An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Art
Mount Sackville Secondary School
Chapelizod, Dublin 20
Roll number: 60120W
Date of inspection: 8 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Art
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mount Sackville Secondary School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Art and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
All students take Art in first year and thereafter there is a free choice of subjects for junior cycle. There is similarly a free choice for Transition Year (TY) and the Leaving Certificate. Classes are arranged as mixed ability groups.
The space, personnel, materials and equipment available to the art department are very good and these advantages can be seen to some extent in the artefacts the students make.
Documented planning for the subject is good, thorough and practical and formal planning meetings are held. Informal meetings and discussions between members of the art department throughout the school week supplement these formal meetings. It is recommended that the addition of specific learning aims and objectives to the formal documentation for students of high aptitude and motivation and for those with particular learning needs for all year groups would improve practice.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is used as part of the TY film course and there is access to data projector and laptop technology in the art department. It is recommended that the delivery of support studies and the history and appreciation of Art become more centred on the use of ICT as these makes the visual dimension of these course segments most accessible to students. A visual medium for visual materials hugely enhances learning opportunities for students. Planning should be done in the art department to begin the journey towards optimising the use of these tools for the advantage of the students’ artistic and aesthetic development.
Delivery of courses is undertaken in a very professional manner and the students benefit from this, demonstrating interest, engagement and achievement in the subject. During classes students were affirmed and two-way communication was good. Assignments are monitored and commented on and there is a sense of effective checks being kept on students’ class tasks and homework.
Very good work is being done around Art Elements familiarization. The thoroughness of delivery was impressively evident in exercises students had been given to complete. However, opportunities for learning and synthesis would be enhanced if the students drew from observation and used the imagery thus created for the chart-like exploration that they currently make based on the Art Elements instead of copied imagery.
Students displayed good painting skills in general and a good command of the basic compositional devices used in 2D picture-making. The type of learning activities they had encountered clearly had caused them to engage well with the subject and very even levels of attainment were seen among class members. This indicates a practical and well-managed range of art and design assignments which enables students to achieve, become motivated and enthused about art and design.
A high degree of finish and was seen in students’ graphic design work. Many had completed poster work for the Junior Certificate and were repeating it again in senior cycle where they had further refined their skills. As the school has good facilities and equipment, it would be better if students practiced a wider range of crafts, taking up some new ones in senior cycle. This would have the educational advantage of adding to the array of technical and expressive possibilities they encounter in the media to which they have access. Other crafts are, of course, available and are practiced but the emphasis on poster-making needs to be balanced with other craft and design opportunities, especially for students of high aptitude and motivation for whom a variety of challenges would enrich and empower, both artistically and creatively.
For many years the school has offered a film programme, which empowers TY students in all sorts of valuable ways, such as learning to plan a creative project, engaging in group work and creating a fusion of narrative and visuals. TY students have excellent hands-on learning opportunities in technical matters of filming and editing, using ICT procedures. The students worked together in an impressively self-directed and productive way displaying enthusiasm and focus.
In the TY film project class, the students work in teams and every girl has a designated role in the creation and production of the film. This mirrors the assignment of roles in the film industry and has validity in TY film, as it tries to accurately reflect real conditions. However, when the student assigned to a role is absent, this can cause delay and interferes with the effectiveness and efficiency of the process of making the film. The assignment of a back–up person for each film role would be a better practice which would guarantee that the process is kept on schedule. A further advantage in establishing a back-up for each role would be that everyone involved would be facilitated to learn different roles, thereby extending their artistic and practical skills. Overall, the film module is well thought out and managed. Credit is due to the school and the art department for pioneering it so effectively.
The film course is well managed and run and has impressive artistic learning outcomes. The course is well supported with technical ICT advice and help is brought by a computer professional when problems occur, or when technical solutions are required that are beyond the art department‘s scope. High levels of professionalism are evident in the delivery of the film course and indeed in all the other courses being provided in art and design in Mount Sackville.
Another notable element of good practice in the film project is that students make a video which will be used to advise and encourage the TY group which succeeds them. Based on their experiences of making their films, the students discussed the lessons learned concerning time-management, good organisation and other practical matters that the film-maker’s art involves. This element of self-appraisal for both individuals and groups was very valuable educationally. Making this ‘advice video’ occurred during the inspection. There were impressive levels of articulate comment, practical good sense and useful film-task tips in the girls’ contributions to its content. While making the video and editing the film footage previously shot, students were guided by the teacher. However, it was impressive to see that they were largely working on their own initiative. Very constructive comments and good advice was given to students during the film classes.
