An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of Art



Portmarnock Community School

Portmarnock, County Dublin

Roll number: 91324P


Date of inspection:  21 April 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 Portmarnock Community 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; a response was not received from the board.



Subject provision and whole school support


Portmarnock Community School has an enrolment of 544 males and 369 females. The school offers the following programmes: the Junior Certificate, an optional Transition Year (TY) and the established Leaving Certificate. Art is an optional subject on all of these programmes.


The art department is very well established in the school. Evidence of the art department’s support of the activities of the school community was observed during the evaluation. This included input into the design of the sacred space in the school and the creation and exhibition of paintings to celebrate religious feasts. The communal areas of the school are used to display students’ work. This serves to maintain the high profile of the subject in the school and also helps to build students’ confidence in their artistic abilities. A particularly positive feature noted by the inspector was that all work was exhibited without fear of damage; it was safe to display even delicate three-dimensional work in the public areas of the school. This shows that a respect for Art and for students’ effort and achievement is embedded in the culture of the school.


The art department is staffed by three specialist art teachers. At the time of the evaluation, two of senior members of the art department were on extended leave and two qualified substitute teachers were taking their classes.


To help maintain a personal enthusiasm and interest in the subject, members of the art department engage in personal art work. Consideration should be given to obtaining membership of the Art Teachers’ Association of Ireland in order to benefit from the continuing professional development opportunities available for art educators at post-primary level. Membership would also ensure that the art department is aware of current issues in contemporary art education.


The uptake of Art at both junior cycle and senior cycle is very healthy in the school. Timetabling for Art is good with double periods being provided to facilitate practical lessons. In first year, one double period only is provided but this shortfall is rectified over the following two years as both second-year and third-year students are timetabled for five class periods for Art. All TY students are provided with a sixteen-hour module of aesthetic education. This provision is very much in the spirit of the TY programme. TY students may also choose to study a module of Art which is allocated a double period on the TY timetable.


School management has provided a suite of rooms comprising three classrooms with access to secure storage for Art. In addition, a small room is used by the art department as an office and another small room is used as a dark room. All three main art rooms are large and adequately equipped. These rooms are used as display areas for both students’ work and significant images and exemplars. This is a very important strategy for teaching and learning in Art. It is suggested that white walls would better facilitate the presentation and display of images in classrooms. A plan should be formulated in collaboration with senior management for the maintenance of the art rooms. This should provide for the removal of obsolete material, systematic repainting of the rooms and a review of how storage for equipment, materials and students’ work is organised. The plan should also include the development of a schedule for the maintenance of fixtures and fittings such as sinks and tables.


The somewhat irregular shape and design of the three art rooms present challenges for teachers in relation to teacher movement during lessons and the monitoring of students from all points in the room. Consideration should be given to the layout of the rooms, including the placement of desks and chairs for students, so that all students can be supervised with ease by the teacher. This has been achieved in one of the rooms visited.


The art department has access to a good range of supplies and equipment. This includes items such as a slide projector, printing press and a kiln. At the time of the evaluation the kiln was not working. Both the art department and senior management were aware of this and voiced plans to investigate whether it could be restored to full working order. It is important that this expensive piece of equipment should be available for regular use.


Senior management has invested in information and communications technology (ICT) for the art department. A computer and printer with internet access are available in two of the three art rooms. As opportunity and funding presents, it is recommended that similar ICT facilities be installed in the third art room. A data projector is already installed in this room. ICT facilities with internet access have the potential to significantly enhance the range and presentation of images available to students.


The art department provides a variety of opportunities for students to engage in co-curricular and extracurricular activities to further develop their skills in Art. These include the creation of installations based on topical issues in the school and the making of props and other artefacts to support school activities. The art department also provides the opportunity for students to visit a number of gallery and museum sites. Students are encouraged to participate in local and national art competitions and they have enjoyed success in a number of these.



Planning and preparation


Members of the art department meet formally each term and a number of informal meetings between teachers also take place. Evidence provided on the day of the evaluation pointed to a long history of planning for Art in the school. This has focussed on the development of students’ aesthetic sensibilities and has included strategies such as exhibiting professional artists’ work in the school building and facilitating students’ collaboration with professional artists to develop public art works. A positive feature of this planning is the intention for all students in the school to be able to appreciate art, craft and design in their daily lives.


