An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Art
Brigidine Secondary School,
Mountrath, County Laois
Roll number: 63410A
Date of inspection: 1 May 2007
Date of issue of report:† 17 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Art
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Brigidine Secondary School, Mountrath. 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 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.
The art department provides artistic and aesthetic education for a large proportion of the schoolís population. Management is both aware and appreciative of the large and effective contribution Art makes to the studentsí personal and academic development and to the cultural life of the school. Provision and delivery of art courses have many strengths; as a result art is a popular subject with the students, with very good uptake.
There are two art rooms in use. The main art room is well fitted-out and furnished and is located on the first floor. The other art room is upstairs on the third floor, some distance away from the main art area.† This room has been partitioned from a space originally used for dormitories. Time allocation for the subject is good with a mix of single and double periods facilitating both practical and theoretical areas of art and design education. There is adequate financial support for the art department. There are two permanent staff members assigned to the art department. Art assignment hours for the second art teacher are variable, dependent on student numbers.
A good range of crafts is available in the school, and students profit by the enthusiasm and engagement with which these are presented and delivered to them. In order to build on current strengths it is recommended that hands-on experience of these crafts should be further developed with the enhancement of studentsí learning opportunities in mind, and with well-defined differentiated learning goals for students of different aptitudes and abilities within the class groups. The school has excellent kiln and pottery facilities and these should be used frequently throughout the school year for all classes. Optimum use should be made of this expensive equipment to advance studentsí art education and enable them to become fully engaged with ceramics and three dimensions (3D). It is recognised that students do a lot of 3D work with a type of clay that is quick drying but cannot be fired or glazed. This is commended but, as facilities are in place to use authentic pottery clay, this facility should be used as it allows for better learning in modelling, and opens up the whole area of glazing to students. It is thus recommended that pottery work and clay modelling is done with the correct materials, and that use of quick drying clay be kept to a minimum. The high levels of student engagement seen on the day of the inspection suggest that they have the potential to make excellent progress in this area.†
It is important that the practical study of art and design is supported by cultural and aesthetic references drawn from historical and contemporary material. The art department has amassed reproductions of artworks to help students to develop skills and knowledge in this area.† It is recommended that, in order to enhance existing good practice in the art department, a small dedicated budget for reproductions should be made available independently of funding for general materials and equipment. This would facilitate the purchase of a varied range of materials for display in the art rooms such as posters, postcards and cheap art and design books.
Management should engage with the art department to discuss the further development of the subject in the long-term and plan for the enhancement of facilities and learning experiences of students.
There were planning documents available on the day of the inspection, which provided a basic timeframe for the delivery of topics and activities. The addition of learning aims and objectives would be a valuable extension of these documents to make them more useful in the teaching and learning process. It is recommended that development of aims and objectives should begin in the coming academic year.
Long-term planning is desirable for the further development of the subject, for the use of information and communications technology (ICT) for teaching and learning, for the addition of new crafts and for the further development of existing ones.
In the realm of short-term planning more consideration should be given to the allocation of class-periods or weeks for particular activities in order to use time optimally. This would guarantee that a larger and well-balanced range of learning activities could be provided for both junior and senior cycles during the school year.
Students were enthusiastic and engaged. The art department must be commended for the good learning atmosphere that has been created. The subject is delivered in an enthusiastic and motivating way, and students become engaged with art and design as a result.
There are good resources of space available and these were well laid out and managed. Good resources for teaching were also available including videotapes on the history of art. Students benefited from the well-organized classrooms and good preparation of materials and tools for classes. Very good practice was viewed in one-to-one teaching in fabric printing. A class of junior cycle students were engaged in a 3D assignment. In both these instances studentsí needs were met on an individual level as well as in the larger group context, and classroom atmosphere and practical organisation of the lesson enhanced the good learning opportunities students encountered.
The Transition Year (TY) class had worked on mosaic and mirror design assignments and had achieved a general competence in these areas. Several pieces had particularly good detail and finish and the whole range of abilities and motivation was reflected in the work observed. Several students were reasonably articulate and communicative. Many used correct and appropriate technical vocabulary when discussing their work. For this they are commended.
