An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of Art



Saint Clare’s Comprehensive School

Manorhamilton, County Leitrim

Roll number: 81013P


Date of inspection: 5 February 2009





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 Saint Clare’s Comprehensive 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 teacher, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teacher’s 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.



Subject provision and whole school support


Saint Clare’s Comprehensive School has an enrolment of 267 boys and 221 girls. The school offers the following programmes: the Junior Certificate, an optional Transition Year (TY), the established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme. Art is an optional subject on all of these programmes.


The art department is staffed by one fully qualified art teacher. To maintain a personal enthusiasm and interest in the subject, the teacher in the art department engages in personal art work and attends relevant art educational events. Senior management supports this teacher’s attendance at in-service events. Given the fact that this is a one-teacher department, it is good to see that this teacher benefits from the continuing professional development offered by membership of the Art Teachers’ Association of Ireland.


School management is supportive of the subject and recognises the unique contribution that the art department makes to the school. Senior management observes good practice by facilitating subject planning each term. Evidence was provided of minutes of these meetings.


The school provides sufficient time for Art on the school’s timetable. The provision of double periods for teaching and learning in Art facilitates practical work. In third year, students are allocated five periods for Art per week. This generous provision supports the timely completion by students of their projects for the certificate examination. TY students are provided with a double period for Art which gives them a very good opportunity to experience the subject.


Students’ access to the subject in this school is good. A four-week subject-sampling system is operated in first year to help students make informed subject choice decisions. After subject sampling in junior cycle, and again in senior cycle before entering year one of the Leaving Certificate, 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 consequences of subject choice decisions. Students and their parents receive input at this time from the guidance counsellor which is good practice.


It was noted during the evaluation that there were significantly fewer boys than girls taking Art in some class groups. It is suggested that this trend be monitored and that steps be taken to achieve better gender balance if necessary.


The art department is accommodated in a large, bright, purpose-built room with a wet area for ceramics. The art department has access to all of the equipment considered essential to deliver a good programme of art and design activities. Evidence indicated that the room is generally very well organised and maintained. The art department has, over time, created a collection of resources for teaching and learning in Art. These include an in-class library and a wide variety of visual aids comprising teacher-generated and student-generated images. There is a lot of room for the display of students’ work and relevant exemplars and on the day of the evaluation, an excellent display of material created a visually stimulating environment for students.


Requests for consumable materials are made by the subject co-ordinator to senior management. This system appears to be working well. On the day of the evaluation sufficient materials were available to students.


The school provides dedicated information and communications technology (ICT) facilities for the art department including a computer, digital projector and printer. During the evaluation it was evident that there is a very good level of relevant expertise in the art department so that good use is made of these resources for planning lessons, including the generation of resources.


The art department has a policy of using communal areas of the school to display students’ work. This serves to maintain the high profile of the subject in the school and also helps to build student’s confidence in their artistic abilities.


The art department makes a very wide range of extracurricular and co-curricular activities available to students of Art to support their learning. This includes the design and execution of sets and props for school musicals, as well as encouraging students to enter local and national competitions. Students who wish to create a portfolio of art work for submission to third-level art programmes are guided and supported by the teacher. The art department endeavours to bring each year group studying Art on a trip to see relevant artefacts in museums, galleries and other heritage sites. Students of Art are also provided with the opportunity to partake in art-specific European tours. Encouraging students to view and explore important artefacts at first hand is very good practice.



Planning and preparation


The art department in St Clare’s Comprehensive School is committed to providing a positive experience of art education for students. This is achieved primarily by careful planning which balances the learning requirements of the various syllabuses with the motivations and interests of the students. The overarching philosophy of the art department is based on delivering a meaningful art education for life for students of Art in the school. Evidence of the success of this approach was found in students’ artefacts and in the positive attitude of students towards their work during lessons.


Confirmation of very good planning practices was provided on the day of the evaluation. For example, the planning documentation was well organised, sufficiently detailed and prepared using ICT to very good effect. Two planning documents were presented during the evaluation. One of the documents was the general subject department plan whilst the other document was a more detailed account of the work to be carried out by the teacher.


