An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Art
Ratoath, County Meath
Roll number: 76088T
Date of inspection: 12 May 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Art
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ratoath 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 two days 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 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.
Ratoath College was established in 2005 and is a growing school with an enrolment of 269 males and 197 females. Previous to the academic year 2008-2009, students were offered the Junior Certificate programme. In 2008-09 the school commenced the delivery of three senior cycle programmes: an optional Transition Year (TY), the established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). Art is an optional subject on the Junior Certificate and the TY programmes. Art will be introduced as an optional subject on the established Leaving Certificate programme and the LCVP in September 2009.
The art department has grown along with the school and is now staffed by two specialist art teachers, one of whom also teaches Art in another school. Subject department meetings are held every two months and informal meetings are held on a very regular basis. Both members of staff in the art department are members of the Art Teachers’ Association of Ireland and benefit from the continuing professional development opportunities available for art educators at post-primary level. Members of the art department have also benefited from relevant whole-school in-service. The updating of skills and knowledge in this way is good practice.
Timetabling for Art at junior cycle is good, with double periods being provided to facilitate practical lessons. TY students are also provided with a double period for Art for the duration of the TY programme; this gives them a very good opportunity to fully experience the subject.
The uptake of Art is healthy at junior cycle. Access to the subject is good. At the beginning of junior cycle, students are asked to make their subject choices from an open menu of optional subjects. Arrangements are made by school management to ensure that students and their parents are fully informed of the implications of subject choice decisions. Members of senior management stated that they intend to provide a similar set of arrangements for students taking Art in senior cycle.
The school moved into a new building in September 2007 and the art department is provided with two fully-equipped purpose-built art rooms. During the evaluation, both rooms were very well organised and scrupulously clean, indicating the art department’s wish to maintain to the highest standard the excellent facilities available to them. High quality students’ work was displayed on the walls of the art rooms. A very large range of visual aids and learning resources, some of which were also on display, was available to enhance teaching and learning in Art. Generally these resources were teacher-generated and of an exemplary standard. In particular, a set of photographs showing how to carry out various elements of three-dimensional work was noted. These were accessible, clear and illustrated the various steps in logical sequential steps. This is a very good way to convey a process. In summary, the purpose-built spaces provided for Art have been developed into ideal visually-stimulating environments for the teaching and learning of the subject.
The art department is very well equipped with information and communications technology (ICT) including a number of computers and a data projector in each room. The art department also has access to a scanner and a colour printer. At the time of the evaluation, the art department outlined plans to obtain image manipulation software for use by students; this is a very good strategy. Overall, the integration of ICT into students’ work is most commendable.
The school is in the final stages of setting up its art department and has access to a ‘set up’ budget to facilitate the purchase of equipment and materials as required. The consumable materials available for students at the time of the evaluation had been purchased using these funds. It is suggested that a separate budget for consumables should be developed so that an effective order and supply system will be in place when the ‘set up’ budget has been exhausted.
The art department is very supportive of the endeavours of other subject departments and of the work of senior management in the school. For example, the art department has produced imagery to enhance teaching and learning for the mathematics department and the civil, social and political education department. The art department has also been highly involved in the enhancement of the interior of the new school building. The sharing of expertise and skills in this way is very good practice.
The documentation presented by the art department during the evaluation showed that detailed curricular planning to develop teaching and learning is prioritised along with planning for the overall development of the art department in the longer term. The details of the plan as outlined in the documents presented are very appropriate given the context of this school. A subject meeting folder was available which evidenced the positive and collaborative approach of the teachers in the department. Overall the approach to planning in the art department is very good.
Plans for general development of the art department include support from professional artists, competitions at in-school, local and national level and the highlighting of students’ achievement in Art across the school. Senior management stated that the school prides itself on finding opportunities to affirm and praise students in order to encourage their progress. Evidence of this approach was found in planning activities at all levels in the department. For example, a large portion of the school’s communal space is regularly used by the art department to display exhibitions of students’ artwork. Glass frames have been provided in other areas of the school to display students’ work on a long-term basis. This very good work also extends in to the classroom where the work of individual students is celebrated by exhibiting good work and by awarding certificates of achievement. The quality of the displays is in part due to the fact that the art department highlights the importance of students employing good standards of presentation. On the day of the inspection, the presentation of all of the art work exhibited was of an optimum standard. Such attention to presentation improves the potential for appreciation of the work and further enhances opportunities for the affirmation of students. The exhibition of well presented work also helps to maintain the high profile of the subject in the school.
Planning and preparation for lessons in Art were based on a very thorough understanding of art education at post-primary level and high aspirations for the students at the school. Generally, the art department’s approach to art education balances the development of skills required for students to produce competent practical work with developing visual awareness and aesthetic appreciation. The good work observed during the visit provided evidence of the success of this approach.
The curricular plans were very well presented and included visual documentation for clarity. Plans were developed for each year group and integrated the history and appreciation of art into each lesson. Lesson plans also included homework and assessment strategies. The subject matter chosen for lessons was interesting and appropriately chosen for its motivational value for students. For example, junior-cycle students were asked to make a feast in three-dimensions and popular cartoon motifs were used to help them learn about enlarging images. This is good work.
A very good selection of topics, crafts and disciplines has been identified and developed into lessons for each year group. These include drawing, painting, colour, photography, graphic design, packaging, batik and calligraphy. The work observed during the evaluation was seen as evidence that the introduction of these topics to students has been successful to date. It was noted however, that some of the projects introduced to junior-cycle students were of a relatively long duration. This was entirely appropriate in the context of a developing department, when sufficient time was needed to develop a culture of consistent work and high achievement in the subject. Now that this culture has been established, consideration should be given to providing shorter projects for students in the earlier stages of junior cycle. As students develop, longer-term projects can be introduced.