While subject department meetings have discussed lesson materials, resources and curricular issues in the history and appreciation of art section of the syllabuses, insufficient attention has been paid to curriculum planning for the subject. It is recommended that curriculum planning including detailed learning outcomes for all year groups should be prioritised. Collaborative planning in this regard is particularly encouraged as members of the art department have strengths in different areas. The written plans for teaching and learning in Art, presented by some individual teachers at the time of the evaluation, would provide a good basis for this work. The very best of these were well presented and included learning outcomes for students, a timeframe for the work, and outlined the methodologies to be used and plans for evaluation. More extensive curriculum planning of this kind would help to ensure that all students receive a consistent and coherent art education. This type of planning would also help to inform and support teachers who are new to the department.


Planning for the TY art module was satisfactory. Planning for a module of aesthetic education for all students on the TY programme is particularly good. The topics addressed in this module and the methodologies used in teaching and learning make very good use of the potential of the TY programme to foster the development of a wide range of transferable critical thinking skills and  critical observation skills. The media chosen to develop these skills include photography and film studies, both of which foster students’ engagement and, as a result, life-long learning. Upon completion, students are encouraged to conduct an evaluation of the module which is then used to inform future planning. This reflective planning is a very good practice and it is suggested that it should be part of the planning cycle for Art in all the programmes offered in the school.



Teaching and learning


Three lessons were evaluated; two in junior cycle and one in senior cycle. In each it was evident that teachers were concerned that students would progress in the subject and develop in confidence.


Generally, students were well-behaved and diligent; however, in a few instances, students were distracted and unmotivated. In one case, students engaged in discussion with each other whilst the teacher gave instruction. This went unchallenged by the teacher for some time. It is important that such behaviour is addressed immediately in order to avoid its escalation. Strategies such as waiting for students to stop talking before giving instruction, asking students targeted questions, proximity control and rearranging the seating plans should be utilised. To avoid an overly relaxed atmosphere and to ensure that students hear all of the instructions and participate fully in the activities of lessons, the practice of allowing students to wear headphones during lessons should cease. A review of classroom management is recommended.


The structure of the lessons observed was good, particularly where they began with a recapitulation of learning from previous lessons, a sharing of the learning outcomes and a description of the process to be engaged in. In all of the lessons observed, students helped with the management of materials and equipment at the outset and conclusion of lessons. Students are also encouraged to move around the room when necessary during lessons to obtain source materials and equipment. This is good practice.


During lessons, a variety of teaching and learning methodologies was used. Demonstration was used to good effect in most lessons. For example, where students were unfamiliar with the process required to establish an idea for design, the teacher involved showed students how to take the necessary steps. In particular the live development of thumbnail sketches and notation was very useful in giving students the skills and confidence to attempt this difficult task. An interesting and successful methodology was observed in a lesson on life drawing where the features of the face were highlighted using a torch. This demonstration was very effective and students enjoyed the novelty of using a torch in this way.


Questioning techniques were used in all of the lessons visited. Whilst the use of these techniques was successful to some degree, there is scope for their development. The use of targeted questions is advised across the department to help students focus on specific knowledge and visual concepts to achieve the intended learning outcomes. Good use of targeted questioning can help to increase the educational potential of demonstrations and visual aids and can also provide appropriate opportunities for weaker and quieter students to shine. Students should be provided with sufficient time to consider questions and they should be encouraged to use subject-specific terminology, as appropriate, to express their ideas.


During lessons, teachers both monitored the work of the class group and helped individual students who needed more support. In one of the lessons observed, however, most of the teaching took place between the teacher and individual students. While it is accepted that there can be a need for individual tuition during periods when students are working on personal projects, teachers’ time should be more effectively used by giving group instruction. For example, instead of giving each student a reference to relevant images from art history relating to their work, a lesson or series of lessons for the whole class group could help students to do this for themselves. Through regular and consistent group instruction, students can learn to rely on their own skills and knowledge to make decisions and, consequently, they become more independent learners.


