School education in Australia is a responsibility of State and Territory Governments, including the registration and regulation of all schools and the operation of government schools. Schools, from Foundation to Year 10, receive funding from both their State or Territory Government and the Commonwealth Government, and ‘national education policy is decided by all governments working together through the National Cabinet’.1
Australian, State and Territory government ministers responsible for education attend the Education Ministers Meeting, which is a forum for collaboration and decision-making on early childhood education and care; school education; higher education; and international education. The meeting is chaired by the Commonwealth Minister for Education. The National School Reform Agreement is ‘a joint agreement between the Commonwealth, States and Territories to lift student outcomes across Australian schools’.2
In 2020, 65.6 per cent of students in Australia attended Government schools, while 34.4 per cent of students attended Non-Government schools.3 The State and Territory Governments are the majority public funders of Government schools while the Commonwealth Government is the majority public funder of Non-Government schools.4
The Australian Curriculum guides what students should learn, regardless of where they live or the school they attend. It includes:
eight key learning areas—English, Mathematics, Science, Humanities and Social Sciences, Health and Physical Education, Languages, Technologies and the Arts;
seven general capabilities—literacy, numeracy, information and communication technology capability, critical and creative thinking, personal and social capability, intercultural understanding, and ethical understanding; and
three cross-curriculum priorities—sustainability, Asia and Australia's engagement with Asia, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures.5
As one of the 8 key learning areas, the arts is set out in the Australian Curriculum as:
…a learning area that draws together related but distinct art forms. While these art forms have close relationships and are often used in interrelated ways, each involves different approaches to arts practices and critical and creative thinking that reflect distinct bodies of knowledge, understanding and skills. The curriculum examines past, current and emerging arts practices in each art form across a range of cultures and places.
The Australian Curriculum: The Arts comprises five subjects:
Media Arts;
Music; and
Visual Arts.6

Arts Benefits in Education

Research by the Macquarie School of Education, Macquarie University, explained that:
Arts-rich learning has a powerful impact on equalising educational disadvantage experienced by young children who are economically disadvantaged, improving emergent literacy, and giving children an advantage in all areas of school readiness.7
Inquiry participants drew attention to the value of arts and cultural education at all ages of a child’s schooling journey; from Macquarie School of Education’s focus on early learning in the arts, through to the University of Melbourne’s focus on positive outcomes derived for young adults through their engagement with theatre, who found that:
… connection can lead to students being given opportunities they might not otherwise receive because they’re perceived as ‘difficult’ or ‘stupid’ improving their educational outcomes, which has knock-on effects into their adult years.8
The 2019 National Arts Participation Survey found that Australians increasingly agree that ‘the arts and creativity impact child development’ with 63 per cent agreeing with this statement, representing an increase of 13 per cent from 2016.9 Further, the proportion of Australians who agree that ‘the arts should be an important part of education’ has increased by
12 per cent up to 73 per cent.10
In a similar vein, Symphony Services Australia added that:
An arts-rich education has been shown to improve students’ engagement at school, their motivation and memory, and increases the creative skills that a post-COVID workforce will require. The business leaders of the future will require creative thinking and there is a strong correlation between engagement with the arts in childhood, and later innovation and entrepreneurship.11
The National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) highlighted the well-known benefits students derive from arts education including:
…creativity, innovation, agility, intellectual curiosity, resourcefulness, exploratory thinking, communication, teamwork, problem solving, emotional judgement, professional ethics, global citizenship, entrepreneurship and the courage to take risks. These qualities are essential for the 21st century working environment. Further, Australians believe that when children are exposed to, and participate in, arts and culture they develop better self-esteem, self-expression, social and intellectual skills, and preparation for the future.12
The Australian Society of Authors (ASA) drew attention to the ‘substantial body of research that attests to the significant and diverse benefits of music generally and music education more specifically’.13 ASA drew attention to the following benefits derived from music education:
Improves learning capacity;
Boosts academic performance in English, Maths and Science;
Supports reading and numeracy skills;
Improves cognitive connectivity and efficiency;
Increases attention stamina and focus;
Decreases stress and anxiety;
Improves self-regulation;
Hones neural synchronisation to enhance learning;
Improves social skills and personal wellbeing; and
Heightens empathy and valuing of diversity.14
Dr Kate Grenville highlighted that Australian literature is an important learning resource:
Australian books create Australian course content for schools and universities. This matters because it's an important way in which students learn to think about the society they're part of, and of which they'll become citizens. Without a rich body of our own Australian literature, the education of Australian young people becomes second-hand British or American.15
While acknowledging the ‘essential’ nature of the arts in schools, A New Approach (ANA) drew attention to the importance of engaging ‘young people who are not engaged in the school system’. The capacity for the arts to connect disengaged young people with education is found in the work of Somebody’s Daughter Theatre Company (SDTC). SDTC uses the arts ‘as the bridge to education and inclusion’, working in extremely marginalised communities.16 Of the young people SDTC has worked with, 90 per cent have completed their relevant year level at school. 17
ANA also drew attention to the very high participation rate in creative programs by school-aged children:
The participation rate for young people aged five to 14 is 95.6 per cent. That's participation in creating or performing outside of school. This is an area where young people love participating. Those school programs are absolutely essential to create shared experiences amongst student bodies to develop the skills and connections that we know, from the evidence, have an incredible impact on their learning across a whole range of different ways. School based programs are fantastic.18

