An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science



Subject Inspection of Art



Saint Columba’s College

Stranorlar, Co. Donegal

Roll number: 62861F



Date of inspection: 20 February 2006

Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006







Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Art

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning

Assessment and Achievement

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

School Response to the Report

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Art



This Subject Inspection report


This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Columba’s College, Stranorlar. 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 in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report



Subject Provision and Whole School Support


St. Columba’s College, Stranorlar is under the trusteeship of the Mercy Order and currently has an enrolment of 769 students of which 418 are girls. The Art department in the school is presently staffed by two qualified Art teachers and is very well established.  Commendably, the staff in the department have engaged in a number of relevant courses and programmes in their personal time, a commitment which helps to bring fresh ideas and new skills into the teaching and learning of Art at the school.  Teachers avail of the support offered by the relevant subject association and further support is gained from a mentoring system, to aid the induction of new teachers into the delivery and implementation of the Art syllabus.  Collaboration takes place formally at specific meetings organised by management and informally on a day-to-day basis.  This good work results in a plan for the years work and has also resulted in the Art Department Plan.  Management reports that Art is well regarded by both students and staff in the school and makes a unique and important contribution to the education of students and also to the general school community.


Commendably, all Art classes are held in the designated Art rooms, while the number of class contact hours and provision for double periods are satisfactory. Lessons are timetabled concurrently.


Two separate Art rooms are provided. Both of these rooms are bright, full of students’ artwork and kept in an orderly and tidy fashion. However, as the decorative paintwork and mosaic areas in the larger classroom are a hindrance to the display of students work, it is recommended that these ceramic mosaics be removed and that the room be repainted. It is also recommended that obsolete materials be removed from the department to make space for new materials. Commendably, the corridors of the school are also used to display students’ work. In order to maintain a sense of vitality, it is recommended that the older pieces of students’ work be documented and removed in favour of current work. To further enhance the visual environment it is recommended that some of the large volume of high quality teacher-generated exemplars be displayed in the Art rooms. This should serve both to inspire students and also to remind them of the high level of expertise available to them.

One of the Art rooms is larger than the other and also houses the ceramic facility.  It is suggested that the plans for the delivery of ceramics would include a ‘swapping’ of rooms for the duration of the lesson period so that ceramics would always be delivered in this larger room.  It is recommended that the ventilation of the room be monitored; it would be desirable that some extra extraction be installed over the kiln in the event of firing while students are present, but in the interim, consideration should be given to firing prior to the arrival of students to the room.


The budget provided for consumables is adequate. Supplies of art materials are made available to the students on occasion and these are supplemented by the students themselves. In addition to the standard range of materials and resources, audio-visual equipment, and ceramic, batik and enamelling facilities are also available. 


To date the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) equipment in the department does not facilitate internet access or the use of Art-related software.  Primarily, the ICT provided is capable of simple word processing.  In light of the visual nature of the subject and the potential for appropriate ICT to aid student learning across the ability spectrum, it is recommended that dedicated computers, scanners and printers with internet access be installed in both Art rooms as soon as opportunity and funding presents. It is also suggested that these computers be networked if possible.  It is further recommended that a dedicated Art department digital projector be obtained for the teaching of history and appreciation of Art. On the day of the visit, a senior class addressed the life and work of Rembrandt.  An overhead projector was used to display important works to the class group as no one textbook contains a suitable number of images. Whilst this was effective to a certain degree and a good use of the resources available, a digital projector and internet access would ensure a much better quality of image and facilitate a better level of critical study.  It was suggested on the day of the visit that a nearby demonstration room may be useful for this process and it is recommended that this possibility be explored.   


The arrangements for student access to Art at both junior and senior levels are satisfactory and the numbers of students choosing to study Art show that the subject enjoys popularity. It is suggested that the subject be promoted at junior cycle to ensure continuity into senior cycle. Possible suggestions for promoting the subject are in-school competitions with prizes and the display and celebration of particular groups of students’ work. These exhibitions and displays should showcase the work of the students in the Art department and be held in public areas in the school so that all members of the school community can access the work.   



Planning and Preparation


On the day of the visit an Art Department Plan 2005-2006 was presented.  This document contains information regarding the school’s mission statement, Art teaching methods, the changing role of Art education, some aims of Art education, and a range of general topics for study in the various year groups and specific plans for Transition Year (TY) and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA).  While the work to date in this document is commended, it is recommended that the document be expanded to include the department’s own thoughts and philosophies on the teaching and learning of Art.  It is also suggested that the good planning and procedures evident in the day-to-day running of this Art department be reflected in this document. As part of the plan, a diagnostic window showed evidence of reflective practice and an understanding of the contextual issues affecting the study of the subject. Subject department meeting records also show that planning and review is on going. It is suggested that this good practice is extended, perhaps to explore the possibilities of new topics and technologies.  A section on assessment also recorded some theoretical and academic notes on the positive use of assessment. It is recommended that this section of the document be furthered by formally incorporating specific assessment modes and procedures into the various schemes of work.        


Some high quality individual lesson plans were also observed. These showed a good understanding of a broad and balanced art education. It is suggested that these be incorporated into the department plan.


A wide range of teacher-generated notes and documentation was presented regarding the history of art and design. This work is very valuable and of great benefit to the students.   It is further recommended that the teaching of art history and appreciation be expanded and that a familiarity with the area using the relevant art terminology would be introduced from first year. It is intended that this exposure to art history would encourage informed and confident responses from the students as well as an enjoyment of the subject matter.