Curricular planning in Art is well developed in the school. A well informed set of learning outcomes was developed for students in each year group. This is very good practice. A good variety of learning activities was planned for students. A particularly positive feature of planning was that a number of innovative methodologies were planned to enhance and develop teaching and learning in specific areas. Good interpretations of the various syllabuses ensured that a wide variety of crafts, disciplines and topics from art history and appreciation was planned for students across all year groups.


To develop planning further, it is suggested that shorter and once-off schemes of work should be planned for use with students in between longer projects so as to avoid student fatigue, particularly at the earlier part of junior cycle. To help students who are completing projects in third year, it is suggested that specific timeframes for each part of the project should be laid out at the outset of the year and that students should be encouraged to adhere to these timeframes. This would help students stay motivated and avoid falling behind in their work.


The TY lesson plan contained some very good schemes of work for students including group work, three-dimensional studies and lessons to support the acquisition of good observational research skills using drawing. As there are students on the TY programme who have not studied Art in junior cycle and some students who will not be studying Art in senior cycle, it is suggested that the amount of observational drawing planned for should be reduced in favour of the development of other aesthetic skills. This is to ensure that students who find drawing difficult have plenty of scope to succeed in other areas of Art.


The art department has put a lot of energy into promoting students’ confidence in the subject and providing extra opportunities for students to experience various aspects of art education. This includes strategies such as choosing an ‘artist of the week’ from all of the art students. Each week a student’s efforts in Art are celebrated by presenting their work and naming the student in a designated space outside the art room. The art department has also developed a relationship with a local art studio and gallery which has allowed students to become very familiar with, and active in, the creation of professional art work. This is very good practice.


A number of teacher-generated worksheets and handouts were observed during the evaluation. These were of a very high quality and showed a very dedicated commitment to students’ progress. For example, detailed notes were prepared for students wishing to produce a portfolio for third level programmes in Art. Comprehensive worksheets are also developed by the teacher to ensure that the students benefit as fully as possible from their art education trips.



Teaching and learning


Two lessons were evaluated: one lesson in junior cycle and one lesson in senior cycle. In both of these lessons students were keenly motivated, interested in their work and thoroughly engaged. The behaviour of students was exemplary and the atmosphere in the classroom was warm and supportive. Affirmation was regularly given to students and this has helped them to develop confidence in their abilities.


Class management was very good in these lessons. Lessons began with an established routine which included roll call to help settle students, a recapitulation of previously studied material and an introduction to new material, including the expected learning outcomes. During the lesson, students’ efforts were monitored carefully and individual students were supported as necessary. This ensured that the pace of lessons was very good and that students were progressing to their potential. Students helped with both the set-up and clean-up of lessons which showed that they were familiar with the routines of working in a practical studio-type environment. Students’ direct involvement with the distribution and collection of materials and the establishment and disassembling of a work area is very good practice.


During lessons the delivery of information was clear. Careful attention was given to very accurate descriptions of elements and concepts by the teacher to help students understand topics as easily as possible. The good practice of giving students sufficient contextual information to help their understanding of the history and appreciation of art was observed. Additional information was also given to help students ascertain facts from the written and visual material available to them. This technique helped students build confidence in the use of their perceptive skills.


Questioning techniques were used to good effect in the lessons evaluated. The questions used were thought provoking for students, for example, ‘Why would a sword cover be decorated?’ During lessons it was noted that some students had adopted this enquiring approach to understanding information and a number of students asked very interesting questions. The facilitation of this approach to information is very good practice. Good use was made of targeted questioning techniques and more extensive use of this strategy is encouraged.


The technique of mind-mapping was used to very good effect with students to describe monasteries in the sixth and seventh centuries. Students were also challenged to interpret the meaning of the phrase ‘Saints and Scholars’ to help them fully understand how Irish monasteries have been perceived in more contemporary times in Ireland.


ICT was used well in both of the lessons observed. The presentations made in these lessons were of a very high standard, showed a high level of competence in ICT and a very good understanding of the potential of ICT to aid teaching and learning. For example, a presentation was made during a history and appreciation of art lesson which showed students a wide range of images to describe the general development of monasteries, the buildings and architectural features associated with them and the kinds of activities that took place at the time. During one of the lessons observed, students demonstrated a good level of competence in the use of ICT as they used the computer to add text to their hand-rendered images. During one of the lessons the teacher showed students how to find relevant images on the internet and also showed students a list of high quality websites. This support of students’ research is good practice.


