An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Art
Swords, County Dublin
Roll number: 60810B
Date of inspection: 9 December 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Art
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto College, Swords. 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Loreto College Swords has an enrolment of 632 girls. The school offers the following programmes: the Junior Certificate, an optional Transition Year (TY) and the established Leaving Certificate. Art is offered as part of all three programmes. Senior management is very supportive of the subject in the school and has facilitated an increased number of students taking Art by privately funding some junior cycle lessons.
Two fully-qualified specialist art teachers staff the art department. They engage in continuing professional development via research in art education and attendance at exhibitions and lectures. These teachers also benefit from the continuing professional development opportunities made available to members of the Art Teachersí Association of Ireland. Third level students of art are welcomed into the department from time to time and teachers report that this practice helps keep the department up-to-date with processes and current professional practice. It is reported that school management is supportive of teachers who wish to attend any relevant in-service or event.
The art department is co-ordinated by one member of staff. In the past this position has been associated with a post of responsibility. Best practice is that co-ordination of the department should be rotated amongst teachers; as well as sharing responsibilities, this helps to develop the professional skills of all the teachers in the department.
Senior management provides sufficient class contact time for Art. This includes double periods to facilitate practical classes. Art is a very popular subject at Loreto College Swords. Access to Art is good for students both in junior cycle and senior cycle as students choose from an open menu of subject options. Students and their parents benefit from a range of measures to support and inform studentsí subject choices.
One large specialist art room with secure storage space is provided for the subject. This room is very well maintained and has been developed into an attractive learning environment. Due to lack of space, the art room is also timetabled for other subjects. However, in line with good practice, all practical lessons are held in the art room. Should more space become available it is strongly suggested that senior management considers the establishment of another art room.
The art department is furnished with a good range of materials and equipment such as a printing press and screen-printing equipment. On an ongoing basis, the department strives to develop the teaching and learning resources available for Art in the school. It is reported that the systems in place to obtain consumable materials and new pieces of equipment are working well. At the time of the evaluation sufficient supplies were available for use by students.
At the time of the evaluation the kiln was not working. The art department and senior management were aware of this fact and they plan to rectify the situation. It is recommended that this important piece of equipment be returned to working order as soon as is possible.
A computer with internet access is provided in the art room. To facilitate research by large numbers of students, some art lessons are timetabled in the computer rooms. There is a good level of expertise available to the art department and the information and communications technology (ICT) resources available are being used to create high quality supports for teaching and learning. In order for this on-going work to be of more benefit to students, a digital projector should be obtained for the art department as soon as funding presents. The addition of this piece of equipment to the resources of the art department would be most welcome as it is an ideal way to communicate both written and visual information.
The art department supports teaching and learning in Art by providing opportunities for students to use their artistic skills outside of the classroom. The school encourages student participation in exhibitions and the making of artefacts for musicals, concerts and other school events such as fundraising and the Mary Ward Week. Participation in such extracurricular and co-curricular activities is an important way for students to extend their knowledge and learning in Art.
Students who wish to study Art at third level are supported and encouraged by the art department. This includes the organisation of educational visits to art colleges and the provision of advice relating to the development of portfolio work. There is a strong tradition of students from Loreto College Swords attending art courses at third level. This can be seen as an indication of studentsí positive experience of the subject at the school.
Planning is given a great deal of attention in the art department. The administration and recording of all planning activity is of a very high standard. Both subject development planning and curricular planning are carefully managed and regularly revised. In addition to regular informal meetings in the art department, senior management provides time during the year specifically for subject development planning meetings. Senior management also meets the art department as part of the planning process to discuss and resolve issues such as timetabling. This is very good practice.
Evidence gathered during the evaluation indicated that subject development planning is very well-established in Loreto College Swords. Records of planning objectives and of achieved outcomes over a number of years were made available. For the current year 2008-09, a set of priorities has been identified including introducing new crafts, introducing drawing on location, increasing the frequency of gallery trips and the transferring of material gathered for the history and appreciation of art to a digital format. These priorities are appropriate, achievable and will improve teaching and learning in Art in the school.
Curricular planning is good. The lesson plans observed showed a commitment to good teaching and learning and a good approach to designing lessons to make achievement accessible to students. A particularly positive feature of lesson planning in the department is the balance created between appropriate educational topics and the identification of subject matter to engage the motivations and interests of students. Another positive feature of planning in the art department is that the overarching aim is to give students an appreciation of the subject which will last for life. At this stage in the departmentís planning process, it is recommended that the department should refer to learning outcomes in the planning documentation. This would better guide the approach to be used in the classroom. As planning develops, it is further suggested that the department should consider curricular planning in terms of cycles rather than in separate year groups, so that the lesson plans could better consolidate learning from year to year. †
Evidence was provided on the day of the evaluation to show that students are competent in conducting research for their projects. To help students further develop the necessary skills to be able to process images for their support studies, it is recommended that the history and appreciation of art be addressed as a specific topic from first year. Students should be sufficiently exposed to images and artefacts so that they become aware of the wide expanse of art history available to them. They should also be made aware of the great variety of materials, subject matter and approaches that historical and contemporary artists and designers use. This approach should enable students to be more familiar with important art works and to be more prepared to respond to art works in both written and visual form.