Snapshot of Australia’s Arts Education Landscape

Arts education in schools is supported at State, Territory and Commonwealth Government levels. The Australian Curriculum arts component comprises the following:
The curriculum is based on the assumption that all students will study the five arts subjects from Foundation to the end of primary school. Schools will be best placed to determine how this will occur. From the first year of secondary school (Year 7 or 8), students will have the opportunity to experience one or more arts subjects in depth. In Years 9 and 10, students will be able to specialise in one or more arts subject. Subjects offered will be determined by state and territory school authorities or individual schools.19
All States and Territories follow the above model, as well as any unique arts education programs or curriculum they have developed. For example, the Queensland Government supports the following programs and organisations:
Creative Generation—State Schools Onstage: Queensland's largest youth performing arts event with more than 1500 students;20
Creative Generation Excellence Awards in Visual Art, which recognises and promotes excellence in senior visual art education throughout Queensland state and non-state schools;21
Artist in Residence—program partnership with the Queensland Department of Education and Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art;22 and
Queensland Music Festival (QMF) — grant to support state school engagement in the QMF Score It! Film Composition Program.
The Tasmanian Government drew attention to the importance of leveraging collaborative partnerships to support arts offerings. In 2018, Tasmanian high school media teachers were given a unique opportunity to get an up close look at what it takes to make the smash-hit ABC comedy Rosehaven, allowing them to ‘to see how a professional production team works together’. Then-Minister for Education and Training, Jeremy Rockliff, stated that the opportunity had many benefits and had been a collaborative effort and were organised by the Rosehaven production team, Screen Tasmania and the Department of Education:
During the visits, teachers have had dedicated time with the producers getting an overview of the development and production of the series and have been on the shooting set - in the thick of the action and behind the monitors watching with the director.
This has enabled the teachers to learn more about the skills involved in filming on location, costume, production design and editing on a major professional production.23
In a similar vein, the Victorian Government has worked to link artists with education and, in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, created the Creative Workers in Schools program to support 150 creative workers to undertake a 6 month residency in a Victorian government primary or secondary school.24 During the program, creative workers receive training and mentorship and ‘will work with teachers and students to design and deliver a creative project that will support learning across the Victorian Curriculum from Foundation to Year 10’.25
The Western Australian highlighted its commitment to providing quality curriculum so that students become ‘confident, creative learners and active, informed citizens who contribute positively to society’.26 The Western Australian Government drew attention to their pre-primary to Year 10 program, which they also provide further funding to develop a range of teacher support materials:
The Arts learning area comprises of five subjects: Dance, Drama, Media Arts, Music and Visual Arts. The Arts Curriculum is written on the basis that all students will study at least two Arts subjects from Pre-primary to the end of Year 8. It is a requirement that students study a performance subject and a visual subject each year. Having had that opportunity, students are then able to determine whether to continue into Years 9 and 10 with further specialisation.27
Furthermore, the Western Australia Government offers Dance, Design, Drama, Media Production and Analysis, Music, Visual Arts, and Creative Industries as ATAR, general and Vet industry specific levels, respectively, throughout Year 11 and 12.28
The Western Australian Government also provides funding for the following organisations:29
Western Australian Primary Schools Massed Choir;
Western Australian Government Schools Music Society;
Performing Arts Perspectives;
FORM Creative Schools Program;
The Literature Centre;
Pulse Perspectives;
Gifted and Talented Arts;
Teacher Development Schools; and
Australian Children’s Television Foundation (ACTF)
The Northern Territory Government drew attention to the importance of arts education, and the Territory’s Indigenous languages and culture (ILC) program. The Northern Territory Government stated that the ILC curriculum ‘encourages students to engage with cultural knowledge and content within the conceptual framework of a specific language and community’.30 Approximately 1,200 students from Years 4 to 12 are enrolled in regular music and perform arts curriculum programs.31
Additionally, the Northern Territory Government also invest in the following programs:
Exit Art – an annual visual arts exhibition held at the Museum and Art Gallery.
Artists in Schools Grants – a program that provides students, teachers and the community with first-hand opportunities to work with professional artists in all art forms.
Professional teaching organisations including: Art Educators of the NT, Drama Territory, Australian Teachers of Music-NT, and Australian Teachers of Media-NT.32
NAVA emphasised the importance of a healthy and vibrant arts and cultural sector, recommending key art forms be included as core mandatory subjects in national curriculum; the inclusion of creativity across all facets of education delivery in schools; expansion of the Artist in Schools programs; and access to student loans for anyone studying arts and creative courses at TAFE or university.33
Dr Alison Richards asserted that:
The most recent reforms to Higher Education funding will only further exacerbate this unfortunate trend, with cuts to communication and creative arts, especially performing arts, programs already evident as universities struggle with unprecedented budgetary shortfalls. While no doubt an unintended consequence of efforts to encourage students into STEM programs, the impact on teaching, learning and research pathways supporting work in the creative and cultural industries is likely to be catastrophic.34

