An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta


Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of Art



Ballymahon Vocational School

 County Longford

Roll number: 71690F


Date of inspection: 21 May 2007

Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007



Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning


Summary of main findings and recommendations



Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Art


Subject inspection report


This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ballymahon Vocational School, Ballymahon, Co. Longford. 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.



Subject provision and whole school support


Praise is due to the Principal for pioneering the inclusion of art as a subject option for students in Ballymahon Vocational School. It was clear on the day of the inspection that the work of the art department is valued for its general contribution to the life of the school as well as for its intrinsic contribution as an academic subject. Some junior cycle students have access to art as a subject as do those taking the Leaving Certificate Applied programme.  The art department provides stage sets for drama/shows and décor for school Masses and presentation events. The contribution of LCA art and design activities to the ‘Senses Garden’, and thereby to the amenities and atmosphere of the school grounds, is also valued by management and staff.


Art has been offered as an option in Ballymahon Vocational School for about five years. Many students have benefited by its inclusion on the school’s curriculum over that time. Art is now firmly established as a subject, it is recommended that when possible it should be offered to leaving certificate students as a mainstream subject, to allow those who have taken it for junior cycle to continue on, and to facilitate others to take it up ab initio in senior cycle.


Resources in time and space are slight, but what is currently in place represents a commitment by the principal to establish art and design as a viable academic and self-development activity for students in Ballymahon Vocational School. There is no specialist art equipment, such as a kiln, printing or batik equipment. Suggestions and recommendations on how to counter this in the immediate instance are included under the Teaching and Learning Section of this report.


Eight class periods are timetabled for art, on Mondays and Fridays. The subject is delivered by a qualified art teacher. The art department does not have a base classroom, nor does it have dedicated storage area. Classrooms dedicated to other subjects are used and the logistic issues in the use of multiple locations are considerable, bringing students’ work, materials and equipment from place to place. It is recommended that all the classes be held in the same classroom, if at all possible. The technology room in use on Mondays poses a particular problem as students cannot easily do life drawing, as there is not enough space that can be cleared away in which the model may pose. Nonetheless, it is possible to carry out basic art education activities albeit in a restricted way.  


Students with special educational needs (SEN) are well attended to in the art classes, and there is particular expertise available to the art department in this regard. The small groups in junior certificate classes are an advantage as individual attention can be given to them to support their learning.


Having no base classroom restricts the crafts that can be undertaken, and puts a cap on the art and design learning opportunities that can be made available to students. If it were possible to make a base classroom available to the art department, issues of storage, display and continuity of assignments and projects would be less problematic, and would support learning, as well as making the organizational aspects of delivering the subject easier to manage.


The future development of art at leaving certificate to allow students to continue with the subject as part of senior cycle is desirable, given that students are currently benefiting in many ways from its inclusion in their academic life at junior cycle.


Further effort should be made in the medium term to find resources to improve facilities for art and design as the subject is materials, tools, equipment and space dependant; the lack of a basic level of these impact negatively on student achievement and attainment.


Planning and preparation


Planning for the specific lessons observed was good. Preparation, always important in the practical dimension of a subject, is effective and on the day of the inspection a range of necessary tools and materials was readily available.


Planning documentation was seen on the day of the inspection. Available time was well accounted for in the plan  which would be improved, and made more useful, if more detail with regard to learning outcomes, in terms of skills and in relation to differentiated learning aims for students were included in it. It is recommended that these be developed and included in the planning documents.


Planning for the use of ICT is strongly recommended, as it has much to offer for the art department both in the delivery of courses and the creation of conditions whereby students can be provided with some added increment of self-directed learning to become part of their experience of art and design.    


Teaching and learning


There was a good learning atmosphere in all the class groups, which were small and well managed. The groups are mixed ability. Communication between the students and teacher was good and students readily answered the inspector’s questions. Students in the junior cycle lessons visited worked well and stayed on task during the lessons observed. In the case of LCA, the students  were working on the final preparations for the official opening of their ‘Senses Garden’ project, and they worked well together in small groups on tasks associated with this. Students have had an opportunity to experience a range of materials and techniques, and have derived enjoyment and benefit from the way the learning activities are delivered to them in class.


Students in all art classes need to see reproductions of artworks, as it is one aspect of visual learning. During one lesson observed a book was passed around amongst the students in order to show reproductions of works by Andy Warhol. This was good practice, as visual culture beyond the classroom is an important facet of what the study of art and design should be in post-primary schools. If students were in a base classroom for art, reproductions could be put on the walls, and reference made frequently in an integrated way with these during the teaching and learning process.


Canvas panels or boards pre-printed commercially with an image were used as part of painting exercises. Encouraging students to work on canvas is a good opportunity for them to experience different art materials. Painting based on imagination and observation should be integrated into the study of colour. Where use really needs to be made of  pre-printed line drawings for students with SEN, students without special requirements in this regard should be assigned more challenging and artistically creative tasks.


Including elements of computers, such as the use of the ‘Paint’ programme, which is usually featured on PCs, would be a simple, accessible yet decisive step in using technology as a support to teaching and learning in art and design. The students could also be shown the use of websites for looking at art, for example those of the National Gallery of Ireland, The Irish Museum of Modern Art and the Chester Beatty Library.


