An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Art
Balbriggan Community College
Balbriggan, County Dublin
Roll number: 70010V
Date of inspection: 24 April 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Art
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Balbriggan Community College. 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 the 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.
Balbriggan Community College is situated in the town of Balbriggan and currently enrols 337 boys and 144 girls. The town has undergone some demographic changes in the recent past, which are reflected in the school. There are a number of students with language difficulties attending lessons as well as a number of students with special needs.
The Art department is well-established, with two teachers, one of whom is mainly responsible for the delivery of Art and another whose responsibilities are shared between Art and other departments. Commendably, both of these members of staff have third level Art qualifications. To their credit, continuous personal development is on going among the staff of the department and personal Art practice is undertaken by both teachers. A high level of skills development was indicated in the areas of Fine Art and Computer Manipulated Imagery. This practice is an indication of the genuine interest in and appreciation of the intrinsic value of the subject. To further gain support for the delivery of the subject it is recommended that membership of the relevant subject association be maintained.
It would appear that there is little collaboration between teachers in the Art department as the two staff have disparate responsibilities. However, there is scope for development of teaching strategies and for beneficial sharing of experience. It is recommended that management provide time for such collaboration to allow the creation an Art department plan to aid the development of teaching and learning in Art across the school.
Timetabling for the subject is satisfactory across all levels with adequate class contact time being provided, including double periods when possible.
A main Art room is provided for the delivery of the subject for the majority of Art lessons. An auxiliary room is made available to small groups of students studying Art. The main room is large and bright with a good deal of natural light and adequate storage facilities. The room is physically divided in to two spaces; one used for general teaching and a wet area for ceramics. There are also two kilns, and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) facilities are provided in the form of two personal computers. Both of these facilities are well used; students have the opportunity to experience a rich range of ceramic experiences and are also encouraged to explore the use of Art related ICT software both for its own sake and to enhance hand crafted 2D work. This work is commended. A further development of the work in this area is a digital library of images of students’ work, which is a very useful and worthwhile resource.
The auxiliary Art room is smaller in size and is used for a variety of subject areas. The room is not designed for Art, although a sink facilitates the use of paint and there are some storage facilities. It is recommended that a lockable storage unit be provided in this room so that a store of suitable materials can be easily accessed, yet secure. It is also recommended that this room be reserved for the delivery of Art as far as possible to avoid the logistics of transporting materials, portfolios and visual aids.
There were some displays of students work observed on the day of the visit. In particular some very high quality 2D imaginative work was observed as well as some very charming 3D clay work. It is recommended that teachers expand the use of display as a way to affirm the work of all students as well as using wall space to display exemplars of relevant topics. In particular, it is suggested that students be encouraged to attend to the finish of work by showing them both teacher- and student-generated exemplars with high quality finish.
It was reported that the Art department budget is sufficient and that students augment the department budget by obtaining their own supply of approved materials, which are very useful for work outside of timetabled classes.
Student access to Art is good and the numbers taking the subject at both junior and senior cycle are satisfactory. All class groups are of mixed ability.
Some planning documentation was presented on the day of the inspection. It is recommended that these planning documents be reviewed and developed to include statements of aims and outcomes for each year group, a schematic structure to the years work, with scheduled topics, plans for assessment and homework as well as the preparation and use of visual aids and documentation. Student profiles should inform this plan as it develops.
Some of the planning is quite imaginative and in line with the spirit of a broad and balanced Art Education; items such as ‘introducing human expression using cartoons’ and the making of clay ‘grotesques’ capture the interest and imagination of the students while still addressing key skills. It is recommended that the interests of the students, with the associated motivational potential, should always be considered a priority when planning to address topics.
In light of the fact that all of the class groups studying Art are of mixed ability it is important to pitch the lesson to accommodate the needs of all of the members of the class. Therefore it is recommended that all planning should take into consideration the needs of the students, including language issues. This review of planning documentation should be undertaken as a matter of urgency to avoid the frustration and disturbances caused by pitching tasks at an inappropriate level. This will entail providing students with activities and tasks that meet their individual needs and particular levels of ability. To promote achievement especially among the weaker and disengaged students it is essential to plan for easily achievable tasks with a high potential for success to encourage and motivate such students.