Music Education in Australia

Education is managed by State and Territory Governments with music education demonstrating considerable variability between types of schools.35
There has been an effort to standardise music education in Australia within the National Curriculum.36 The Australian Curriculum was initially introduced by the Australian Government in December 2010, and has since undergone continuous reviews.37
The Australian Curriculum covers major areas of education, but has been criticised for not sufficiently covering music education and providing little to no direction in this area.38 Alberts and The Tony Foundation highlighted that this leaves school principals with the ability to determine the level and depth of music education within each school.39
Mr Tim Hansen, a specialist music teacher from New South Wales, was of the view that music education, and music success, depends on funding at all levels of the ‘arts ecosystem’. Specifically, he was of the view that the ‘grass level’ of music, organisations such as youth orchestras, required more an increase in funding.40 This included funding for those professionals providing training and expertise to educate young musicians, therefore making such teaching more affordable for professional-level musicians to undertake:
It doesn't have to be billions and billions of dollars; it just has to be enough so that they can function and the professionals involved—say, the conductor, the director and the tutors—can make a living doing it. Again, we're not going to be driving around in Mercedes. I'm not asking for that. It's a job; it's not a hobby. It's how people pay the rent and save up for their future, just like with any other job.41
Musica Viva Australia tours to more than 250,000 primary school children across Australia, in regional and metropolitan areas, and provides curriculum-aligned digital resources and teacher professional development. Musica Viva supports specialist music teachers and generalist classroom teachers to bring music education to students, along with delivering concerts and educational programs. Young Australian musicians can participate in a national Masterclass program, the FutureMakers artistic leadership program, competitions and championships.42
Musica Viva critiqued the lack of current data on the music education landscape, and noted that the 2013 Music Council of Australia’s Research Report, Music to our Ears found that:
63% of primary schools offer no classroom music;
34% of secondary schools offer no classroom music;
Only in the states of Queensland and Tasmania is music a part of the primary school curriculum in government schools and taught by specialist music teachers;
Less than a quarter of government schools (primary and secondary) offer a program that would meet the standard of music education in the National Review; and
Over three quarters of independent schools meet this standard.43
Further, Musica Viva found that:
A common element of all studies has been the issue of lack of specialist music teachers, and the lack of skills and confidence among generalist classroom teachers tasked with teaching music. A driver of this is the lack of music training available to pre-service teachers, an area of Commonwealth oversight.44
The Roundtable of Instrumental, Vocal and Music Education Organisations (RIVMEO), raised concern that ‘where public schools have instrumental and vocal music programmes, band, orchestra, choir, in most cases these are organised and resourced by the parent body’.45 This leads to barriers to participation for children attending schools in low socio-economic areas:
There is a huge equity issue here. Many programmes have shown that learning an instrument and participating in band, orchestra or choir is highly effective among students who are disadvantaged.46