It was noted that the art department had introduced students to some of the techniques involved in ceramics using an air-drying, brand-name craft clay product. This material is a substitute for pottery clay and, although less expressive and harder to handle than the authentic material, it was a good choice for students as the art department was being developed. As the department is now sufficiently developed, consideration should be given to introducing authentic pottery clay to all students as part of the three-dimensional studies on the various syllabuses.
The TY programme was established in 2008-09 and a plan was developed for the year. This plan consisted mainly of practical skills such as clay work, glass painting, calligraphy, lino-printing, painting and graphic design. Whilst these are good topics on which to base lessons for any art programme, the TY programme would benefit from a stronger emphasis on the aesthetic education of students. This is particularly important when some of the group have little or no previous experience of the subject. The school stated its intentions to review the TY plan after its first year. As part of this review it is suggested that topics such as film-making and film appreciation should be introduced to develop students’ aesthetic skills.
The art department plans for a wide range of extracurricular and co-curricular activities for students. These include, for example, the design and execution of school murals and an on-line art gallery to display students’ work on the schools’ website. This is very good work and is consistent with the school’s aim to provide a broad and positive art education for students.
Three junior cycle lessons were evaluated. One of the lessons was taught by both art teachers who used a team teaching approach to provide a more supportive environment for students.
In general, the behaviour of students in the classes observed was exemplary. In all of the lessons visited an atmosphere of respect prevailed and the interactions between all present were good-natured and friendly. The attitude of teachers towards students was particularly noteworthy. The manner in which students were encouraged and affirmed was positive, supportive and very appropriate.
Class management was very good in the lessons observed; it resulted in a lively pace of work and facilitated good progress. During lessons students were monitored and where students did become distracted they were appropriately challenged and successfully encouraged to return to work. Students were diligent, highly engaged in the tasks presented, and appeared to be pleased with their work and their progress. They were helpful and obviously used to working in a practical environment. For example, students helped to organise materials at the beginning and end of lessons. Overall, class management techniques were used most effectively.
The structure of the lessons observed supported students’ learning and was characterised by clear stages to help students remain on task. At the beginning of lessons for example, roll call was used to settle students, previous lessons were recapitulated upon and the objectives of lessons were shared with students. After the main learning activities took place an appropriate conclusion, including the assignment of homework, was held. This approach to structuring lessons is very good practice.
The teaching methodologies used during the lessons observed were carefully chosen for their appropriateness to the topics involved. A range of approaches and methodologies was used in each of the lessons observed which helped to inform students understanding. Commendably, students were asked to observe and to use their critical abilities and their knowledge to make informed judgements. This approach supports the development of students’ visual awareness. The main methodology used for this was targeted questioning but other related strategies such as discussion, examination of images and processes and opportunities for practical application and reflection were also used. Where targeted questioning was observed to be most successful, the teacher posed questions to the entire class, allowed a brief wait time to enable students to consider their answers and then asked a named student for his or her response. It is recommended that this approach to questioning be further integrated into all lessons.
The tasks assigned to students were pitched appropriately and designed to encourage student achievement. For example, when students were asked to make some drawings from which to develop designs for hats, they were limited to line drawings which could be easily completed and which focussed students on the essentials needed for suitable designs. This is good work.
ICT was used in lessons to very good effect. For example, collections of images were assembled and used as visual aids for specific lessons and displayed using the digital projector. The images chosen were very appropriate to the lessons involved. The use of ICT in this way is encouraged as it enables a wide range of suitable images to be shown to students in a very convenient and economical manner.
In summary, observation of students’ artefacts and discussions with students proved that they have a very positive attitude towards the subject. The evidence provided by students’ artefacts to showed that students are achieving to their potential in a range of disciplines and crafts.
The school has a formal homework policy in place which places strong emphasis on the completion of homework. Homework was given and checked in the lessons observed. The work assigned was of appropriate duration and supportive of the topics being addressed in the lessons. During the lessons, earlier homework assignments were returned to students. Comments written on the homework were informative for students and very affirming of their efforts. Students who did not present homework were challenged to ensure that work is completed. This is good work.
The art department has developed good assessment practices. During the school year summative and formative assessments take place in the art department. Formative assessment during practical assignments is used to encourage students to find routes to improve their work and performance. Formal summative tests take place at Christmas and at the end of the summer term. Students are also assessed on their work throughout the year. Differentiated examinations for students with special educational needs are agreed between students, parents, art teachers and special educational needs teachers. Good profiling of students’ work including homework ensures the accurate tracking of students’ progress.
A very good variety of assessment methods is used, including peer-assessment, self-assessment, assessment of practical work and portfolios, classroom activities and homework. Some high quality teacher-generated assessment sheets were presented during the evaluation. Students are informed of their progress through oral feedback in the classroom, school reports, and written comments made on their work. Parents are kept well informed of their children’s progress through school reports, the student journal and parent-teacher meetings.
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 at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published February 2010
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management of Ratoath College are delighted with this excellent report, which outlines the high standard of teaching and learning that is currently taking place within the school.
The Board wishes to thank all members of the Art Subject Team who have worked diligently together to build the Department. The report itself commends the teachers for developing visually stimulating teaching and learning environments and on their very thorough understanding of Art Education.
Ratoath College prides itself in living its motto “Mol an Óige” and throughout the report the teachers are commended for being encouraging, affirming and positive toward students.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The teachers are currently developing the Transition Year Programme and all recommendations of the inspector are being implemented.