To improve planning on a long-term basis and to increase the potential for student success; it is recommended that management provide time for the Art department to develop an Art department plan. This plan should be clearly focussed on the aims and objectives of Art Education in the school and should use the relevant syllabuses as its foundation. Particular attention should be given to the introduction of drawing from primary sources in first year to ensure that students are prepared for the project style work that they must take on for the Junior Certificate and to expand the range of craft opportunities currently offered to students.
Commendably, demonstration is the main teaching method used for the practical components of the various syllabuses. During a life drawing class an excellent drawing demonstration was observed. Both students and teacher had a good view of the model and of the drawing and good instructions were given emphasising life drawing as an important skill and drawing with a ‘loose free approach’. Students were very much engaged in this aspect of the lesson and clearly enjoyed the demonstration. As some of the students in the class had language difficulties this method of delivery is very much commended.
During another lesson in life drawing the demonstration took place midway during the lesson; this was a good decision as it helped students remain engaged. During this lesson various other areas of enquiry were mentioned, such as the art of Loughcrew and Carrowkeel. In light of the fact that many of the students have language and other special needs it is recommended that instruction in these lessons remain closely related to the topic and task in hand so that the potential for students to become confused is reduced. It is also suggested that students be asked to observe seams, buttons and other features of clothing to enhance the drawings and to help keep the image in proportion.
A special class was observed within which a number of students were quite weak. The pace of the lesson and the atmosphere of industry in the room is evidence of a consistent approach, which puts affirmation of students’ efforts to the fore. Although the individual levels of ability in some cases were very weak, students were motivated, completed their tasks and were satisfied with the outcomes. To enhance the completed work and to further generate confidence, it is suggested that the finish of completed work be promoted using specific lessons on presentation and relevant exemplars.
The atmosphere in the classrooms varied considerably. Where the atmosphere was most conducive to learning students were content, affirmed regularly and given small achievable tasks with clear outcomes. Difficulties occurred where students were in very mixed settings and where language was an issue. In this situation some students became frustrated causing distraction from tasks. In some cases efforts were made to encourage and include such students. Where the students felt cared for and secure, all students were working and were responsive to encouragement even in cases where the students’ intellectual abilities were quite weak. It is recommended that student learning be promoted by providing attainable tasks, which are broken down into individual achievable steps, and that students be affirmed generously on achievement of each of the tasks. In this way a culture of effort and reward will be created which can be used to promote learning and student confidence.
Some very accurate and regular records of student attendance are being kept. However it is recommended that all student absences and attendance are recorded on a daily basis.
The processes of assessment need to be developed in order to create student profiles and to inform the development of teaching and learning. There is scope for assessment to be used to support students in their learning and to identify particular strengths and areas to target. It is recommended that a specific section of the Art department plan be dedicated to this topic.
The levels of attainment varied greatly for a variety of reasons. Students at the very weak end of the spectrum are being quite successfully catered for in small groups, facilitating specific targeting of the needs of particular students. It is important however, to encourage these students to pay attention to the finish of their work. It is also important to facilitate students by providing opportunities for them to excel. An example of this would be to introduce computer-generated lettering of different sizes and fonts into Graphic work as this would help students to easily render visually pleasing graphics which is a very good starting point for a project. It is important that these students would be encouraged to make the best of the skills they have developed in order to boost confidence and self esteem.
The more able students in the mainstream setting are attaining the necessary skills and competencies to achieve success and some very good work was shown to evidence this. However, it would appear that there are a number of students in the mainstream setting who are disengaged and are having difficulty with skills attainment. It is essential that these students are encouraged to participate fully in the lessons. A great deal of work will need to be undertaken to ensure that these students are facilitated in reaching their full potential and be adequately prepared for the State examinations.
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 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.