Turning STEM into STEAM

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects are a major focus of the Australian Curriculum, with ‘significant funding’ provided through the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) ‘for initiatives to improve the teaching and learning of STEM in early learning and schools‘.47 While acknowledging the value of STEM subjects, numerous inquiry participants suggested that the focus on STEM should be reframed to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics).48 Dr Megan Walsh elaborated:
…the data shows us that a focus on STEM is unbalanced, that scholastic performance and learning improves through a combination of arts with science, technology, engineering and mathematics. As an educator for over thirty years I have witnessed these learning improvements first hand when the arts are combined with STEM subjects.49
Professor Stuart Cunningham and Dr Marion McCutcheon suggested that Australia develop a new research and development body, modelled after the United Kingdom’s charity Nesta, which operates as an ‘innovation agency to create social good’.50 Professor Cunningham and Dr McCutcheon proposed ‘Nesta AU’:
…should start as a research unit with a remit to develop targeted research and information that facilitates a more productive and holistic approach to innovation with a specific brief to effectively incorporate CCII into innovation policy, programs and strategy. It could be funded by government at all three levels and by philanthropy.51
Ms Barbara Doran’s submission drew attention to the creativity and experimentation which the arts facilitate, suggesting that ‘this is a space that is also common to engineers, designers, scientists, technical innovators and inventors’.52
This was further echoed by the Australian Council of University Art and Design Schools (ACUADS), who highlighted the central role of arts in Australian society, and the importance of centring it within education.
It is not only a matter of emphasising the centrality of the arts and cultural industries to our society, it is also about centring it within education, from primary school and secondary school to tertiary education, where the creative arts prepare individuals for the challenges of a changing world. A key dimension is to better enable engagement with the creative arts across all year levels of the Australian Curriculum; including through cross-disciplinary opportunities such as STEAM.53
One survey respondent also stated that: ‘the A in 'STEAM' is there for a reason. The ability to think creatively is fundamental to innovation. Imagination and vision are the building blocks of social progress’.54
The Council of Australasian Museum Directors (CAMD) drew attention to the work of CAMD museums which ‘make a substantial contribution to learning and education especially in STEM, civics and the humanities. Australasian museums contribute significantly to the quality of schools education programs in these areas and achieve global benchmarks for student visits in formal educational groups’.55

Cross-Curriculum Priorities

The Australian Curriculum has three areas identified as priorities in the 2008 Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (Melbourne Declaration). The priorities identified are:
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures;
Asia and Australia’s Engagement with Asia; and
As identified priorities, these will ‘give students the tools and language to engage with and better understand their world at a range of levels’, and ‘provide national, regional and global dimensions which will enrich the curriculum through development of considered and focused content that fits naturally within learning areas’.56 The Australian Curriculum sets out that:
Each priority has an introductory statement that outlines the reason for its inclusion and describes how it is viewed in the curriculum. The priorities have all been developed around three key concepts that are seen as fundamental to learning for that priority. Each concept is further developed through two or more organising ideas that provide a scaffold for relating and developing content knowledge, understanding and skills for the priority and learning areas. The organising ideas are embedded in the content descriptions and elaborations of each learning area as appropriate. Taken as a whole, the set of organising ideas provides a coherent framework that reflects the essential learning and skills for the priority.57
Inquiry participants drew attention to the interconnected nature of the arts, and highlighted the benefits that come from linking the arts with other ley learning areas. Inquiry participants also called for a stronger focus on the arts within the Australian Curriculum.58

