An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Art
Drogheda Grammar School
Drogheda, County Louth
Roll number: 63870L
Date of inspection: 30 September 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Art
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Drogheda Grammar School. 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 subject teacher. 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.
Art is an optional subject at Drogheda Grammar School which is a fee paying secondary school catering for 157 boys and 119 girls. Art is provided as a subject for the Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations and it forms part of the school’s compulsory Transition Year (TY) programme.
The art department is staffed by specialist teacher who is a permanent member of staff. This teacher benefits from the continuing professional development opportunities made available to members of the Art Teachers’ Association of Ireland.
Most students in first year study Art for a term to enable them to experience the subject before making their choices for the Junior Certificate. First-year students have until December to decide on their preferred subjects. Students at senior cycle are provided with an open menu of subjects from which they make their choices. These approaches to subject choice represent very good practice as they support students in making informed decisions and they allow time ample time in which to make up their minds. All TY students are provided with five periods of Art each week for a ten-week module and students who have had no previous experience of the subject are well facilitated on this course.
Students are grouped into mixed-ability settings for Art which is good practice. The number of students taking Art at junior cycle is in line with the national average and there is very healthy uptake of the subject at senior cycle. These numbers are testament to work done by the art department and school management to encourage interest in the subject. Timetabling for Art takes cognisance of the need for double periods for practical work for all year groups, further indicating support for the subject at senior management level.
A dedicated art room and a store room are provided for teaching and learning in Art. This room is part of the original school structure which is a listed building. The room was adapted for Art from its previous use and, although it is not ideal, it is bright and very good use is being made of the facilities it offers. For example, although the walls are sloped and relatively rough, making the display of work relatively difficult, the show of students’ work that was in place on the day of the evaluation indicates how efforts are made to maximise the room’s potential. The art room has also been organised to maximise the space available for teaching and learning and seating plans have been put in place for each student group.
The art department reported during the evaluation that its information and communications technology (ICT) resources were under development. A digital projector has been installed in the art room; this is a very useful and practical resource for this visual subject. The art department also has a large screen, sound system and audio-visual equipment. The laptop computer and digital camera being used by the art department is the personal property of the teacher concerned. Whilst this generosity is noted, the art department in collaboration with senior management should develop plans to obtain a dedicated laptop and digital camera for Art as soon as funding becomes available. ICT has the potential to be a most useful resource for Art in Drogheda Grammar School and it was evident during the evaluation there is willingness in the department to develop this. Since the size of the art room precludes the collection of students’ art work as exemplars, ICT could be an equally effective way of recording students’ work without using up essential physical space. Recordings of students’ work could be developed into collections of useful images. For example, pieces of work can be photographed in their various stages and presented on a recurring loop so that students can check their progress during lessons. Using ICT, inspirational images can be collected according to themes, materials, stages of development for students, particular skills and other useful categories. In time, the use of digital video in teaching and learning should be explored. The computer room is also available for both teacher and students to use for research. In the future, when resources become available, access to the internet should be provided in the art classroom.
In the recent past the art department has benefited from investment including the installation of sinks in the art room and the purchase of new bench hooks. It is good that equipment, materials and facilities are reviewed over time and renewed as appropriate.
An annual budget is provided for Art and materials and equipment are requested as necessary through senior management. This system is reported to work well. However, it was noted during the inspection that there was a scarcity of three-dimensional materials such as clay. In the absence of a kiln to fire ceramic clay, polymer and hobby ‘clay’ can be useful substitutes to allow students to experience the plastic qualities of these materials.
A display of students’ finished work was observed in the foyer of the school. This work was based on the nearby heritage site at Newgrange and was of a very high standard. The quality of presentation of the individual pieces and the environment in which they were displayed added to the sense of professionalism of this exhibition. This kind of project deserves to be strongly encouraged as it offers enormous potential in terms of enabling students to celebrate their own and each other’s artistic skill and achievements, of raising the standard of students’ work and of promoting Art across the whole school community.