Teaching and Learning


During the evaluation four class groups at junior cycle and one at senior cycle were visited. In all lessons observed the majority of students enjoyed the tasks set and a sense of regard for both persons in the room and for the subject were evident. Discipline was maintained in a fair and respectful manner.


Classroom management styles vary according to the topics covered as might be expected.  In both practical and theoretical lessons observed, teachers were keen to aid students. The balance between teacher direction and student involvement is delicate and it is suggested that this be monitored carefully. In one case the lesson topic was announced and then students were helped individually for the duration of the class. Whilst this approach is useful on occasion, continual use can result in students becoming very dependant on the teacher and the potential for independent learning is reduced. It is recommended that generally, instruction and direction be given to the group as a whole and that individual instruction be used to help as necessary.  In another more theoretical lesson, the delivery of the topic was of a very high quality and was based on very detailed and interesting sets of notes, but was teacher-led. It is suggested that teachers would balance the level of student involvement by using questioning techniques at appropriate times to encourage students to link information and develop their own interpretation of that information. It also suggested that the approach to theoretical work be varied by occasionally examining the visual artefact to determine and extract the contextual information rather than working from historical fact to visual image.  


The practical lessons observed showed clearly that students were accustomed to working in a workshop environment as they moved around the room.  Students are encouraged to acquire their own materials and were able to do so with the least amount of disruption.  Commendably, these lessons varied from working on small-scale personal work to large-scale communal work, giving students an opportunity to observe a variety of techniques and outcomes.  The large-scale work being addressed is destined for the school musical, giving students an opportunity to see how skills from the Art department can be incorporated into other areas.  The project is being well delivered as a collaborative entity with students also making props and other artefacts. 


The particular methodologies chosen to deliver lessons reflect the nature of the tasks being undertaken. Lessons started promptly and all lessons ended with an indication of how students were expected to proceed. At times during some lessons it was apparent that some students were enjoying their experience of the subject whilst other weaker students were finding engagement more difficult. Where this is happening, it is suggested to teachers to assist these students by presenting them with specific short-term tasks and by encouraging them to use chosen materials to the best of their ability to promote good work. Upon the completion of good work, it should be affirmed, possibly by presenting and displaying it in the classroom. To ensure that all students are working to the best of their ability, it is suggested to increase teacher presence by observing and monitoring the class work from suitable points in the room. To encourage the best possible finish of work it suggested that the excellent teacher-generated exemplars be used as inspiration for students.


In one class visited a talk on time management gave students an indication of their expected progress and the amount of time left for work. It is suggested that teachers would further this good work by possibly using a visual diary or calendar in the classroom to remind students of the time constraints. 


It was noted during the evaluation that a number of students were using secondary images from which to develop work. While in some cases this is appropriate and useful for inspiration purposes it is recommended that students be encouraged to work from primary sources and to develop the ensuing work into finished pieces in the various disciplines. It is further suggested that these types of projects be developed from first year so that students have an appreciation of the thinking and planning necessary to complete these kinds of tasks.   


The completed students’ work displayed in the classrooms and around the school show that a variety of topics and themes are addressed. The 3D work in the form of masks and robots are particularly noted.  Observational drawing, batiks, portraits, imaginative composition, posters, paintings of varying scales and prints of good quality are also displayed in the department.  Examination of the students’ portfolios and notebooks shows that they are progressing through the syllabus as would be expected. 



Assessment and Achievement


Assessment takes place using both summative and formative approaches.  Formative feedback is given whilst work is in progress and is used to help students improve their work on a regular basis. Summative assessments are also recorded, however, it is recommended that teachers assess and record students’ work on a more regular basis in order to accurately track their progress. It is also intended that regular recorded assessment monitoring would be used as an incentive to work, as students would have a more concrete understanding that every lesson contributes to their successful learning.  


Appropriate homework is given to students in the area of art history and appreciation.  It was reported that formal practical homework is not assigned in other cases, as some students have difficulty in submitting completed homework for assessment, but that an alternative system of visual notebooks is in place to allow students record work carried out at home. It is recommended that a review of this practice be undertaken, in the context of whole-school policy on homework and the desirability of developing practical skills under time-limited conditions through formal homework exercises.  


Work and dedication is the foundation for student success at the Art department in St. Columba’s College.  The mixed-ability nature of the class groups ensures that the work being produced shows various levels of skill. The majority of students are performing well relative to stages of development and ability, especially where the students are fully engaged. However, some of the weaker students are having problems due to their behaviour leading to lack of commitment. However, great efforts are made to encourage students to experience different topics and areas within the realm of art and design. It is suggested that staff make the most of these efforts by placing more emphasis on the enjoyment potential of the subject.



Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations


The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:



As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:



Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teachers of Art at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.





School Response to the Report


Submitted by the Board of Management




Area 1:  Observations on the content of the inspection report


The Board of Management of St. Columba’s College wishes to acknowledge the very positive report of the Department of Education and Science regarding the subject inspection report of Art.


The Board wishes also to thank the Art teachers for the very considerable amount of their own free time which they give for Art provision in the school.



Area 2:   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection


The recommendation with respect to decorative paintwork and mosaic has commenced and the college will make application to the Department for funding with respect to additional ICT provisions.