Skills for Employability: the Future Jobs Market

Stage Queensland suggested that the nature of arts and cultural experiences ‘encourage ‘out of the box’ thinking and innovation - skills very much needed in our future workforce’.59 Further, the arts encourages creative thinking and an atmosphere that ‘there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ when participating or interpreting creative and cultural activities’.60
Lakespeare and Co. suggested cultural activities enrich ‘every element of people’s lives’ and the artistic practice thereof provides valuable employment opportunities for artists.61
The long-term benefits of reading for children and adults alike were put forward by Australian Publishers Association, noting that:
Reading for pleasure has been revealed as the most important indicator of the future success of a child and improvements in literacy, at any point in life, can have a profound effect on an individual.62
Moreover, literacy skills ‘underpin strong family relationships, better health choices and an individual’s capacity (and confidence) to gain employment’, with particular value to be found in reading through Australian stories, history, culture, values and geography.63
The National Arts Participation Survey found that, ‘One in two Australians agree that the arts have a big or very big impact on building creative skills that will be necessary for the future workforce’ [sic].64 Furthermore:
Creative skills have been integral to the fast-growing industries in Australia over the past decade and prior to COVID-19, the creative economy was growing at a rate nearly twice that of the Australian workforce.65
ANA suggested the creative and cultural industries are ‘sunrise industries’ where young people are looking to these sectors to provide ‘the future jobs of the nation’.66
Pre COVID…our best estimate of the workforce size is that about 5.9 per cent of the Australian population were working within the combined cultural and creative industries space. Jobs in the creative economy, as a per cent of the total Australian workforce, was 3.7 per cent in 1986 and 5.5 per cent in 2016.67
This significant pre-COVID growth suggests that the workforce of creative and cultural industries were experiencing growth at ‘nearly twice the rate of the Australian workforce’.68 Despite this growth, ANA made the point that while innovation is driven by creativity ‘this proven relationship’ is ill-understood in Australia, there is a current knowledge gap in our understanding of the impact of the cultural and creative economy that is ‘putting our future economic stability and growth at risk’.69
The Burnie Arts Council drew attention to the work of American paediatrician, Dr Laura Jana, who ‘suggests that 65% of students today will work in jobs that don’t currently exist’.70 The Burnie Arts Council made the point that employability is reliant on ‘creative capability’, which can be summarised as:
critical thinking; and
Echoing this position, the Stradbroke Chamber Music Festival pointed out the enduring attention creative skills and a STEAM approach have received, which ‘were highlighted by Gonski 2.0 and the Australian Curriculum as skills for a future Australian workplace’.72
In a similar vein, Writing Western Australia expressed concern that despite a need for future workers to possess ‘hard specialist knowledge skills’ in conjunction with ‘critical thinking, communication, collaboration, connectivity, creativity, and culture’, the ‘Federal Government’s recent Higher Education Bill, which significantly increases the cost of humanities degrees, can be expected to discourage access to tertiary education in areas critical for Australia’s future economy’.73
The Australia Council for the Arts noted the importance of the creative and cultural industries, their role in education, and their capacity to ‘shape and adapt to the rapid transformation of traditional industries and to new forms of productivity’.74 The Australia Council for the Arts made suggestions for strategic interventions focused on:
investing in:
cultural production and cross-portfolio collaboration;
digital capacity building;
health, mental health and wellbeing;
access for young people to arts and culture;
upscale existing programs;
domestic tourism;
corporate and individual donations;
support entrepreneurship and collaboration;
the establishment of a cultural and creative industries portfolio;
Australia’s international brand and export growth;
ensure economic recovery strategies include focus on creative and cultural industries and workers;
First Nations arts to support self-determination and Close the Gap; and
social cohesion, national unity and cultural diversity through the arts.75
Financial literacy and education on small business was noted as an important skill for artists.
Artists and boards of directors would benefit from more education in financial literacy…more financial literacy and economic independence need to be established to create healthier and more stable communities.76
Ms Sue Blakey and Mr Steve Scott noted that they had to learn a range of skills to create a successful small business in the creative industries:
Alongside my artistic training, I have had to learn the principals of successfully running a small business. How to market, how to respond professionally anytime of the day or night to any kind of query from national or international enquiries, how to protect our small business from unfair treatment, how to expand and add to the ‘products’ we offer.77
Music Victoria asserted the importance of government support for professional development and development of business acumen for artists.78 Music Victoria advocated the idea for a program linking established businesses to new businesses to provide mentoring.79 Furthermore, professional development was highlighted as necessary, with support from the Commonwealth Government to set up resources to educate artists on how to access further streams of income and better market their skills, becoming self-sufficient.80