Appropriate references were made to important artists and designers during the lessons observed. Of particular note, references were made to contemporary Irish designers during a design lesson. This is a good strategy to help students understand how their learning is reflected in contemporary life. The good practice of highlighting the aesthetic values of students work was observed in some lessons also. This helps students to value their own and others’ work.


An expressive approach to the development of projects was observed in one of the lessons. This involved encouraging students to use their personal interests and reflections in their art work. This worked best where the skills of the students matched their ambition for expression, for example, the line drawings which reflected the daily experiences of students were very good. Whilst the incorporation of students’ imagination into their visual work is entirely in the spirit of the various syllabuses, it is advised that teachers ensure that the students’ craft skills are commensurate with their ambition to communicate their ideas. It is further advised that the development of students’ craft skills is a pre requisite for the successful expression of their personal creative response. Lesson planning should ensure a balance between skills development and inspiration.


The completed stage designs of some students were presented during the evaluation. These showed evidence of some very good ideas but there was a similar style and methodology used in each piece. In addition, the work was presented as a finished art work as opposed to a finished design proposal with notes as to the materials and techniques to be used. It is recommended that students should explore different approaches to stage design throughout the senior cycle so that when the brief from the certificate examinations is presented, students will have a wider range of experiences to draw from. Every care should be taken to ensure that a ‘house style’ is avoided in order for students to have a fully authentic experience of Art. It is important that students are encouraged to develop their own personal creative modes of expression so that they can avail of all of the marks available for ‘personal creative response’, ‘individual interpretation’ and ‘the candidate’s individual style in the use of materials and media’ in the certificate examinations. To help clarify this issue, the art department’s attention is drawn to the relevant chief examiners’ reports published by the State Examinations Commission.


A very wide range of student-generated artefacts was observed during the evaluation showing evidence of quality student engagement with the subject over a number of years. Some very interesting work was observed during the visit including work which used sophisticated ideas and materials.





The school has a formal homework policy which is implemented by the art teachers. A common assessment policy has also been developed in the school to monitor students’ progress. A suite 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 the art department, students’ portfolios are formally assessed during the year. In addition to this, formative assessment takes place on a continual basis to help students review and improve their work. This is organised by the individual teachers. Some good, regular, records of students’ progress are maintained. In order to develop a consistent system of assessment across the art department, it is recommended that a common policy should be developed and agreed amongst the art teachers. This policy should include agreement about the frequency of assessment and recording in order to facilitate accurate student profiling. It should also include some measures to involve students in the assessment of their own work using, for example, the marking schemes from the certificate examinations.


School reports, parent-teacher meetings and students’ journals are used to keep parents informed of their children’s progress. Detailed written progress reports are prepared for parents attending parent-teacher meetings. This approach to providing information for parents is good and should be extended to include the student profiles recommended in the previous paragraph.



Summary of main findings and recommendations


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

·         The art department is very well established in the school and generously supports the activities of the whole school community.

·         Whole school support for Art is good.

·         The art department provides a very large range of extracurricular and co-curricular activities to help enhance students’ art education.

·         There has been a long history of planning for Art in the school and evidence of some good planning was noted.

·         The art department operates a very good programme of aesthetic education for all TY students.

·         The teachers of art demonstrated a concern for students’ progress and confidence during lessons.

·         The structure of the lessons observed was good.

·         Evidence of quality engagement by students in Art over a number of years was presented.

·         Formative and summative assessment of students’ progress takes place in the art department and some detailed profiling also takes place.



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

·         In collaboration with senior management, a maintenance plan for the art department should be devised to provide for the removal of obsolete material, systematic repainting of the rooms and

      the organisation of storage; in addition, the kiln should be restored to full working order as soon as possible.

·         Collaborative subject department planning should take place to develop learning outcomes for all year groups, a timeframe for the work, the methodologies to be used and plans for evaluation.

·         Approaches to classroom management during art lessons should be discussed and reviewed to ensure that students’ behaviour is conducive to learning at all times.

·         There is scope to develop the use of targeted questioning in lessons.

·         The chief examiners’ reports for Art published by the State Examinations Commission should be consulted to clarify issues regarding appropriate interpretation of the brief and personal creativity

      for students in Art.

·         The assessment practices in the department should be developed to ensure consistent practice and to facilitate accurate student profiling. 


A post-evaluation meeting was 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