Scholar in Residence - Professor Judith McLean

Teachers working in early childhood and early years know only too well that teaching and learning in the art curriculum operates within its own domain of knowledge. The arts, like other bodies of knowledge, come with particular languages and ways of operating and like anything worthwhile it takes time and regular engagement in the arts to become arts literate. Pressures arise for teachers with the dichotomy that pre-service education in the arts is virtually non-existent and yet mandated arts education is compulsory – teachers care greatly about their ethical responsibilities and achieving pedagogical demands. So what’s to be done?

Professor Judith McLean

For over 25 years, QPAC has worked with schools, teachers, children, artists and teaching artists to present Out of the Box Festival. Especially curated for children aged eight and under, the Festival offers access to scaffolded art experiences – rich performances and activities with appropriate learning resources offering cross curriculum application.

For teachers and students engaging willingly and with curiosity in the arts, the evidence is clear and points to beneficial outcomes. Whether it is attending a performance, playing an instrument, singing a three-part harmony, participating in a dance class or reading a novel, students become more learned, with new neurological pathways forged.

Here is a list of research backed outcomes resulting from arts engagement:


  • SMARTER – guaranteed improved cognitive abilities by up to 17%
  • BETTER AT READING AND MATHS – improved reading and maths skills by the age of nine
  • FOCUSED – better concentration and organisational skills
  • HEALTHIER – improvements in overall health by 38%
  • BETTER EDUCATED – being three times more likely to get a tertiary education
  • MORE EMPLOYABLE – staying employed longer than average student
  • BETTER CITIZEN – 18% less likely to be a young offender

Children will discover rich physical works in our theatres, underpinned with evocative musical compositions.

The claims made here are evidenced in a research report entitled Imagine Nation. It’s a fascinating read making a strong and coherent case for why we need art in daily life. Signatories of the report include Sir Ken Robinson whose TED Talk Do Schools Kill Creativity has been viewed by over 48 million people. All signatories agree with the report’s findings that the arts are not an additional extra when there is a market surplus, “they are not an add-on, or a nice to have, but are a part of the fabric of society… young people have a right to experience the best… given the opportunity to make their own contribution to the continual reshaping of civilisation”.

Let’s turn to one of the United Kingdom’s great film makers and a champions of arts education Lord Puttnam CBE, the Chair of The Cultural Learning Alliance. Speaking practically, Puttnam outlines the domain skills offered by and through an education in culture and the arts. “Learning through culture and the arts leads to creative thinking, confidence and problem solving – all skills which are prized by employers and which young people need. If we fail to offer our young people the opportunity to participate in the arts and culture, then we fail to support them in becoming the leading thinkers, innovators, creative business and community leaders of the future.”


This year’s Out of the Box will specifically investigate concepts around home, journeys and belonging within the broader framework of creating fun, interactive and moving performing arts experiences for children. A number of works in Out of the Box use non-verbal language to communicate with the audience. This reflects the experience of young children who are still learning how to externalise their thoughts. Be it dance and movement, music, creative play and imagination, drama, there is a rich vocabulary available to us all outside formal language. In using non-verbal languages, we are encouraging you and the children in your lives to take what you see and experience and to unpack it, discuss it, linger around how you felt and what you thought. Home, journeys, belonging – these are big and complex concepts but instead of shying away from discussing them with children, we should be embracing the ambiguity and uncertainty, creating resilience and building our kids up with empathy. We look forward to welcoming teachers and students of Queensland to Out of the Box Festival 2018.