When I first came into the profession more than half a century ago, art was a focal part of the primary curriculum. It is not surprising, with a very large proportion of the curriculum dedicated to art, that standards were often high and sometimes quite remarkable.
Since the focus has now swung back towards a broader curriculum, it is not remarkable that the quality of children’s ability in art is very much back in focus. However, the last few decades have not required primary teachers to hone their art skills, leaving quite a number of teachers lacking confidence and experience in teaching art to a high standard.
As with many schools, I favour working to a block of about six or seven lessons in art, about three times a year. In this way, they can build to an end point that has been carefully developed over time. In keeping with pedagogy that takes account of Rosenshine et al, I believe the ‘link it’, ‘research it’, ‘practise it’, ‘draft and make it’, and finally ‘evaluate it’ could be a valuable way forward for teachers who are building their confidence in teaching art.
Art should be respected
The important point is that art is respected in the same way as core subjects, and lately history and geography are. Just as with these other subjects we need to ignite children’s prior knowledge (link it) as well as allow them to research a specific artist as well as the genre of art they are creating. I am pleased to see that primary art has already moved away from the expectation that children ‘copy’ the work of a master, but we must also see the importance of children ‘knowing more and remembering more’ as being equally as valid as it is in other subjects.
I often reflected when seeing a group of children reproducing Van Gogh’s sunflowers that ‘the great artist did a better job’. However, the effective use of sketchbooks is not as widespread as I hoped it would be by now. I have been to schools where their use has been excellent so in no way is this a criticism across the board but a mere reflection on what I see in several schools.
An Example of an Art Curriculum
For what it’s worth the book, ‘Developing an art curriculum in Primary Schools’ sets out my take on what an art curriculum could like and has a special section on sketchbooks. It’s great to see children record their links to a new genre before moving on to research the work of a specific artist. At this stage, they could use annotated comments of the artists’ master pieces as well as focusing on a part of the artists’ final piece, trying tom match colour or drawing technique, etc. Once they have established this, they need to widen their research to consider the genre being studied. This provides the platform for them to develop a specific technique or techniques associated with the genre of art being studied. This is a very important stage that really requires much practised and skill on behalf of both the teacher and the child.
Once this stage has been completed, children aim to produce a special end point, their early ideas should be recorded in their sketch books, reflecting the draft stage in a piece of writing. The end piece should be one that will form part of a class exhibition, which hopefully will raise the profile of art in a school. In other words, I am encouraging a class exhibition linked to each of the three, six-week blocks for each class. The exhibition could be put together swiftly to enable parents and other children to appreciate the quality of their efforts.
The ‘evaluation stage’ speaks for itself and should be seen as a way of helping children reflect on the process they have followed.
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Clive is a former headteacher and inspector, having inspected over 200 schools. His school gained a National Curriculum award and was featured in the Times Educational Supplement, one of three schools recognised for their quality practice.
He was awarded an OBE for his services to education in 2007.