Mapping contemporary visual art and design education in Scotland

Published: 30 Mar 2022

Engage Scotland and Queen Margaret University (QMU) Edinburgh are delighted to launch a mapping research report and 3 case studies exploring engagement with visual art and design in Scottish secondary education.

The research describes the challenges that schools face in teaching art and design; and suggests ways for the visual arts and education sectors to partner to better support young people’s learning and access to careers in the creative sector.

The focus on literacy and numeracy because of Covid-19 has led to real concerns across the UK that art and design education will be further marginalised. This research describes the benefits that children and young people gain from art and design education, such as improved wellbeing and confidence. These benefits are even more important given current concerns about children and young people’s mental health. The research demonstrates the potential for training, education, and employment in the creative sector, which is critical as we look to the cultural and education sectors to jointly address social inequalities.

This research was commissioned by Engage Scotland and funded by Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government. The report’s authors are Caitlin McKinnon, Anthony Schrag and Rachel Blanche.

The full research report is accompanied by a list of key findings plus actions and recommendations which could be taken to strengthen contemporary visual art and design education in Scotland.

Links to the report and other resources:

Selected key findings

  • Young people recognise the practical skills that can be gained by studying art and design, but also emphasise the personal, mental health and pastoral benefits.
  • Educators are keen to promote the benefits of studying contemporary visual art and design, especially the transferable skills that can be gained.
  • Both educators and students feel the subject is undervalued at school and within the home. They noted that local and national governments do not value the creative industries, and this leads to a wider cultural bias against the arts.
  • Concerns were voiced that the stereotypical low-paid artist idea persists among parents and senior management in schools and has influenced young people’s perceptions of the subject.
  • Young people don’t see themselves represented in the curriculum.
  • Collaborations with external partners work best when the entire school understands the value of art and design education.
  • Considering a visual arts organisation as a ‘resource’ for a school often leads to greater, more productive relationships.
  • A philosophy of long-term engagement that is built on good relationships can lead to engagement of great depth for students as well as teachers.

Suggested actions

  • Teachers can join and create networks to share learning and get support. They can explore collaborative working with visual arts organisations such as museums and galleries.
  • School leaders can support collaborations by streamlining administrative processes around trips and visits. They can advocate for art and design education to parents, highlighting the benefits and variety of career options in the cultural industries.
  • Local authorities can create and support partnership and network-building opportunities for schools and cultural organisations.
  • Cultural organisations can collaborate with teachers by providing packs and toolkits, while also debunking the idea that there are ‘no jobs’ within the cultural sector.
  • Support bodies like Creative Scotland, Education Scotland and others can make a better case for the contribution that studying art and design makes to wider society, including its economic and social value.


Sarah Yearsley, Engage Scotland Coordinator:

Engage Scotland is delighted to share this important research with the culture and education sectors in Scotland and beyond. We believe that this is essential reading for those who seek to champion learning for young people in and through the arts. It offers practical suggestions for improving the experience of young people studying art and design at secondary level and for providing teachers with the support and resources that they need. The research also highlights gaps in our knowledge, and we are looking forward to working with partners to address those gaps.

Dr Anthony Schrag, QMU:

Exploring culture is one of QMU’s key strategic priorities; we also have a growing team of education scholars building our teacher training programmes. This research was therefore very aligned with our interests, and it has been a pleasure to work with Engage Scotland on this project. The research presents some key findings that can be useful in strengthening and supporting art and design education in Scotland and we are excited to see how these develop. We would like to thank the teachers, students, steering group and all the participants who gave their time to this work.

Colin Bradie, Head of Creative Learning, Creative Scotland:

The study of art and design is important to the learning and development of children and young people. It enables them to develop creativity skills, critical thinking, boosts confidence and self-expression and sparks imagination that they will take into all walks of life. The findings of this report are key to gaining a better understanding of best practice, barriers to access and participation, and help ensure cultural and expressive arts experiences for Scotland’s learners are high quality. We look forward to continuing to work with partners, including Education Scotland and Scottish Government, to embed creativity at the centre of Scottish education and adopt a collaborative culture where all learners are empowered, creative and confident.


For more information, contact Sarah Yearsley, Engage Scotland Coordinator, by email: