An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Art
Árdscoil Phadraig, Granard,
Roll number: 71710I
Date of inspection: 11 December, 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Art
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Art in Árdscoil Phádraig. 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 teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
The school has recently made great efforts, and assigned scarce resources to creating the opportunity for students to study Art by setting up the art department. This laudable and pro-active initiative should be carefully nurtured into its next stage of development where students attain personally, artistically and in the examinations. These three aspects to a post-primary visual arts education are interlinked, and should be nurtured together. Several suggestions and recommendations are made for management and the art department in their effort to establish good practice in the three areas listed above.
The whole school support for the subject is impressive and there is great will at management level for the subject to flourish and fulfil the needs of students. Budgetary arrangements are good, and though the days on which art lessons are available in the school are limited to two, time allocated to each year group is appropriate in that circumstance. Management has had minuted planning meetings with the art department and this is good practice. This is a great forum for working with the art department to progress the school’s educational goals and for achieving its ambitions for the art department. In the short term, these meeting could valuably focus on the application of the recommendations on this subject inspection report to the school situation.
The school has a good system of collecting information about students’ strengths and aptitudes, for guiding subject choice in the Leaving Certificate, and a big effort is made to ensure that if the choice of subject is right the student will be content and motivated. The same should be true at Junior Certificate level, and it is recommended that attention be given to students’ subject choice in junior cycle in the same way, when opportunity and resources allow. Ways of insuring that Art is not provided only for those students who are least academically effective should be considered.
Great credit is due to the management of the school for the innovative steps it has taken to provide Art for the students. It is important that the initiative is taken to its full potential in terms of quality and delivery. Many of the current aspects of provision are a good basis for further improvement. Because management has created a solid dialogue already with the art department through planning meetings, continued involvement with the improvement of content and enrichment of approach is likely to be productive. It is recommended that the principal ensure that the planning for enriched class content, and gradual progression of challenge, is undertaken in the art department and that the classroom activities are an implementation of these improved-content plans. The art department has contributed to the life of the school and students now have opportunities to engage with the visual arts.
Students with special educational needs are accommodated well by the art department, participating in the learning activities with the support of a special educational needs assistant.
A planning document was available on the day of the inspection. It gave a brief outline of the work envisaged for the various classes and year groups taking Art. It is commendable that a plan was in place. It would greatly improve the quality of the students’ overall courses and their day-to-day art, design, and craft education if the planning was reworked to include a greater breadth and balance of activities and a richer array of learning tasks than were outlined, and which were seen being done in class on the day of the inspection.
In order to support the students learning needs, and to render the plan more useful as a working tool in the school day, week, term and year, there should be a lot more detail in it. The plan should carefully increase the level of challenge, the variety of tasks and media, and the conceptual basis for what is taught in relation to what students have attained already, and with due and careful regard to the students’ abilities, level and motivation. It is recommended therefore that the planning for content and method of delivery be now reviewed and that planning for the taster module for incoming first years should be reworked for future years.
The statement of learning objectives should be clearly expressed in the planning documents, and should emphasise that the students have experience of making objects and artefacts in a wide range of materials and media. The planning should be firmly based on the available syllabus documentation, particularly for junior cycle. Learning outcomes should be outlined for all activities in a differentiated way, with age appropriateness, varying aptitudes and motivation levels factored into the design and delivery of activities and assignments.
There was a good learning environment and atmosphere in the art lessons observed. Students got individual attention; because the groups are so small, the individual strengths and weaknesses of students are known very well to the art department and this is a real strength of the provision in Árdscoil Phadraig. Communication between all parties during lessons was open and respectful. The room is bright, spacious and has good circulation area. There is ample wall space for display, and students work and some reproductions of artworks are displayed. It is recommended that the number of reproductions of art design and architecture on display be increased and frequently changed during each term to support students’ artistic and aesthetic development. Students were very well behaved and engaged productively with the tasks assigned, and were generally enthusiastic. There was a range of ability represented, including students with special educational needs, and a special needs assistant worked in one class group.
Classes have small numbers. This is advantageous in a subject with the requirement and responsibility to develop the many perceptual and physical skills necessary for successful engagement and participation in the junior cycle and subsequent senior cycle courses. Small numbers provide time and space for the development of these skills and for the all-important individual attention students need in first year, particularly when little apparent carryover of skills from primary schools is usual. Yet this advantage has not yet been utilized to the students’ advantage as much as it might be, and planning to do so would be apposite in the set-up phase of the art department.
The art history lesson delivered was very good indeed, with a well managed link between the historical material and practical work. Students were engaged by the way the material was presented. There was a variety of commentary made and this made the topic interesting for all the students, many of whom contributed. The second-year lesson in clay modelling had similarly many good points, and students were being given good information of a technical nature in relation to working clay. As this exercise was quite technically demanding and challenging, it could have been preceded by some more expressive and exploratory work as a way of establishing students’ confidence and familiarity.
The lessons, with the exception of the history class, should be reviewed on the grounds of content, focus on skills and stimulating qualities for learning. Art-based activities with much more and varied learning content than were inherent in some of the lessons, should be planned and delivered. The content of the learning activities in the classroom should be reconsidered, revised and improved. It is essential that activities and assignments be enriched, and extended.
The use of learning outcomes in class as a practical anchor for lesson design, preparation and delivery is necessary in order to focus activity on enriched outcomes for students in relation to their own personal creative development and in relation to the demands of the syllabus. Students need to acquire confidence in the practical and perceptual aspects of art. Lessons should be structured to achieve this key desirable outcome. More discrimination in relation to the type of drawing, painting and all visual arts activities is needed to set up good learning opportunities for students to develop in the way the subject usually allows and to enable the school to provide the necessary creative and artistic experiences. Visual learning encompasses the development of technical and perceptual skills, expressive and observational procedures, engagement with art, architecture, craft and design at an age-appropriate level and broad experience of making artefacts in a range of 2D and 3D materials and media. All these elements are integral to an art education which should not be solely examination-driven.
The syllabus document is the determinant of course content and emphases within the delivery of the Junior Certificate. In order that the desired breadth and balance of the Art, Craft and Design course is available to learners, this document, rather than the State Examination Commission assessment criteria and past examination papers, is the one that should be pre-eminent. The State Examination Commission assessment criteria and past examination papers may be used in association with the syllabus, but should not be overly emphasise before students have acquired and developed artistic skills.
In order to effect improvement, it is recommended that reference to good practice elsewhere be used to inform current practice, so as to establish suitable pedagogic procedures, class content, and breadth of engagement with materials, techniques, imagery, creativity and expression at the appropriate pitch for first years, junior cycle and senior cycle.
The use of the same class plans from year group to year group with no apparent difference of approach or content was noted. In portfolios, the same exercises were evident from year to year. It is recommended that this repetitive process should discontinue and more time and attention be given to developing a broader spectrum of activities, assignments and exercises over the course of the year. While occasional reruns are not entirely unacceptable, it should be with a clearly revised set of learning outcomes that reflect the students’ different age, experience and skills.
With the exception of those of the history of art lesson, the level of expectation reflected generally in the exercises and assignments needed to be increased. It is recommended that levels of expectation be reviewed now and that concrete action be taken through planning and lesson delivery to raise standards in this regard. More variety, better content, definition of learning outcomes, and appropriate expectation of attainment should be factored into lessons, as units and collectively. A sequence of ever-increasing challenge should also be factored in, over the course of the school year and between year groups.
It is a most positive development that students in Ardscoil Phadraig are being given opportunity to make and experience art. Enrichment of this experience must now be the main priority of the art department and management. Strong, emphatic attention to learning outcomes of class room activities and assignments should be put in place. This will necessitate a more carefully designed, more enriching programme of learning activities with clear, discernible purpose to maximise student opportunity to engage in a real way with their own art making and to help them to access and appreciate the artistic and creative achievements of others. Some suggestions for enrichment of learning activities are: use of a wider range of drawing materials from first year onwards, expressive and exploratory work as opposed to technical exercises only, extensive and habitual use of historical and contemporary sources of art design and architecture as a source for learning, and the provision of different crafts after Junior Certificate. A wider range of natural objects should be used for drawing exercises and observational studies. These should be available in the classroom to facilitate students learning throughout the school year.
Students should be empowered to be confident and creative by the type of assignments given. Art is a creative and expressive subject that should be used to motivate and engage students. The art department should ensure that the tasks students are assigned maximise their visual learning and their opportunities for creativity. The focus on the state examination comes too soon in the programme as taught. It is recommended that the art department engages in continuing professional development (CPD), through, for example, the Art Teachers Association of Ireland (ATAI), the World Wide Web and art and design colleagues in the locality, to source new ideas for the art department, especially in the creative and expressive dimension of the subject.
Information and communications technology (ICT) is not yet in use in the art department. The school has computers, along with the supports necessary to include ICT in the delivery of the art courses, and resources enough to encourage and enable students to access and use the ‘Paint’ programme, usually available on standard personal computers. ICT would bring students into contact with material for artistic and aesthetic learning. This would be useful in all aspects of their learning, whether as first or sixth years. Use of a data projector to present materials would enable the development of a range of skills and would enrich the lesson content. It is recommended that the art department develops increased usage of ICT in learning activities to ensure that access to the extensive sources of visual material can be made available to the students who live in a rural area and who might have difficulty regularly travelling to encounter art, design, sculpture and painting. Mentoring by ICT-adept colleagues could be a good starting point for the use of computers in the art department.
In whole-school terms, the art department has been set up to give access to visual art, and along with music, in order to add a cultural element to the curriculum offered. What is currently being delivered by the art department is a step in the direction of artistic opportunity. Further work is required in establishing an art department to bear the educational fruit envisaged from the initiative.
There are good aspects to delivery, such as excellent teacher attention to students, good communication, cheerful ambience, and good spatial and storage arrangements. Students are brought to galleries and museums and to visit local national monuments: this is good practice which enhances students’ experience of visual culture. The experience of learning, and appropriate progression and attainment in Art by the students depends, and pivots, on the improvements recommended in this report. Overall, it is recommended that the content of learning activities be greatly extended and enriched, and that age-appropriate and level-appropriate differentiation should be integrated into both the planning of classes and their delivery.
It is strongly recommended that learning outcomes developed in planning for the subject should be used to develop assessment criteria for in-class assignments, tests, interim stages in projects, end-of-term and end-of-year tests and examinations. Solid criteria for differentiation in the assessment of the attainment and progress of students of different motivation levels should also be developed. As the art department is at a start-up stage, it is timely to work in this approach to habitual daily practice.
Assessment for learning (AfL) practices, as outlined on the NCCA web site at www.ncca.ie, could valuably be used in supporting student progress in Art. Very small class numbers are facilitative of implementing the ideas for this support to students of all ages.
Art is offered on two days only and is thus discontinuous, with large gaps over the course of the school week and the intervening weekends. The lack of continuity should be addressed through planning for homework and longer term assignments over the course of the week. It is recommended that the students have a carefully scheduled range of activities and concrete exercises to do. These assignments should be considerably more than merely collecting and gathering, though this may be at times part of homework. If necessary, in order to establish a culture of fulfilling these assignments, a photocopied sheet could be given to the students with the work listed on it. On the day of the inspection homework was given and good practice was seen in the use of written comments where these assignments had been checked.
Reports are issued to parents and guardians twice yearly. Student progress is also reported on at parent-teacher meetings. Good records of students’ results in tests and assessment are kept by the art department.
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 art department and the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, January 2010
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management and staff of Árdscoil Phadraig wishes to acknowledge the comprehensive and detailed report of the Department of Education and Science
regarding the subject inspection report of art.
The affirmation that school management has wholly supported the establishing of art in the school is commendable, however the contribution from the art department has
been pivotal in this undertaking.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
Meetings between school management and art department regarding the recommendations outlined in the subject inspection report. These include:
A new approach re/content and delivery of subject planning and programmes is being undertaken by the art department in consultation with management.
Meetings have taken place with the art-department and art and design colleagues in the locality for exchange of ideas, information and networking practices.
Membership and meetings with relevant subject associations is being pursued.
Classes are now officially timetabled for ICT classes.
Application has been made for the provision of a data-projector, computer and printer for the art room.
Regular meetings are on-going with management and art department to ensure planning for enriched class content.
Liaison between the art department and other subject departments are being made to establish cross-curricular links.
All recommendations have been noted and will be implemented in so far as possible.