Teaching Art in the Curriculum

Teaching Art in the Curriculum

When I first entered the profession more than half a century ago, art was a focal part of the primary curriculum. It is not surprising, with a substantial 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. Just as with these other subjects, we need to ignite children’s prior knowledge (link it) and allow them to research a specific artist and 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 of what I have seen in several schools.

An Example of an Art Curriculum

The book, ‘Developing a Curriculum for Art and Design in Primary Schools’ sets out my take on what an art curriculum could look 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’ masterpieces and focus on a part of the artists’ final piece, trying to 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 that genre. This is a very important stage that requires much practice and skill on behalf of the teacher and child.

Once this stage has been completed, children aim to produce a particular end point, their early ideas should be recorded in their sketchbooks, 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 helping children reflect on the process they have followed.

Related Resources


Browse our range of Art-related products here.

Back to blog