An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of Art



Saint Louis Secondary School

Dundalk, County Louth

Roll number: 63910U


Date of inspection: 29 January 2009





Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning


Summary of main findings and recommendations

School response to the report





Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Art



Subject inspection report


This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Louis Secondary 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 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.



Subject provision and whole school support


St Louis Secondary School has an enrolment of 554 girls. The school provides the following programmes: the Junior Certificate, an optional Transition Year (TY), the established Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme. Art is offered as an optional subject on all of these programmes except the TY programme and the LCA programme where Art is compulsory. Senior management reports that Art enjoys a very high status in the school with a significant proportion of students proceeding to visual art-based study programmes upon completion of their second-level education.


Three fully-qualified art teachers staff the art department. Senior management provides time for formal meetings for subject development planning and minutes of these meetings were available. Teachers of Art report that informal meetings are held on a regular basis.


The school has a policy of supporting continuing professional development (CPD) for teachers. This includes the provision of whole-school CPD and support for the art teachers’ membership of the Art Teachers’ Association of Ireland. Senior management reports that the art department is regarded as a dynamic element in the school particularly in the area of subject development. For example, in recent years, the art department has welcomed student teachers of art and design to the school. It is reported that this arrangement works well and that the art department has benefited from an exposure to new skills and approaches to teaching Art. In particular, art teachers praised the input they received from a student-teacher on the practical use of information and communications technology (ICT) in art education. This is very good work.


At the time of the evaluation, co-ordination of the department was linked to a post of responsibility. Senior management indicated during the evaluation that a review of this practice is planned. A rotating system in which all members of the art team co-ordinate the department for a set length of time is recommended to help build capacity amongst teachers and to ensure the development of a collaborative approach to the planning and the delivery of the subject in the school.


Generally, teachers of Art are assigned to classes for the duration of a course. Teachers are assigned responsibility to teach the LCA programme on a rota basis each year. This ensures that each art teacher has the opportunity to maintain and develop their familiarity with the art syllabus for this programme. This is good practice.


School management provides sufficient class-contact time for Art. Good timetabling includes double lesson periods for each class group to facilitate practical work.


Students’ access to Art is good across all of the school’s programmes. The number of students taking Art at both junior cycle and senior cycle is healthy and is above the national averages.


Art is provided for all students on the TY programme. Giving students this opportunity to experience the subject without the pressures of certificate examinations is good practice. Students who have no experience of Art in junior cycle and who wish to study it at senior cycle are given extra support outside of class time by members of the art department to enhance their potential for success.


There are two dedicated rooms provided for Art. In addition to these, senior management makes another room available for Art when timetabling requires. It is reported that this arrangement works well. It is noted that school management does not timetable the dedicated art rooms for lessons in other subject areas. This good planning facilitates teachers’ planning, the preparation of materials for lessons and the accommodation of students’ work-in-progress.


Both of the art rooms are large, bright, and fully equipped. A kiln in each of the rooms ensures that students have good access to firing their clay work. These rooms were found to be tidy and very well organised. For example, all storage units were clearly labelled with their contents. Displays of students’ work and relevant images from art history in the classrooms helped to create stimulating environments for students. The presentation of this work was of a very high standard. The good practice of labelling all work was observed. To enhance the display potential of the rooms, consideration should be given to repainting the walls white in the future.


Plans for a purpose-built storage area for students’ certificate examination work were made known to the inspector during the evaluation. The provision of a dedicated storage area will help all teachers of practical subjects to better accommodate their students’ work.


The art department reported that the budget provided for materials and equipment is sufficient. It was noted by the inspector that there was an ample supply of consumable materials available to students during the evaluation. Teachers also report that they use cost-neutral sources, for example recycling centres, to obtain materials for lessons. This is a very good way of extending the department’s budget and encouraging students to support recycling by example.



Planning and preparation


A subject department plan was available during the evaluation. In this plan, the organisational and procedural structures of the department were clearly laid out. While the individual teacher plans available outlined lesson plans for students in some detail, plans for lessons included in the subject department plan consisted only of general lists of topics for students. It was evident from the students’ work observed that a good level of creative and imaginative planning which was not documented in the art department plan informs the work of the art department. To help develop department-wide lesson planning and to ensure consistency for students, it is recommended that learning outcomes for each year group should be developed collaboratively. It is advised that the teachers of Art work together to develop the learning plan for first year as a first step in this process.


The individual teachers’ plans made available to the inspector provided evidence that a range of topics in a number of two-dimensional and three-dimensional disciplines using a variety of media is planned for each group of students. This is good work; however, more crafts such as print-making should be introduced, particularly in first year in order to extend students’ experience of Art. Also longer projects should be avoided in the early part of junior cycle in favour of short and once-off projects so as to sustain students’ interest and energy.


A short written department plan for TY was presented during the evaluation. In addition to this, teachers also presented more detailed plans for their individual TY class groups. Whilst the work outlined for TY is satisfactory, the introduction of some more innovative approaches to the planning of teaching and learning in TY art is advised. As the TY group comprises a mix of students, including those who have experience of Art from junior cycle and others who do not, care should be taken to offer all students similar opportunity for success. This can be achieved by introducing topics which are new to all students. Short courses in the production and appreciation of film making and photography may prove popular, as many students have access to equipment for both photography and film-making. Lessons could include combinations of theoretical and practical work such as an exploration of fashion throughout the ages and encouragement to make personal responses using photography. As the majority of TY students will not formally study Art after their post-primary education, an emphasis should be placed on developing their visual awareness whilst exposing students to a well-chosen variety of art and design disciplines.


Over time, the art department has collected and generated a store of resources to aid teaching and learning including an assortment of visual stimuli, in-class libraries, audio-visual equipment and folders of visual aids. It is reported that these are regularly shared between teachers. This is very good practice.