Demonstration was used as the main method of transferring skills. A number of demonstrations were observed during the evaluation and all of these were carried out very effectively. During a demonstration on cutting lino for print-making, the safety aspect of this work was effectively highlighted for students.


During a lesson in printmaking, it was noted by the inspector that students had chosen very high quality subject matter for their prints. These included images relating to graphic design in the 1930s and artefacts from a student’s grandfather’s career in the army. This approach to developing themes is entirely in the spirit of the syllabus and is very good practice. During discussions with the students, they spoke with enthusiasm and passion about their subject matter. Further investigation of their project work showed that students had a very good understanding of the potential of their project to explore a variety of images and sub-themes. This helped them to develop good quality artefacts.


Overall, the quality of teaching and learning was very good. Students’ notebooks and homework show that the history and appreciation of art element of the Leaving Certificate art (including crafts) course was progressing effectively. A wide range of student-generated two-dimensional and three-dimensional artefacts was observed on the day of the evaluation. This points to a high level of engagement and learning on the part of students. It was noted that the work of some of the weaker students could benefit from some specific lessons on the use of materials such as colouring pencil and markers. It is suggested that this be addressed in first year and revisited as necessary so that students achieve the best possible finish for their work.





The school has a formal homework policy which is implemented by the art teacher. Regular homework is assigned to students in both the practical and theoretical aspects of the syllabuses to consolidate learning and to provide opportunities for students to practise skills. An examination of students’ sketchbooks and copies indicated that the homework set reflects the assessment objectives of the syllabuses. At junior cycle, the homework is generally practical but it also involves a certain amount of research. The good practice of keeping a sketchbook, in which some class work and all homework is done, is encouraged. At senior cycle, homework involves a combination of written and practical work. Students are again encouraged to maintain a sketchbook for drawing and a hardback copy for art history and appreciation written work. It is intended by the teacher that these would be developed into a comprehensive resource for students when it comes to revision for the Leaving Certificate examination.


A common assessment policy has been developed in the school to monitor students’ progress. In the art department, the set of formal assessments for students comprises mid-term tests, Christmas tests and summer tests. The art department also provides opportunities for students to practise their examination techniques in authentic conditions. In addition, students’ sketchbooks are monitored and regular class tests help students to practise their observational drawing. Formative assessment during practical assignments is used to encourage students to find routes to improve their work and performance. This includes the regular provision of group critiques which is good practice. Overall, the art department makes good use of assessment processes to help students to improve their work and to ensure accurate tracking of students’ progress.


Records of students’ attendance in art class are held. Good profiling of students’ work including homework ensures that accurate tracking of students’ progress is maintained. Students are informed of their progress through school reports, comments on two-dimensional work and regular oral feedback. Parents are kept informed of their children’s progress through school reports and parent-teacher meetings. Parents of first-year students receive reports three times per year whilst parents of students from other year groups receive biannual reports.



Summary of main findings and recommendations


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

·         Whole-school provision for Art is very good.

·         A very wide range of extracurricular and co-curricular activities, including opportunities to work with practising artists, is made available to students to enhance their experience of the subject.

·         Careful and considered planning has resulted in a very well developed art department plan including lesson schemes for each year group.

·         The behaviour of students was exemplary and the atmosphere in both lessons visited was warm and supportive.

·         Class management was very good in the lessons observed.

·         In the lessons visited, the delivery of information was clear and a range of methodologies was used to enhance teaching and learning.

·         Students are encouraged to choose motivational subject matter for their work.

·         Observation of students’ work indicated a high level of engagement and learning.

·         A system of summative and formative assessment helps students to improve their work and ensures accurate tracking of students’ progress.



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

·         To cater for students on the TY programme who have not studied Art in junior cycle and some those who will not be studying Art in senior cycle, it is suggested that planning includes the development of a wider range of non-drawing aesthetic skills.


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 November 2009