The quality of administration in the art department is very good. Senior management provides formal time for planning meetings on a termly basis. As a result of considerable work, a very well-presented subject planning file was available during the evaluation. This document detailed the art department’s own mission statement and the administrative arrangements governing students learning activities such as options structures, student access and timetabling. This document also contained curricular planning for each year group. The plans for lessons are educationally sound and are designed to make use of subject matter which interests students at the various stages of their development. In addition to drawing, painting and three-dimensional work in various media, students are exposed to a selection of crafts including block printmaking, creative embroidery, puppetry and calligraphy. The art department is now at an ideal stage to further develop its curricular planning by framing its teaching and learning plans using statements of learning outcomes for students.
A written programme was available for TY. This programme is designed to be carried out during approximately twenty-six hours made available over a ten-week module. The topics being addressed include portraits, caricatures and manga, block printmaking, and the history and appreciation of art. Whilst these topics are entirely appropriate for students, a different approach to that used in the Leaving Certificate programme should be adopted to fully avail of the opportunities offered by the TY and to adhere to the departmental requirements for the programme. Further information should be accessed in the Department of Education and Science document Transition Year Programmes Guidelines for Schools which is available on the website of the Transition Year Support Service (www.slss.ie). The TY programme offers a high degree of flexibility which can be used, for example, to explore crafts and media which might not be possible when preparing for the Junior or Leaving Certificate examinations in Art. It is recommended that the plans for TY should be reviewed to include lessons which will not disadvantage students who have not studied Art before. A brief set of lessons incorporating the history and appreciation of photography would be very appropriate for such students . In addition, a practical photography project incorporating themes such as fashion, architecture and popular culture and media would link the theoretical to practical work. In this way students who have little or no drawing experience could develop other artistic skills which would enable them to produce high-quality work.
Much co-curricular, extracurricular and cross-curricular planning is taking place and this is clearly resulting in increased and improved opportunities for students to apply their knowledge and skills in Art. It includes some very specific plans for projects; one example is the exploration of calligraphy using the work being studied in English. Extracurricular opportunities offered by the art department include portfolio preparation lessons for Leaving Certificate students; these lessons illustrate the level of interest and commitment to the subject that exists among students and the supportive role played by the art department.
A written evaluation is conducted after each scheme of work is completed by the art department and each year a full review of the year’s work is conducted. This is then used to influence the following year’s programme. This reflective approach to planning is good.
Two class groups in junior cycle and one class group in senior cycle were visited as part of this evaluation. The majority of students in the lessons observed were very well-behaved and respectful of their teacher and their environment. All students were pleasant in their interactions between themselves. Students were responsive to their teacher and were happy to both answer and ask questions.
A variety of teaching methods was used in each lesson. This helped to keep students interested and on task. Teacher demonstrations were effective and engaging. Good use was made of very high quality teacher-generated handouts and of presentations displayed using the digital projector. In one lesson, the teacher referred to personal experiences of some artefacts and showed students images of visits to particular art works. Students found the teachers’ natural enthusiasm for the subject matter very appealing. Students were also shown contemporary visual responses to the Mona Lisa which, having already studied the work of Leonardo da Vinci, they found most interesting. Good questioning techniques were also used to help students form opinions and to elicit information. It was clear that this use of higher-order questioning has helped senior cycle students to form confident and informed opinions. It is suggested that the use of this technique be extended across all class groups and it is further suggested that students should be encouraged to form and communicate opinions on all aspects of their work from first year to help them practise their observation skills. Targeted questions should be used to ensure all students are involved in answering questions appropriate to their ability.
A sample of senior cycle students’ notebooks and files was examined during the evaluation. These showed that the history and appreciation component of the art syllabus is progressing effectively.
One of the lessons involved a practical painting exercise. The students in this group had completed similar exercises during the previous year. This work was somewhat limiting for students as there was little challenge. Whilst it is accepted that this type of exercise is very beneficial for students to develop good painting skills, it must present an appropriate level of challenge. It is recommended that when planning individual lessons attention should be paid to ensuring the activities to be undertaken by students are sufficiently challenging to stretch their capabilities and to advance their skills. Differentiated learning outcomes should be planned for students, so that each student has the chance to achieve his or her personal potential.
