An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of Art



Holy Family Secondary School

Newbridge, County Kildare

Roll number: 61682A


Date of inspection: 25 September 2008





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 Holy Family Secondary School, Newbridge as part of a whole-school evaluation. 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.



Subject provision and whole school support


Two interconnecting purpose-designed classrooms are available to the art department, the Summer Works Scheme having made possible the division of a single larger space. Shelving and storage available is good, an important consideration when artefacts and portfolios have to be stored and safeguarded during the school year.  The two classrooms are tidy and well managed: both support and facilitate all the manifold activities that art and design education require daily. Natural light in these rooms is good and the spaces have been organised to ensure effective circulation. An area at the back of both classrooms has been customised for 3D pottery and clay modelling. The walls have been organised to display learning aids and students’ work.


The equivalent of one and a half full-time teachers is the personnel allocation to the art department. The timetable supports the courses and programmes adequately.


The quality of provision for Art is very good. The present provision could be developed and extended, as the art department personnel have skills and interests within art and design that could be put at the disposal of students to deepen their learning opportunities and to prepare them for state examinations. It is recommended that management explore this topic with the art department to see how some new areas in craft, design and art for teaching and learning could be added to existing provision. These skills and interests could be supported by continuous professional development (CPD) and by investment in equipment and software that would allow the CPD of personnel to enhance the department’s existing expertise and specialisations.


Planning and preparation


Collaborative planning has been developed: the art department meets for one timetabled class period weekly to plan and review. Records of discussions and decisions from these meetings are documented and retained. Planning documents were available for the subject inspection and these are useful, practical and supportive of teaching and learning. The thought and effort that has gone into developing the department plan is commended. The planning document makes reference to the differing learning needs of students in the mixed-ability class groupings. To further enhance this good planning practice for the delivery of the curriculum, and in order to emphasise the differing learning needs of students in the mixed-ability class groupings, minimum attainment expected should be added to the current planning document in the case of students of lesser aptitude and motivation, and additional attainment included for the highly motivated and higher aptitude sub-grouping of students. The expected and desired learning outcomes should now be more extensively outlined in the planning for topics and assignments. Learning outcomes should be used as a source of reference when gauging student attainment in tests and examinations.


Teaching and learning


Good development of technical and perceptual skills is being fostered through teaching and learning. The learning needs of individuals are effectively counterbalanced with the requirements of full class groups.


Very good observation work was apparent in artefacts by first-year and second-year students on display, with good handling of various drawing materials and media. The teaching that is involved in bringing students to such a standard is highly commended. However, this approach to direct observation appears not to have been followed through strongly enough in the project work for Junior Certificate (JC) in third year, where there was heavy reliance on secondary sources, with student basing their own artefacts on images collected from the internet and print media.


Students of high motivation and ability should be well capable of developing their JC projects largely on primary sources, given their attainment levels in first and second year in the areas of working from imagination and from direct observation. Further planning for the management of the JC should now be undertaken so that the impressive learning gains students make in their first two years are used to their advantage when they come to the project in third year. The department should try various strategies to reduce the reliance on secondary sources particularly where the students have average and above average levels of motivation and ability.  Part of this might be re-conceptualising the project and what it should entail for students of different learning and artistic achievement potentials. Because of their age and limited experience and because of the situation of the examination, it is easy to see how such young students invariably seek readymade answers and ready-to-go images that seem to suit the project theme. Getting them to understand that they should aim to use the theme as a starting point, should be integral to the preparation strategies delivered to students.


Very good work has been done in the area of pottery and ceramics and students have demonstrated the acquisition of fabrication and glazing skills in the artefacts on display. Glazing particularly was excellent and the deployment of colour through this aspect of clay craft was very well realised. This is highly commendable as this aspect of the craft is not generally well practised.


Most commendable too was the work that has been done with students in the observation of the head and shoulders of the figure from life. These drawings and paintings relied on observation skills and good graphic technique to capture pose and individuality of the sitters. It is recommended that the achievement of students in this area should be developed in a similar way for the whole figure with emphasis on depiction of the volumes, masses, proportion and stance.


A variety of student artefacts on display revealed the breadth of the media, materials and crafts provided for art learning and engaged with by the students. Good work has been done in ceramics and pottery. The confidence with and expertise in 3D is a real strength of the department and current practices should be further developed as a special emphasis which will further empower students to engage with materials and ideas in the creation of form.


Information and communications technology (ICT) equipment is being used in both art classrooms for the delivery of class materials. A list of art-interest websites on display in the art department indicates that students are being alerted to the possibilities of ICT for visual and art historical research. Teachers used PCs to present material or printed imagery for demonstration purposes from the net.