From the evidence of the student’ work on display and in their portfolios, there is too much reliance on secondary sources for themes and subjects for their artefacts. Primary sources should be the basis of drawing studies and of the Art Elements familiarization process in junior cycle. The development of the secondary sources was often good and primary sources are sometimes used. However, there now needs to be more direct and widespread engagement with primary sources from first year through to the Leaving Certificate. The basis of this engagement with primary sources should be drawing and painting from observation in a wide variety of media. It was clear from the portfolios that the students are introduced to pastels, oil crayons, inks, charcoal and so on and that there is a heavy reliance on ordinary pencil as the default media. This approach needs to be challenged. It is now most strongly recommended that the use of primary sources and the promotion of drawing skills in a wide variety of media become the strong focus of a new planning and delivery initiative for the art department during the next academic year.
The students had been facilitated to do clay-modelling for their Leaving Certificate craft examination. It was obvious from the artefacts presented that they had been well taught in both technical and expressive matters related to this medium. Some of the pieces were very imaginative and there was a fitting level of aesthetic development evident that was appropriate to the age and level of the students. The artefacts were modelled using a brand-name craft clay product. This material is less expressive in its effect, harder to handle and less elastic and pliant than authentic pottery clay. This clay product presents a range of technical challenges to students that do not advantage them artistically. Though many did good work using it, it is likely that they would have made even better clay modelled artefacts using authentic clay. The school has kiln facilities. It is therefore strongly recommended that, in future, modelled clay pieces should be made from authentic clay which should then be kiln fired. This will give the students the experience of the important craft skills and techniques involved in producing pottery. It is in the students’ interests that they study real artistic and craft processes rather than versions of them, downgraded for school use, particularly when the correct equipment and facilities are in situ in Mount Sackville’s art department.
In the clay work, graphic design and all other media, it should be remembered that the students can be brought to the same point of examination readiness, or even higher, by means which emphasise creativity instead of safety. If the focus in teaching and learning is firmly based on aesthetic development, artistic skill, expressiveness and personal creative confidence rather than on examination friendly formulae and techniques the students will achieve well in the examinations as well as develop optimally as a young artist, designer or craftsperson in proportion to their aptitude and motivation.
Course planning and course delivery should be reviewed in the light of the above statements, particularly for students of high aptitude and/or motivation. There was, in general, a similarity in the students’ work. Given the schools most favourable context, this needs now to be challenged through review and refocus of current approaches to planning and course delivery. This is not to say that an artistic rather than an examinations’ focus is totally absent but some rebalancing of the two approaches would augment the very good work being done at present in the art department. It is recommended that the overall approach be reviewed during the next academic year and thought be given to an emphasis that more strongly promotes diversity, aesthetic development and personal artistic expressiveness. This can only enhance the very good work being done at present in the art department.
During classes, assignments are monitored and commented on and there is a sense of effective checks being kept on students’ class tasks and homework. Students’ progress on tasks was constantly checked and this is good practice.
A combination of assessment procedures is in use in the art department including continuous assessment based on class-work, mock projects and invigilated examinations. Continuous assessment is particularly suited to the long term assignments and project work undertaken by students in art and design. There are written examinations for the History and Appreciation of Art component of the Leaving Certificate programme. There are good levels of achievement in the state examinations. A strong consciousness of the State Examinations Commission (SEC) assessment criteria and of the associated practical requirements informs the work of the art department. There are systematic records of students’ during term, end-of-term, and end-of-year assessment/examination results. End-of-term and end-of-year results are communicated to parents and guardians. Regular parent teacher meetings are held and the art department provides discussion, feedback and advice at these events.
It is recommended that assessment criteria are developed from the learning aims and objectives in the planning document and that these are used to assess students’ attainment in both formal exams and classroom tests. It is desirable that assessment of History and Appreciation of Art examinations should always be linked to visual reproductions of artefacts and buildings so as to replicate better the provision of such material in the Leaving Certificate examination itself.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
drawing skills in a wide variety of media become the strong focus of a new planning
and delivery initiative for the art department during the next academic year.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Art and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.