A written programme was provided for Art in TY. The lessons planned for in this document were educationally sound and included three-dimensional work. To better accommodate students who have not studied Art in junior cycle, it is suggested that some projects be planned which do not rely on drawing and painting skills. For example, digital cameras could be used to make personal responses to a wide variety of stimuli. Alternative methodologies such as debates, written projects and exploration of unfamiliar techniques and materials such as those used in environmental art can help students appreciate new aspects of Art whilst allowing all to explore and develop additional skills.
The art department has a policy of displaying studentsí work both in the art room and in the communal areas of the school. This policy serves both to maintain the high profile of the subject in the school and also helps to build studentsí confidence in their artistic abilities. During the evaluation both two-dimensional and three-dimensional works were displayed. These works were of a very high quality, aesthetically pleasing and very well presented. The art room is the main display area and a collection of teacher-generated exemplars, important images and studentsí work created a stimulating and appealing environment for students.
It is reported that liaison with the learning support teacher, the resource teachers, the support teacher for English as an Additional Language (EAL) and the schoolís special needs assistants helps to ensure that learning programmes are appropriate for those students with additional learning needs. It is important that this type of liaison takes place on an ongoing basis.
Two junior cycle and two senior cycle lessons were observed as part of the evaluation. The atmosphere in all of these lessons was pleasant and conducive to work. Students were very well-behaved, diligent and appeared to be really enjoying their work. Care for the welfare of students was evident in all interactions between teachers and students and the teacher-student rapport was positive and friendly. Progress was good and students were regularly affirmed.
The structure of lessons was good. Each of the lessons evaluated had a clear beginning, middle and conclusion. Lessons started with roll call and distribution of materials followed by a review of the key points from the previous lesson and a sharing of the learning objective. Lessons concluded with a summary of the completed work and the assignment of appropriate and relevant homework. Teachers used high quality handouts to support students in their homework. Overall, very good practice was observed.
Class management was such that lessons moved at a good pace and that teaching methods such as critiques and demonstrations were organised effectively. It was clear that students were familiar with the requirements of working in a practical studio space and had been successfully shown how to manage both the setting up and the tidying away of their work. During lessons, teachers carefully monitored studentsí work to ensure that all students were progressing to their potential. Where necessary, support and tuition was given to individual students to ensure that all students progressed.
Good communication methods ensured that information was conveyed in a clear and effective manner. Visual aids, white boards, and examples of work in various stages of progression were used to successfully communicate visual ideas and concepts. Teachersí verbal communications were pleasant and informative and used references to important works to keep students motivated and challenged. Targeted questions helped students to stay on task and focus on the appropriate issues. Some of the questions were specific to the tasks in hand whilst others were general questions about the need for planning. Teachers used questions skilfully to lead students to evaluate their progress and to consider how to improve their work.
A variety of work was observed during the evaluation. In all lessons students were highly engaged and in some lessons, students were enthusiastically absorbed by their projects. In a lesson based on puppetry, students were asked to design and make a contemporary interpretation of a character from a nursery rhyme or fairy tale. Students were asked to base their work on a contemporary figure and seemed delighted to be able to use celebrities to inspire their work. The use of such subject matter ensured that students were very keen to learn the skills necessary to develop their work. The work in progress was of a very high standard and teacher-generated worksheets were used effectively to help students develop the more difficult aspects of their work.
During a lesson in self-portraiture, a good demonstration was held to show students how to apply chalk. The lights were switched off to help students identify areas of tone. Some tonal portraits in pencil were shown to students to inspire their work. Whilst all of this was useful, teachers should not underestimate the positive reaction of students to direct demonstrations of drawing. It is suggested that even a relatively quick teacher-led demonstration of portrait drawing from beginning to end would have helped students to resolve some of the problems that they encountered such as blending tones.
A junior cycle class group learned about construction by making snowmen in synthetic clay. The challenge was increased by requesting that the snowman should be able to carry an object thus learning more about the limitations of the material. The resulting work, involving a variety of skills including design, clay construction, sewing, painting and presentation skills, was impressive by way of its quality and its originality. This approach to teaching and learning is very good and engenders an appreciation for the subject amongst students.
The school has a formal homework policy, which is implemented by the subject teachers. Students are assessed on a continuing basis throughout the year including examinations at Christmas and summer terms. Students sit pre-certificate examinations which allow them to practice examination techniques in authentic conditions.
Accurate records of studentsí attendance and performance are made and held in the art department. A number of assessment techniques are used to regularly monitor studentsí work including classroom activities, homework and practical work. In line with good practice in teaching and learning in art and design, formative assessment takes place as work develops. The department has identified assessment as a topic for review in future planning. It is recommended that assessment for learning principles be explored as part of planning and used to help students become more independent learners in Art.
Comments are written on work to help students assess their progress and to affirm and encourage their performance. Parents are kept informed of studentsí progress by means of school reports, parent-teacher meetings, and phone calls to parents when necessary.
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:
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.
Published June 2009