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More arts organisations are participating in the award scheme, which research shows is nurturing soft skills and fostering an ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ in the young people who take it.

Photo of United Dance
United Dance

The proportion of young people taking their Arts Award qualifications inside an arts or cultural organisation has increased by 12% over the past four years, according to a new report about the scheme.

Almost a third of all awards have been taken in arts and cultural settings since 2012 – up from 18% previously.

The growth of workplace-based delivery of the awards is put down to the popularity of two newly introduced strands of the scheme, ‘Discover’ and ‘Explore’, which were created to “link different artforms to every life” and allow young people to “experience arts organisations”.

Applied learning

Arts Awards were set up in 2005 to support young people to grow as artists and arts leaders, and connect with the wider arts world by undertaking challenges in an art form.

The latest research into the scheme – a three-year longitudinal study into the impacts of the awards – was conducted by researchers from London South Bank University, London Metropolitan University, and the University of East London.

Researchers found that the strongest impact of taking the award was on developing young people’s ‘soft’ skills in areas such as communication, organisation and leadership, and developing an ‘entrepreneurial spirit’.

They also reported that taking the Gold Award within an arts organisation helped to secure creative opportunities and paid work.

These echoed the most common motivations for young people taking the award: to improve job chances (46%), to gain a qualification for an arts activity (45%), and to improve university applications (45%). Comments from participants suggested that the process also gave them “confidence to speak to strangers”.

Continued barriers

The report, available on request, finds that the efficacy of the Arts Award relies upon contextual factors, such as how the student is doing in other studies, where in the country they are studying the award, and whether they have a ‘high’ or ‘low’ level of ‘cultural capital’ – an exposure to culture outside of the Arts Award system.

It calls on Arts Council England (ACE) to address inherent geographic inequalities by creating ‘exchange’ programmes for young people in remote locations and urban centres.

It also proposes expanding the existing Arts Award Youth Network to offer peer support to young people ‘struggling to capitalise’ on the award, and a ‘Life after Arts Award’ programme to help graduates from the higher levels ease into creative careers.

Speaking about the study, Andrew Freeman, Director Europe at Trinity College London, which manages the award, commented: “Teachers and arts professionals have repeatedly told us how important Arts Award is to young people’s lives. Now it is clearly confirmed that Arts Award is recognised as a valuable qualification which offers all young people tangible benefits.”

Professor Andrew Burn of the Institute of Education, University of London, echoed this response: “Arts Award has provided motivation, opportunities to reflect on learning, and tangible examples of artistic excellence which often go unrecognised by formal assessment structures.”

Correction 04/10/2016: A previous version of this article suggested that one recommendation of the report was to establish an Arts Award Youth Network to help young people struggling to capitalise on Arts Award. In fact, the Arts Award Youth Network has been in place for five years, and the report recommended developing the existing network to offer peer support to young people struggling to capitalise on the award.