A plan for one of the groups visited involved painting self-portraits from photographs. This is a very good idea from the perspectives of both art education and student interest. The photographs to be used were viewed by the inspector and whist it is very good practice that students were taking photographs of themselves, the setting used resulted in photographs that were dark and exhibited little contrast. This lack of contrast limits the potential for successful portraiture by the students. It is recommended that consideration should be given at the planning stage to how best to promote the potential for student success and, where activities are found in practice to be unsuccessful, the plan should be altered.
It was noted during the evaluation that there was ample evidence of decorative and imaginative graphic work in a variety of media and dimensions in the art department. This is good work. To help develop students’ performance further it is recommended that education plans for Art should regularly include working from life, through development into realisation. This approach to art education should be adopted with all students from first year.
In one lesson inspected, earphones were being used by a student to listen to music. This was addressed by the teacher. However, the student continued to use the earphones as the lesson progressed. As a health and safety precaution and to preserve the learning atmosphere, students should be able to hear instruction clearly during lessons. The use of earphones should therefore be limited to out-of-class time.
The lessons evaluated were generally well structured and arranged. Students were asked to help organise materials and equipment at the outset and conclusion of practical lessons. This is worthwhile practice as it allows students some experience of managing a practical task and helps to form good work practices. Instruction and direction was given in a clear and pleasant manner.
At the time of the evaluation, the school had identified the need for a homework policy and an assessment policy and the creation of these policies had been placed on the agenda for 2008-09. As these policies are developed on a whole-school basis, the art department should identify specifics that relate to the homework and assessment of Art that need to be taken into account and these should be incorporated into the general policies around homework and assessment.
Students sit a range of assessments during the year including summer and Christmas tests. Candidates for the certificate examinations are provided with opportunities to practise their examination skills at ‘mock’ examinations. These ‘mock’ examinations are conducted in conditions as close as possible to those of the certificate examinations so as to allow for authentic experience. Answer papers, in addition to marking sheets, are returned to students so that they may check their progress and examine their performance. Students’ work is marked frequently using formative comments as well as grades. To enhance this good practice it is recommended that the students be involved in their own assessment from an early stage and that consideration be given to applying further assessment for learning principles. Information on assessment for learning can be obtained on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (www.ncca.ie). It is recommended that relevant information from the chief examiners’ reports and the marking schemes published annually by the State Examinations Commission should also be shared with students to better help them understand how to improve their performances.
A variety of formal and formative methods is used to communicate progress to students and their parents. These include a school report after every term and midterm. It is also reported that the frequency of communications between parents and tutors is high and that such contact serves a very important role.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Students have good access to Art in Drogheda Grammar School.
· To facilitate practical work, timetabling for Art includes the provision of double periods for all groups taking the subject.
· Very good use is being made of the facilities available for Art; ongoing review and maintenance of facilities takes place.
· School management has invested in ICT resources in the art department and these have been used well to date.
· Subject planning in Art has been progressed and the documentation presented during the evaluation provided evidence of very good administrative and reflective practices.
· Students in the lessons visited were well behaved and pleasant in their interactions.
· A variety of teaching methodologies was used to maintain student interest.
· The lessons observed were very well structured and organised.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The provision for ICT in the art department should be further developed as funding permits.
· The art department should include statements of learning outcomes in curricular plans.
· The TY programme should be reviewed to avail of the opportunities inherent in the TY programme to introduce new topics and approaches to learning. Care should be taken to include lessons which will not
disadvantage students who have not studied Art before.
· Care should be taken to ensure that lessons pose sufficient challenge for students.
· From first year students should be encouraged to work regularly from life, rather than from secondary sources.
· Students should be included in assessing their own work, further use should be made of assessment for learning principles and the documentation produced annually by the State Examinations Commission in
relation to Art should be shared with students.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teacher 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 May 2009