Concluding Comment

Australians recognise the importance of arts education throughout formal and informal schooling, and the improved educational outcomes which an arts education delivers. Placing greater emphasis on a STEAM approach supports foundational skills which may readily be applied to other disciplines or careers. Supporting our young people to critically analyse and think creatively presents only opportunity, with cross-sectoral benefits to be gained.
A stronger, and more integrated, focus on the arts within the Australian Curriculum may lead to more developed creative thinking and problem solving skills and create flow-on benefits for Australian children as they prepare to enter the job market.
Creative engagement also has strong positive outcomes for mental health. There is emerging evidence that social and mental wellbeing can be enhanced through participation in arts-based programmes. Studies show that people who play instruments have better connectivity between their left and right brains; people who write about their experiences daily may have stronger immune system function; crafting, drawing and painting can help focus the mind, similar to meditation; and arts is being used as an effective treatment for patients with dementia. The then Department for Communications and the Arts in its report The Social and Economic Benefits of Improving Mental Health, stated:
Davies et al. have established that people with high levels of arts participation experience significantly better mental wellbeing than those with medium, low or no participation. They have shown that two or more hours a week of arts participation is needed to achieve this outcome. For children and young people, participating in arts activities can have a positive effect on self-confidence, self-esteem, relationship building and a sense of belonging (all associated with resilience and mental wellbeing). Research into Queensland Ballet’s Ballet for Seniors program found that participants perceived positive wellbeing outcomes after participating in the program.81
The report also highlighted the additional a number of additional mental health benefits:
In addition to promoting mental health and wellbeing across the population, art making can assist people to improve wellbeing and socially reconnect after an episode of mental illness. A 2009 collaborative research project between La Trobe University, Mind Australia and Prahran Mission reviewed the evidence about art making by people with mental health conditions. The researchers found that art-making enhanced emotional exploration and expression, participation and learning, thought processes, new perspectives, spiritual growth, political voice and social expression, and the development of interpersonal relationships.82
The Committee supports embedding the arts in the Australian Curriculum and turning STEM to STEAM, and would like to see consideration of the arts as a cross-curriculum priority in future. This priority should complement the arts as a key learning area, and not replace it. Making the arts a cross-curriculum priority would unlock the potential benefits that come from linking creative expression and creative thinking with other key learning areas such as history, mathematics and science.
The Committee was pleased to see the Creative Victoria program Creative Workers in Schools, which paired artists with schools as a response to the COVID-19 public health emergency. The Committee would support consideration of a similar program at a national level, which would have the dual benefit of strengthening the role of the arts in the education system and also providing income and recognition for Australia’s arts practitioners.

Recommendation 12

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth, State and Territory Education Ministers Meeting consider adding a fourth cross-curriculum priority: ‘the Arts’. The Committee recommends that this priority be in addition to (and not a replacement for) the arts as a key learning area.

Recommendation 13

The Committee recommends that there be a minimum threshold of Australian-authored literary texts in the Australian Curriculum.

Recommendation 14

The Committee recommends that the criteria for capital expenditure set out in the Australian Education Act 2013, provided for in the Capital Grants Program, include expenditure relating to equipment and facilities for arts, performance and cultural activities.

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