linked to educational records held in the national pupil database and then examined across cultural capital as well as reading activities.

Though this study did not find any evidence to suggest cultural visits will yield higher exam results, a 2019 study by UCL found that such trips could increase life expectancy, concluding that the more often people engage with the arts, the lower their risk of premature death.

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