An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Art
Fingal Community College
Swords, Co Dublin
Roll number: 70121H
Date of inspection: 18 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Art
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Fingal 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, 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.
The art department is very well provided for in terms of space with two designated art rooms. Both of these rooms are well appointed, bright and are adequately equipped for the delivery of Art. One of the rooms was designed as an art room whilst the other was converted from a technical drawing room some time ago. The first room benefits from a degree of storage space and a lockable storage room which is not accessible from the second art room. There is an adjoining wall which, if broken through, could afford lockable storage space for the second room. It is recommended that an investigation be undertaken to see if this could be achieved and, if it cannot, that an appropriate secure storage unit be obtained for the second room. Currently, shelves are used for the storage of projects; this is not ideal but is reported to be workable.
On the day of the evaluation it was observed that the rooms were very well maintained, tidy and that much effort had gone into the promotion of the classroom as a learning environment. Some students’ work was displayed; this is a good way of promoting student confidence. Also, there were some images from art history on show. A large number of laminated words and names of works were displayed in the rooms. However, to create an appropriate learning environment for a visual subject it is important that words and images be linked. Lists of words alone are limited in the extent that they can help students; the words must relate immediately to an appropriate visual image in order for students to make educational links. It is recommended that the use of the art rooms as visual environments be reviewed to enhance teaching and learning, to place more emphasis on the promotion of students’ work and to use exemplars as a method of improving the student’s expectation of process and product.
During the evaluation it was voiced that the budgeting system works well and that the art department has been able to purchase any item that it has required to date. A good supply of fixed and consumable materials is available. Some students also provide basics such as portfolio folders and other materials. Students who are financially disadvantaged are supported by ensuring that they have enough materials for projects and homework.
The department has sought to provide a rich range of resource materials including a library of art books and collections of objects for students to draw. There is also a kiln in the department, however, it was reported that the kiln is in need of servicing. It is suggested that this should be done as soon as possible.
On the day of the visit it was stated that internet access would be obtained in the near future. This will be a welcome addition to the facilities in the department. It was noted during the evaluation that one of the teachers was using her own laptop in the classroom. Whilst this generosity is noted, it is suggested that as funding presents that it would be more appropriate to have a school-owned computer for use in the department.
Timetabling is well organised by management and all art lessons are held in the art rooms which is appropriate.
Subject choice is made by incoming first years before they start school in September. Information is given to parents and students during an open evening. In third year an option sheet goes out to students to allow them to choose subjects from an open menu.
All class groups are of mixed ability. During the evaluation the department stated that they intended to seek support from the learning support team to help weaker students specifically with terminology in art history. In discussions around this it was understood that this would involve some collaboration and planning on behalf of the art department in order for this support to slot appropriately into lessons and be of most benefit to students.
Two teachers staff the art department and both are members of the Art Teachers’ Association. A subject department structure is evident and it is reported that there is a high degree of collaboration between department members around planning. It is also reported that a good deal of collaboration takes place with other departments in the school in terms of supporting plays and other school events. Such out-of-classroom activities are commended and it is suggested that these activities be documented and kept in the subject department plan.
The school has engaged with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). A large amount of documentation was presented by the art department especially around the areas of health and safety, behaviour in the classroom, support for students with special educational needs and students who are learning English as a second language. However, it is now time for the art department to address planning for the teaching and learning of Art in a more comprehensive manner. Planning for Art should include strategies for class groups, aims, outcomes, topics and timeframes. Therefore, it is recommended that an immediate and complete review of teaching and learning processes and procedures takes place. The art department plan should be informed by the outcomes of this review as well as what is considered by the art department to be an appropriate education for its students. Curricular planning for Art should involve exploration of issues such as how the art elements of colour, value, line, shape, form, texture and space as well as the principles of balance, contrast, proportion, pattern, rhythm, emphasis, unity, and variety can be delivered with best effect for students. The syllabus documents for Art should be referred to constantly to ensure that lessons and schemes are in the spirit and letter of the various syllabuses, and care must be taken to ensure that lessons are not restricted to examination-oriented learning.
It is also suggested that lesson schemes be developed across both junior and senior cycle so that simple skills introduced to students can be expanded and built upon over time to create sets of complex skills and competencies. It is also advised that the needs and interests of the specific cohort of students in the school be examined so that the lessons can be prepared to match with student curiosity and motivations to the extent possible.