The TY classroom as an environment had good natural light and fine views but this room could be much improved as a stimulating environment for art and design study. More art and architecture in photographic reproductions should be on display. Such inspirational materials should be frequently and consistently incorporated into the work and assignments of all classes, including TY, for the cultural and aesthetic dimensions they provide.† It should be remembered in TY and indeed in all other classes, that talking through the work-in-progress with groups and individuals benefits the work of all students. It must be emphasised that direct comment, general discussion and dialogue should always play an important role in the visual art learning environment. The classrooms were well laid out and managed. More dedicated storage and shelving for display of work would improve the facilities in the art room located upstairs.
Many colourful and eye-catching wall hangings were seen on display, and these, in general, were technically and compositionally of a good standard.† It is commendable that students encounter so many fabric and dye-based activities and many have benefited from the generous allocation of time spent on the practice of these modes. However, from the point of view of breadth and balance within the curriculum, the time spent on certain areas and assignments needs to be readdressed in the next academic year. Students could learn the same skills from making smaller scale pieces and thus free up time for other areas that need attention in teaching and learning. On the evidence of the studentsí work observed during the inspection, there is too much use made of secondary sources. This runs counter to the spirit of personal creativity and self-development that the study of art and design aims to foster, as well as the Art, Craft and Design syllabus. Primary sources need to be more strongly emphasised. Moreover, drawing skills require attention when planning and delivering a course of instruction in the coming year and thereafter. The limited drawing skills are in part due to the strong reliance on secondary sources.†
An immediate review of the type of activities students are assigned during class needs to be undertaken. There should be more concentrated attention on the duration of tasks and projects, the learning aims to be achieved, the skills both artistic and perceptual to be developed during the assignments and the breadth and balance of the overall mix of activities. There should be more emphasis on skills-building in a variety of media, in composition, in drawing from observation and in 3D work. Long drawn out assignments should be avoided. Although art/design competitions have had many positive outcomes in terms of studentsí self esteem and motivation, the over-use of class time at present on art and design competitions should be avoided.† Instead, a more varied, wide ranging and rebalanced set of learning experiences should be provided. Pieces for competitions should be mostly completed during the studentsí own time or after school.†
Still Life is practiced for the Leaving Certificate and it is recommended that students be given significant training in both Still Life and Imaginative Composition, as both are available as examination choices. Even if only a few students opt for Imaginative Composition in the examination, the generation of ideas, of personal responses to a brief or stimuli and the construction of compositions are valuable learning experiences central to art and design education. It also opens up the area of appreciation of art to students; this should be an area of focus throughout post-primary art and design.†
On the evidence of the studentsí portfolios, drawing needs to be developed in different ways that will extend current practices. There is an over-reliance on pencil for drawing and it is the default position for most students. It is recommended that efforts be made to ensure that students gain confidence in the use of a variety of drawing tools and materials. It is further recommended that effective planning take place to ensure that students and especially those who have high levels of motivation and ability learn to draw fluently from observation in more materials than just pencil.
The history of art folders kept by senior cycle students were good, and revealed good engagement with this component of the leaving certificate course. This strength could be further developed through increased use of ICT to access art, design and architectural material.
In junior cycle, students make posters and this activity is undertaken in senior cycle. For students with low motivation and aptitude in art/design this duplication is an appropriate strategy, and it is commended that they are facilitated to build on whatever skills they have acquired. For students with high levels of aptitude and interest it is not challenging enough artistically or educationally to continue doing the same things, particularly where there have been good levels of attainment achieved previously. The range of crafts should be expanded in senior cycle and the opportunities for students to experience and excel at different crafts and design media should be given in order to introduce other skills, both perceptual and technical.
While there is good practice happening in the art department more attention should now be focused on the educational outcome of classroom activities. Learning aims and objectives should be formulated and documented or added to existing documented planning and these then should become the basis of assessment in formal examinations and assessments and informal classroom tests. The use of varied assessment methods is to be encouraged, including, where possible, some element of student self-review.
A variety of assessment procedures is in general use in the art department, including continuous assessment based on class-work, projects, assignments and invigilated examinations. There are written examinations for the History and Appreciation of Art component of the Leaving Certificate programme. Practical work is generally assessed at the end of each assignment and good feedback is given to students as a normal part of the teaching and learning process. A strong consciousness of State Examination Commission (SEC) assessment criteria and of the associated organisational requirements informs the work of the art department. There are systematic records of studentsí during-term, end-of-term, and end-of-year assessment and examination results. End-of-term and end-of-year results are communicated to parents and guardians. Regular parent-teacher meetings are held and, at these, the art department provides discussion, feedback and advice.
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.