A family trip to the theater or an afternoon at a museum can be a fun day out, but new research suggests that such cultural outings won’t actually help kids earn higher grades.
There have been persistent theories that wealthier children may get a head start on their school careers if they are pressured into visiting art galleries and exhibitions. However, according to a new academic study, exits often regarded as “middle class” were not correlated with better GCSE results.
The findings emerge in a study that examines the impact of “cultural capital” and its power to improve children’s life chances, as well as the extent to which it explains persistent inequality experienced by children from richer or poorer backgrounds.
While family cultural outings had no discernible impact, the researchers found that the reading activities of both parents and their children played a role in test scores. They measured activities such as reading for pleasure, visiting a library, and talking about books at home. Such activities boosted GCSE scores by a significant amount. “Participating in two or three reading activities, on average, increases a student’s GCSE score by between seven and nine points,” they found. “The size of this effect should not be overlooked, as an additional GCSE pass at grade A* is worth eight points.”
The researchers behind the study, who will appear in the British Journal of the Sociology of EducationThey say it has real implications for ministers. The authors from the Universities of Sussex and Edinburgh said the concept of cultural capital “has become more prominent in government education policy.”
They point to new Ofsted guidance, which states that when assessing the quality of education in a school, “inspectors will consider the extent to which schools are equipping pupils with the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life.” “.
“It is tempting to believe that raising students’ levels of cultural capital will have a positive influence on school GCSE results,” the paper states. “It is tempting to theorize that visits to museums or historical sites might be helpful in sparking an interest in history, and that visits to the theater might equally cultivate learning in the theatre. On further reflection, it is difficult to plausibly describe the mechanisms by which exposure to certain extracurricular activities would influence outcomes in other GCSE school subjects.
“This study reports a body of empirical findings that do not support the view that increasing cultural capital will reduce the size of social class inequalities in GCSE school results. This is not to say that activities that have sometimes been associated with increasing cultural capital should not be part of the school experience; for example, extracurricular trips can contribute to educational enjoyment.”
The researchers used statistical models based on data from the understand society poll, which documents household life in Britain. They then linked this data to educational records found in the National Alumni Database. They examined the “cultural capital” activities, as well as the reading activities, of both the parents and their children to examine any links.
Other studies have found that visiting museums, art galleries and theaters could have much broader benefits beyond education. A study by academics at UCL concluded that they might actually lead to longer life. The 2019 study found that the more often people engage in the arts, the lower their risk of premature death.
It led to calls to prescribe cultural tours as a way to increase well-being and supported studies that found regular cultural tours could improve depression, dementia, chronic pain, and frailty.