The most successful learning outcomes were seen in the work of the LCA students who had created a sizable ‘Senses Garden’. This ambitious and well-realised project resulted from assignments across several subject areas, of which art was one. Art had a major role in the realization of this project, which emphasized planning, organizational and aesthetic skills building along with decision-making and effective use of time.


When questioned, several students communicated really well on the work involved in creating the ‘Senses Garden’, and on the finished result. It was obvious from their responses that they had appraised the end result and their own performance as a group in the achievement of that result. Some of them stated that they now know they should have been more decisive and begun work on the garden earlier in the year, as it was difficult to get started. Rather than devote a class period or more solely to brainstorming and ideation, it is suggested that strategies to integrate this activity with practical work be developed, such as have it going on as a parallel activity while students are engaged in making and doing.


It is recommended that, although the main elements and layout of the ‘Senses Garden’ are in place, that the LCA art class in subsequent years will be given briefs of enhancement and development of the garden as part of their art course.

                                                                                                                                                                Students had also been given tasks to create 3D objects with wooden lollipop sticks. This medium

dictated a limited range of learning and artistic experiences and has limited expressive outcomes. Students in junior cycle must experience learning assignments in the three 3D modes of carving, modelling and construction. Even where there are acute restrictions on space, time and materials, it is possible to give students experience of these three modes with cheap materials, and on a small scale by carving from soap, modelling with plasticine, and construction with cardboard, and so on. The lolly-pop stick approach could if necessary be included as a material within construction but is not in itself a pliant or expressive enough medium of itself for learning in 3D at this level in the post-primary school. Emphasis should always be focused on the learning aims and outcomes. A focus on creating artefacts without emphasizing skills acquisition and engagement with processes is not in line with the spirit or the letter of the Art Craft and Design Syllabus as developed for the junior cycle by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). None the less it has provided some opportunity for students to experience 3D work.


It is recommended that crafts from the junior certificate document which develop particular skills, and that do not need heavy investment of resources and space to deliver should be developed, until the climate for art equipment improves in the school. Calligraphy is one such craft, and creative embroidery is another. Neither of these is hugely dependent on resources and has expressive and technical possibilities that belie their simplicity. 


On the day of the inspection, a piece of 3D work prepared for junior certificate was seen. It had been made using a commercially produced mould. While this provided evidence of learning taking place, this was of a technical rather than a creative nature. In the junior certificate course these are supposed to happen in association with one another. It is recommended that students be provided with the opportunity of making something from scratch that would show expressive skills as well as manual dexterity.


Good drawings from observation were seen in the portfolios/sketchbooks of second year students. This type of learning assignment is to be commended, as it is in line with the sort of skills building that this junior cycle course in art, craft and design envisages.


Line drawing with pencil was the main medium used for drawing. It is recommended that a wider range of drawing media and tools be used as a learning vehicle for perceptual and manual training from the very beginning of first year.


With reference to the observations on teaching and learning made above, it is  recommended that a few key areas are focused on and developed in the next academic year, particularly homework, crafts, 3D,and drawing.


Timetabling restrictions mean that art classes happen on Mondays and Fridays, which limits flow of learning experiences in art and design to occur throughout the week. To counteract the possible negative effects of this on student progress within current arrangements for the subject, it is recommended that a system of homework be devised to help students further develop skills learned during class. For example, basic calligraphy could be taught and briefly practised in class to be followed by further practice and a new assignment to be carried out as homework. In essence, this would be a long-term homework assignment that would consolidate student’s skills and result in the completion of a relatively significant artefact over a couple of weeks. A plan for this method of continuance and reinforcement through practice should be developed for each term of the school year and the work done by students and this type of homework should be part of end-of-term and end-of-year marks for school reports sent home to parents and guardians.


The influence of the school’s inadequate art facilities is reflected in levels of student achievement and attainment in the subject; some components of it, particularly 3D and craft are notably affected.







A combination of assessment procedures is in use in the art department, including continuous assessment based on class work, mock projects and invigilated examinations. A strong consciousness of State Examination Commission (SEC) assessment criteria, and of the associated practical requirements, informs the work of the art department. Records of students’ during-term, end-of-term, and end-of-year assessment/examination results are maintained. 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.


Assessment criteria need to be documented; it is recommended that these are developed as part of the teaching and learning process, and used to assess student attainment.


Summary of main findings and recommendations


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:


·         Art has been established as a  subject in the school

·         Students have benefited by the inclusion of art as a curricular option in both the area of academic opportunity and as an opportunity for self-development.



As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:


·         It is recommended that key areas are focused on and developed for teaching and learning, namely crafts, 3D, drawing and homework

·         It is recommended that a base classroom be established for use by the art department

·         It is suggested that when resources allow, the materials and equipment for art, design and craft be improved whenever possible so as to enhance the learning opportunities for students

·         It is recommended that, resources permitting, consideration be given by school management and Vocational Educational Committee to extending art as a subject option to students taking the Leaving Certificate (established)

·         In relation to assessment, it is recommended that assessment criteria be developed as part of the planning process for the subject.



Post-evaluation meetings were held with the art department and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.