An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Art
Mercy Secondary School
Ballymahon, County Longford
Roll number: 63710M
Date of inspection: 25 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Art
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mercy Secondary School, Ballymahon. 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 deputy 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.
There is strong whole-school support for art and design education in Ballymahon Secondary School as evidenced by the recent development of the art rooms and storage areas as a result of the Summer Works scheme. The information and communication technology (ICT) equipment is excellent and the budget healthy. The school management authorities have a keen awareness of the importance of the department in the academic, personal and vocational development of students and in the cultural life of the school. Thus, holistic understanding of the needs of the art department has resulted in good provision for the subject, much to the advantage of the students learning opportunities.
Two staff members are assigned to the art department. One of the teachers, who delivers the art programme, is from a background other than art and design. At the time of the inspection a substitute was in place for one of these who, although also not from an art background, was nonetheless delivering effectively the designed and planned programme. Very good support for the substitute was available from the art department. This demonstrated that when substitutes need to be engaged, the advantages of good collaborative forward planning by the fulltime members of the art department bear fruit in terms of continuity, detail and practical empowerment of the substitute. It also ensures that students are not disadvantaged by any change in personnel.
The collaboration in the planning process ensures that the main art teacher influences the overall plan and that the syllabus requirements are taken into account. The plan is devised in such a way that it can be followed consistently even if there is a change of personnel, as occurred this year around the time of the inspection. The substitute teacher was delivering the plan effectively.
The main art room is spacious and has good access and circulation arrangements and has a connecting door into the smaller art room beside it. Thus communication between the art teachers is spatially supported by the accessibility of all parts of the art department.
The time allocated to art is adequate, and every class has one double period. Single period classes present problems for art, a subject with a strong practical basis. If double periods could be assigned more frequently to the various class groups, it would enhance the delivery of courses and the students’ learning opportunities. Consideration should be given to this whenever timetabling is being reviewed.
The art teachers collaborate on planning, which is documented. There is a comprehensive outline of the topics and content of the programme and courses. Further development of this would enhance current strengths. It is recommended that there be a stronger focus, in the overall planning, on the outcomes envisaged for students, with particular emphasis on different aptitude and motivation levels. Achievable learning outcomes for students of the highest and lowest aptitude and motivations would be valuable in the delivery and assessment of courses and assignments and add to current good practice.
Impressive accountability for the time allowed for different aspects of the class delivery was outlined in the planning document for one of the classes.
Classroom management was excellent. The two art teachers collaborate on the running of the department. The art department provides a good learning environment with a friendly, purposeful and professional ambience in which there is good communication between the teachers and students. Good basic skills were being imparted. Great credit is due to the teachers for creating an art and design learning environment for students of all aptitudes and motivations. Students with special educational needs are well accommodated.
On the evidence of portfolios, 2D and 3D work on display in the classroom, current state-examinations project work and archived student artefacts, students have benefited from instruction and nurture given in the teaching and delivery of the courses and programmes and have consequently developed technical skills and creative confidence.
During the inspection much use was made of interactive whiteboard technology. Focussed and appropriate, the use made of this device supported student attention and retention of material, and grounded the lessons in a strongly visual context. This seldom-encountered approach was extremely good practice indeed and it is recommended that the art department continue to develop and refine this very apt methodology, particularly to support differentiated teaching and learning strategies for all year groups.
Students have access to several crafts and have achieved good technical and expressive results with these. It is recommended that new crafts be added over time, as resources and opportunity permit, and that in this way teacher expertise can be made available to students. A new set of crafts, not currently practised, would extend students creative opportunities and create further options for them in the state examinations.
Some reliance on secondary sources was observed in the students’ artwork. This is in line with an undesirable trend nationally in the preparation of state-examination assignments. While the heavy usage of secondary source has some facilitative value in the management of learning for students who are very challenged by the demands of courses and examinations, work from secondary sources is not challenging enough for students of average and above average aptitude and motivation. Nor are the wide range of learning outcomes that are desirable in junior and senior cycle supported by copying and recasting imagery from secondary sources. Work from secondary sources does not develop a confident and self-determining approach, nor does it help the student become truly creative. For all of the reasons outlined above, and in order to elaborate on the very interesting, sound and good methods of delivering courses that already exist in the art department, it is recommended that planning be undertaken to develop teaching strategies and a programme of class work that minimises the use of secondary sources, and emphasises work that develops skills. This will serve to make such reliance on secondary sources unnecessary.
This conscious de-emphasis of secondary sources could also be valuably linked to differentiation of learning experiences and assignments for students of differing aptitudes and motivation levels. While the delivery of tuition in lessons takes account of individual students’ needs and differences at present, the differentiation of learning outcomes, and expectations of different groups within the student population would benefit from being more finely tuned, and should also link into the assessment process by becoming the criteria by which tasks and assignments are assessed. Use of the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), www.ncca.ie, for information about approaches to differentiated learning is recommended. Students’ learning styles have an influence on how they progress in art and design. Reference to this should also be accessed on the NCCA website and incorporated into teaching in order to help all students attain their potential.
A combination of assessment procedures is in use in the art department, including continuous assessment based on class work, mock projects and invigilated examinations. There are written examinations for the history and appreciation of art component of the leaving certificate programme. A strong consciousness of the assessment criteria used in the state examinations, 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. Homework is given and monitored effectively. 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 identified in the evaluation:
· Whole-school support for the subject is excellent.
· Planning for the subject is good, thorough, practical and collaborative.
· Extremely good course delivery is a key characteristic of the art department.
· Students have benefited from instruction and nurture given in the teaching and delivery of the courses and programmes and have consequently developed technical skills and creative confidence.
· Much focussed and appropriate use was made of interactive whiteboard technology in the delivery of the class materials.
· Great credit is due to the art department for creating an art and design learning environment for students of all aptitudes and motivations.
· Students with special educational needs are well accommodated.
· The art department provides a good learning environment with a friendly, purposeful and professional ambience.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· A stronger focus, in the overall planning, on the outcomes envisaged for students, with particular emphasis on different aptitude and motivation levels is recommended.
· It is recommended that the art department continue to develop and refine the use of ICT methodologies, particularly to support differentiated teaching and learning strategies for all year groups.
· It is recommended that new crafts be added to those now available over time, as resources and opportunity permit, to ensure that teacher expertise can be made fully available to students.
· It is recommended that planning should be undertaken to develop teaching strategies and a programme of class-work that minimises the use of secondary sources.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Art and with the deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published October 2008