An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Art
La Sainte Union Secondary School
Banagher, County Offaly
Roll number: 65540A
Date of inspection: 24 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in La Sainte Union Secondary School, Banagher. 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, deputy principal and subject teacher. 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.
La Sainte Union secondary school was formerly a girls’ boarding school and is now a co-educational day school. Prominently situated on the main street of Banagher, the school is now in the early stages of amalgamation with nearby St. Rynagh’s, a VEC school.
The contribution of the art department to the life of the school is valued by management, as are its inputs to the academic, artistic and personal development of the individual student. The time allocated to the subject is adequate, and the uptake is healthy. There is an ongoing situation where students in the repeat Leaving Certificate class, though taking art as part of their examination, do not have a timetabled class because of a clash with other leaving certificate classes. Their teacher has to try and interface with these students informally, which is not entirely satisfactory. It is recommended that some classes be timetabled to accommodate teaching and learning in art for repeat students in future.
There is one part-time teacher of art. The classroom was formerly a dormitory and has been adapted for use as a spacious art-room. It has only the most basic requirements for an art-room and has no specialist equipment or other ancillary facilities that the teaching of modern syllabi in the subject requires. Natural light is poor, and fluorescent lights are constantly on.
Students pay a small sum of money twice a year for art materials. This is the sole source of funding for art department materials and equipment. It is recommended that, resources permitting, the school match this sum in order that current provision for materials and basic equipment be improved.
It is also recommended that, as resources become available, ICT be provided for the delivery of history and appreciation of art in senior cycle and for support studies in junior cycle. In a country school at a remove from museums, galleries and art and exhibition centres, ICT can, if wisely deployed, compensate for the difficulty of access to such facilities. An-up-to-date computer should be available in situ in the art room on which CD-ROM materials are available for teaching and learning. This should be a priority now for the next academic year, notwithstanding the fact that the school is expecting amalgamation in the future.
Documented planning for art education activities were in place and this should form the basis of more detailed future long- and short-term planning.. There are extensive lists tracking the learning activities for all classes. The planning in the department should be reviewed in the light of recommendations made as part of this inspection. More information about teaching methods to be used, if included as part of the planning activities for the department, would put an emphasis on devising and extending ways of providing for the learning needs of students of different aptitudes and motivational profiles.
Preparation, always important in a practical subject, is good; there was a well-managed array of the necessary materials available for the classes inspected.
It is recommended that learning aims and objectives be devised for both students of highest and lowest aptitude and motivation in order to maximise the potential learning opportunities of theses two sub-groupings who are side by side in the mixed ability classes.
Time is well planned and managed in the preparation of projects for junior certificate, and all students are encouraged to make the best of the opportunities available to them in getting their work ready in advance of the SEC deadline.
A wide range of art and design activities are undertaken despite the difficulties associated with providing craft options and 3D in a general purposes classroom to relatively large class groups of mixed ability students. Students of all motivational levels and artistic aptitudes are being catered for in the way tasks and activities are developed and delivered. There is an impressive level of attention to individuals during class that is most appropriate to a subject which has the potential to nurture the personal development of the student. Students who have high levels of ability are facilitated and nurtured, as are those with much less, all in one classroom. The challenges and difficulties of achieving such good level of art and design education in the absence of specialist equipment such as a kiln or ICT access, in a room not purpose built and only customised for art in the most basic way, must not be underestimated by the BOM, school management or parents.
There is a need in the near future to provide resources for ICT in the art room and to develop the use of these in relation to the history and appreciation of art and, in junior certificate, in relation to support studies. A scanner, laptop, and multimedia projector are necessary to modernise the delivery of these course components and to create a richer learning opportunity with relative ease for all years and classes, and for all levels of ability and motivation. An up-to-date PC in the classroom would be a most valuable tool for allowing reference to CD-ROMs (such as the National Gallery of Ireland’s disc of the highlights of the national collection) and other independent learning activities by students.
Learning activities are well conceptualised, delivered and managed. There is a refreshing emphasis on the artistic rather than solely on the examination criteria. Not at all surprisingly, students are being brought to a good standard of state examination readiness by an approach that emphasises the personal artistic and aesthetic development of students. The approach to art and design education in the art department of La Sainte Union is based on encouraging students to engage at a personal level with art and design, and this has resulted in students becoming motivated and maintaining good levels of motivation. On the day of the inspection the students worked at their projects and assignments in a pro-active way, with obvious concentration and enjoyment.
The room was hung with pictures and design artworks that were artistic and expressive, rather than being merely academic exercises. There was a great variety of style and approach encoded in these artefacts, a direct result of the school’s broadly-based and art-centred approach to delivering the courses. It is apparent that individual enthusiasms among students are being nurtured and that a great deal of effort, informed by sound understanding of the creative process and by strong aesthetic sensibility, has been put, over a long period, into the establishment and maintenance of the very positive learning environment that exists in the art department.