A store of collected visual aids was observed for the delivery of Art. In particular there were collections of postcards of images from Irish and European history. In addition to this, there were teacher generated and collected notes for the delivery of this component of the syllabuses. It is recommended that this good practice be extended on two counts. The first is that teachers should prioritise the creation of visual aids and exemplars for practical work for students. This has some clear advantages. One is that the teacher is reminded of the practicalities of making art work and can use this experience to reduce problems for students in lessons. Also, and not to be underestimated, is the interest, enthusiasm and awe inspired in students by good quality exemplars created by their own teachers. The second recommendation is that the visual work collected to teach the history and appreciation of art should be displayed in a clear and logical fashion with the appropriate key words and phrases illustrated on the display.
It is important that the sections of the art department plan relating to lesson plans, assessment and behavioural records are clearly and explicitly laid out. This is necessary to ensure that students have continuity on the occasions when the assigned teacher is unable to be present.
Three class groups were visited as part of the evaluation, one junior and two senior class groups. Classroom preparation was good in all lessons as was the layout of rooms and desks. The learning environment was conducive to teaching and learning when students had clear instructions and students were familiar with a routine for working. In cases where the classroom atmosphere became overly relaxed this impacted on the levels of learning. Preserving the learning environment is the responsibility of the classroom manager and it is most important that the subject is delivered according to pre-ordained structures and goals. This is essential for the subject to retain a sense of value. It is recommended that listening to radios during class, although an approach that can be suitable in some contexts should be reconsidered. Students should be encouraged to enjoy Art lessons using a strategy of lively engagement with topics and satisfying work. To further emphasise respect for the classroom, students should be corrected before indiscipline becomes a distraction to others. Teachers’ use of voice, when appropriately pitched, can be a powerful tool in maintaining a controlled and secure learning environment.
Generally there is a nice rapport with students and affirmation is given regularly. Demonstration is used in the art department to good effect and individual tuition is given to students who are in need as necessary. However, a review of methodologies should contribute to an increase in student engagement, raised levels of learning and improved quality and volume of completed work. During one of the lessons observed a teacher-generated examination brief was given to junior cycle students. This brief required students to bring a preparation sheet in to the examination to help complete an imaginative composition. Students were asked to provide ‘big colour drawings’ and they were told that the sheet was worth forty percent of the overall marks. This approach is an approximation of what happens at senior cycle and is very useful at that level. However, early in junior cycle a more age-appropriate approach and methodology should be used.
A senior cycle history of art lesson was observed during the evaluation in which the teacher showed herself to be highly knowledgeable in the area. The class group was of mixed ability and it was obvious that some students were more engaged than others. The time of the year dictated that revision and techniques for answering questions were appropriate. These were worked out on the board. This strategy was useful to a certain extent but it was clear that some students found it difficult to pick up the information and that the strategy being used was not working for them. Towards the end of the lesson, a quiz was held which was successful in capturing the interest of the students. However, these students were in need of very structured lessons in art history and were also in need of practice with examination papers. The use of a quiz would be more appropriate as a revision methodology earlier in the year when knowledge recall is more of a priority. Towards the end of the course the application of knowledge should take precedence. With careful planning and on-going monitoring of students’ performance, a mismatch of students’ requirements with what is actually happening in the classroom can be successfully avoided. It is suggested that after each scheme of work that a written review takes place so that staff can reflect on the scheme and explore how it can be developed or amended further to the benefit of students.
It is suggested that strategies be developed across all programmes and year groups to improve the standards of students’ work. For example, instead of lino-printing with three colours, more of a focus on composition and mark-making in the earlier stages of design and perhaps using colour combinations such as gradations in the inks in the execution of the prints would facilitate better work. This approach is also very much suited to the mixed ability setting which exists.
It was noted on the day of the evaluation that three dimensional work including papier maché and two dimensional work such as lino-prints, imaginative work and drawing were displayed. There is a scarcity of painting in the department and as it is a key component of any type of art education it is recommended that it should be taught on a regular basis and integrated into lesson plans from first year.
It is reported that homework is generally given once per week to students and consists of drawing at junior level and both practical and more academic work at senior level. This practice is essential and clear processes should be established to ensure that relevant homework is given to all students on a regular basis and that it is assessed.
In order to monitor levels of student engagement, quality and volume of work it is recommended that a review of assessment practices takes place in tandem with the schemes of work and lesson plans. Assessment criteria and processes should be based on the objectives and spirit of the appropriate syllabuses and on assessment for learning principles.
One parent-teacher meeting is held annually for each year group and it was reported that there is scope for an increase in attendance of parents.
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 and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.