The art department plans for a wide range of extracurricular and co-curricular activities for students of Art. These include the design and execution of props and costumes for the school’s ‘Search for a Star’ show and the support of school activities such as the school’s graduation mass and the school’s magazine. The art department also provides art lessons outside of the school timetable for those students who would like extra help with the subject, for example, students who are preparing a portfolio for submission on an art course at third-level. During the year, the art department actively encourages students to enter art competitions. These competitions are used as inspirational tools and as a focus for learning in lessons. Submissions for one of these competitions were observed during the evaluation and the majority of this work was well executed and finished to a high standard.



Teaching and learning


Four lessons were observed during the evaluation. These included class groups from both junior cycle and senior cycle. The atmosphere during lessons was pleasant and the interactions observed in the classroom were respectful and friendly. Students in all of the lessons evaluated were diligent and highly engaged in their work. Their behaviour was excellent.


Students were encouraged and affirmed regularly and the teachers’ verbal communication was very enthusiastic. This support nurtures an environment that encourages students’ motivation, self-confidence, curiosity and desire to learn. Students’ positive enthusiasm for Art was shown in their attitude to their tasks and in their questions which were confident and knowledgeable.


The structure of lessons was very good. This included roll call to help settle students, a recapitulation of previously studied material and an introduction to new material. During the lesson, students’ efforts were closely monitored and individual students were supported as necessary. This ensured that the pace of lessons was appropriate 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.


Teachers’ explanations of methods, tasks and visual concepts were clear and unambiguous. Targeted questioning was used to very good effect to help students focus on important issues. Of particular note, the critical evaluations of students’ work using targeted questioning was good and helped students to consolidate their knowledge and develop their critical observation skills.


A novel method of encouraging students to articulate their observations was successfully used in one lesson. Using the images from art history displayed in the room, students had to guess which painting had been chosen by another student. This was achieved by asking pertinent questions about painting. Students really enjoyed this game, which successfully encouraged students to rely on their critical observation skills. The use of learning activities like these which actively engage students helps to avoid the weariness often associated with this part of the syllabus. It is suggested that this approach to art history be introduced to all students from first year to familiarise students with the material and to encourage their confidence in using the appropriate subject terminology.


Demonstration was used as the main methodology to show students how to proceed with practical tasks. All of the demonstrations observed were well organised and facilitated good learning. In particular, one demonstration required students to approach their work with confidence and strength. This was successfully achieved by the teacher modelling the skills necessary and encouraging students to think of their hands as ‘power tools’ to find ways to manipulate the difficult material.


During a lesson on poster-making it was evident that students had a good knowledge of the general elements required to make successful posters. It was also noted that they had a good understanding of the history of poster-making. There was scope however, to encourage the development of personal, creative lettering. To help students benefit fully from the experience of poster-making, it is recommended that students be encouraged to develop personal lettering from primary and secondary sources.


Teachers chose very appropriate visual aids to use during the lessons observed. To enhance the lessons some of these were shown to students in their original state whilst others were displayed using ICT as appropriate. Teachers are commended for the quality of the visual aids used.


The quality of handouts and worksheets used during the evaluation was also very high. The handouts were helpful and presented information clearly. The worksheets focussed on the important issues in lessons and encouraged students to make both sketches and written notes. In one case these were used in association with an ICT presentation to very good effect.


A wide variety of students’ finished work was observed on the day of the evaluation including silk paintings, design work, portraits and prints. A selection of drawings using line and tone was also observed. The quality of this work was good and showed a high level of competence on the part of students relative to their abilities. The clay work observed in the classrooms was of a very good quality indicating a significant level of engagement and learning in this area by students.





Homework was given to each class group which was appropriate to the tasks undertaken in the lessons. The good practice of checking homework was also observed.


Christmas tests, summer tests and continual assessment are used to establish student achievement and progress in Art. A variety of assessment methods is used, including peer-assessment, self-assessment and assessment of work in progress. In line with good practice in teaching and learning in art and design, formative assessment takes place as work develops.


Records of students’ attendance and progress are accurately maintained. Students are kept informed of their progress by their class teacher using oral feedback and written comments on work. Parents are kept informed of their children’s progress using school reports, parent-teacher meetings and the school journal. If necessary the school contacts parents by telephone.



Summary of main findings and recommendations


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:


·         Senior management is very supportive of the subject in the school and recognises that the art department makes a significant and unique contribution to the daily life of the school.

·         Whole-school support for Art is very good.

·         Students’ access to Art is good and the number of students taking the subject is healthy.

·         The organisation and maintenance of the resources provided for Art are very good.

·         A very full programme of extracurricular and co-curricular activities is provided to support teaching and learning in Art.

·         Students in all of the lessons evaluated were diligent, highly engaged in their work and their behaviour was excellent.

·         The structure and pace of lessons was very good.

·         Students displayed a high level of competence relative to their ability.

·         Regular assessments are carried out in Art and progress is communicated to parents and students.



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


·         Co-ordination of the art department should be rotated amongst all art teachers in the school.

·         The subject department plan should contain learning outcomes for each year group; this should begin with developing learning outcomes for first years.  

·         Some more innovative approaches to the planning of teaching and learning of Art in TY is advised. Topics such as film making and photography could be considered.

·         In the graphic design area of the syllabuses, students should be encouraged to develop personal lettering from primary and secondary sources.


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 November 2009







School response to the report


Submitted by the Board of Management





Area 1:  Observations on the content of the inspection report


We accept that the general Art Department Plan folder is a broad outline of plans.

However, there are learning outcomes for the individual year groups listed in the teachers’ individual folders.



Area 2:   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the   inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection


Learning outcomes for each of the year groups and programmes will be included in the Art Department Plan folder.