Classroom organisation and management were effective, and the activities of the classes proceeded in a purposeful manner. There was a sense of order; the students were polite and co-operative, and attended to their work in an independent way. Genuine engagement with the work was observed in all classes visited.
Good student work was seen in the areas of life drawing and observation from Nature. First year colour studies of Autumn leaves revealed how well students had been taught to observe and to render what they had observed in paint. This was evidence of superb visual learning from primary sources. Such an approach to skilling–up students from a very early point in their art and design education using primary sources should be extended and developed at all stages of the junior and leaving certificate courses. There was a marked contrast between this excellent use of primary sources in first year work, and the notable reliance on the use of secondary sources in third year projects. When good practice has been established in the early stages of art and design learning, this course of action should be adhered to thereafter by emphasising the use of primary sources. The use of secondary sources has of course a place in the search for starting points, the triggering of inspiration and the generation of imagery, but it is not the only method, nor is it the optimal one, as far as artistic education and skills development are concerned. It is recommended that the good practice already underway in the use of primary sources is extended and better embedded in project work for junior certificate, and in senior cycle teaching and learning.
The particular type of artistic engagement encouraged in the art department results in the work of senior cycle students being diverse in its sources, inspiration, style and execution. This is a really commendable educational outcome of the way the subject is delivered. Varied in technique and approach, the portfolio of work of these students encapsulated how their own interests, abilities and depth and breadth of engagement had formed their approach to making art and design. Some of this work demonstrated a notable degree of creativity in combining different 2D media. There was, however, also a reliance on secondary sources in the generation of imagery which was regrettable, given the generally creative approach taken. It is recommended that ways of emphasising the value of direct observation and the use of primary sources be developed in the presentation of assignments and learning opportunities throughout senior cycle.
Many of the students’ artefacts made reference to the work of artists from the history of art and design. This good learning approach should be extended and developed in whatever ways the motivation and aptitude of students in the different class and year groups allow. In junior cycle, support studies should be redefined, for teaching and learning, as the appreciation of art, design and architecture. Artefacts by artists, designers, craftspeople and architects from history and the present day should be, largely, the basic material of Support Studies. The scrapbook approach to Support Studies sheets of the Junior Certificate project should be reviewed as a teaching and learning practice in the art department, as it is not a vehicle for quality learning in visual art and design. Overuse of photographs sourced in magazines or from the Web is an educationally sterile practice with little ensuing development of the students’ aesthetic sense or art appreciation skills when practical and artistic work do not result from it. It should be noted that support studies presentations for the SEC assessment can, and should, be the students’ own drawings, paintings, prints and 3D which has a starting point in art historical references, and is a record of their reaction and engagement with this material through expressive, creative pathways. The art department of La Sainte Union has the potential to develop this approach.
Continuous assessment is practised and a mark/grade based on the students’ assignments and projects is derived from this good and suitable practice. It is recommended that specific skills, say in drawing and design, be tested several times during the year using invigilated examinations of the traditional sort to assess particular skills in a focused way in order to provide additional feedback to the learner. It is also recommended that some element of self-assessment, such as a self-report questionnaire, be included at some stage of teaching and learning specific technical, artistic or perceptual skills, techniques and processes. This would be useful and practical in order that learners can give feedback to their teacher on very particular issues and to encourage them, in proportion to their aptitude and motivation, to take increased responsibility for their own learning.
There are written examinations for the history and appreciation of art component of the leaving certificate programme. Students show good levels of achievement. A strong consciousness of 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.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
There is a refreshing emphasis on artistic and aesthetic development. Students are encouraged to engage at a personal level with art and design and this has resulted in their becoming motivated. While there is an emphasis on SEC requirements, this has not been allowed to inhibit real artistic and creative development in students.
Despite limited facilities, there is good breadth and balance in what students experience as learning activities, but this could be greatly improved if resources were given to update the type of activities required by modern syllabi.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
ICT should become a part of teaching and learning in the art department as soon as resources become available.
Good teaching and learning in art and design depends on the provision of materials and equipment. As part of the development of the subject as an educational discipline in La Sainte Union, art and design should be funded from the central budget of the school, in order that present learning activities can be extended and enriched, and additional crafts and other processes added to what is currently available, in both the short and medium term.
There should be a renewed emphasis on the use of primary sources in both junior and senior cycle, particularly in the support studies component of junior certificate.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teacher of Art at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The board of management considered the report at its meeting 18th September 2006. The board is very pleased with the report. It is a thorough, fair and realistic report, which reflects the hard work and dedication of the teacher and students of Art. The board has congratulated the teacher and students concerned. The board wishes to convey it’s thanks to the inspector for the way the inspection was carried out.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
All recommendations have been noted and will be implemented