In the presentation of class assignments to class groups, very complete demonstrations of practical skills were provided. These had a high learning-friendliness factor due to the skilfulness of the demonstrations, the appropriateness of the language used, and the careful explication offered. Precise directions and clear communication also characterised the demonstrations. Students were drawn into engagement with the assignments in a most adroit way, and there was even an instance where a student was asked to take a lead role which was good practice indeed on several levels. Questioning and commentary both by teachers and student alike added to the learning value of the activity.


Classroom practice in the delivery of lesson material, and of the management and monitoring of student activities and learning during the classes was of a high quality in all the classes visited. Courses and programmes are delivered in ways that make art and design attractive and stimulating with consequent high levels of student engagement and attainment. By building on this strength, the art department can further improve the provision of learning opportunity for students. 


It is recommended that students be given new creative opportunities in senior cycle and for their Leaving Certificate (LC) examinations. For example, students spend time studying posters/graphic design for the JC. They should not be entered for posters/graphics again in their craft of design examinations at the termination of their LC courses, except in circumstances where a student’s aptitude or attainment is weak, or where schooling time has been missed through illness or other absences. Re-doing the same junior cycle craft in senior cycle is a repetitive strategy and is not optimum in terms of learning opportunity or for breadth and balance in the curriculum because it puts the examination before artistic and personal development. Given the quality of provision in Holy Family Secondary School and the excellence of delivery of courses, this cautious ‘insurance policy’ approach is not generally necessary. Students should be empowered to undertake new technical and artistic challenges after Junior Certificate. Transition Year (TY) will have facilitated many of the fifth years to experience additional active learning in visual art and this culture can valuably be built on during the Leaving Certificate course. 


Very good first-year and second-year work was seen. Good observation from primary sources and use of materials and media as well as personal expressiveness characterised these artefacts.  However, third-year project work was quite different in style and technique, and highly derivative of secondary sources. The significant attainments of the initial two years had not been extended and developed into the third years’ work. The emphasis on secondary sources is at the root of this. Efforts should now be made to counter this, situation. The expertise and commitment of the art department will, over time, no doubt be instrumental in developing practical and workable strategies to counter the domination of secondary sources in the projects, particularly where students have high motivation and artistic aptitude. It is strongly recommended therefore that reliance on secondary sources be challenged through the teaching and learning continuum and that planning be undertaken for implementation of change.        


The art department contributes heavily to the school musical annually, providing design and sets for the stage. This is a valuable tradition that could be utilised in the study of art in the classroom at senior cycle where stage design is an option listed for the LC design examination. It is recommended that this be considered for development in the near future, so that the transfer of learning in the optional area or in TY can become a foundation for a structured, deeper encounter with stage design.


A very creatively delivered course in jewellery design is being given to TY students. Challenging and very varied opportunities technically and artistically are a characteristic of the work being done here in the practical area. To build on and extend this stimulating learning situation, it is recommended that all TY students be given art, design and architecture books or periodicals to read at home over the two terms of the school year, and that they review the material and present it using PowerPoint to their peers at the end of each term. Given that many of the students have taken up art ab initio in TY, this would help to develop their engagement with wider visual culture, and encourage the development of discrimination skills and self-directed learning with ICT.




During classes, assignments are monitored and commented on and there is a sense of effective checks being kept on students’ class tasks and homework. The sound assessment practice seen in Art supports student learning. In order to develop and enhance this further, it is recommended that a focussed emphasis on learning outcomes be integrated into planning for assessment for all class groups, and that these outcomes are subsequently developed as assessment criteria for gauging student progress and attainment.


In order to elicit a visual approach to the answering of questions, the LC History and Appreciation of Art examination paper is presented by the State Examinations Commission (SEC) with photographic reproductions. It is recommended that mock LC examinations in the History and Appreciation of Art should always include illustrations in order that the precise conditions of the actual LC examination are replicated. These should be included in class tests but particularly in end-of-term assessments, throughout the two-year course.


A combination of assessment procedures is in use in the art department, including continuous assessment based on class work, mock projects and invigilated examinations. Continuous assessment is particularly suited to long-term assignments and project work undertaken by students in art and design. SEC assessment criteria inform the work of the art department. There are systematic records of students’ in-house assessment and examination results. End-of-term and end-of-year results are communicated in writing to parents and guardians. Regular parent-teacher meetings are held and the art department provides discussion, feedback and advice at these. Assessment is seen as an integral part of the teaching and learning continuum.



Summary of main findings and recommendations


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, June 2009