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Monday, October 16, 2006

It's autumn again and that means there are lots of new Year 7 students in art rooms. Last week I was with some colleagues including an HMI for art and we were discussing key Stage 3. We noted that by the time students get to year 7 most have already had two thirds of their total art education, and yet this experience is seldom acknowledged let alone built on. Most secondary teachers will ignore the experiences, skills and expertise that pupils bring with them and will start planning on the basis of no prior experience of purposeful art education. There are a variety of reasons for this - not least the fact that new pupils probably find the new school, their new classmates and the new 'expert' teachers somewhat intimidating. They are consequently not inclined to lay claim to any skills or experience. It is easier to remain silent, thus confirming the expectations of their new secondary teacher, that they have done no art for six years. It may also be true that in year six primary schools do place great emphasis on the 11+ (in Bucks) and SATs and that experience in art is limited for that year as a result.

Another reason why primary experience is ignored may be related to the fact that secondary teachers simply do not ask the right questions in the right way. When the QCA published the (optional) Scheme of Work the primary scheme was never sent to secondary schools. So secondary teachers have remained unaware of what units of work they might expect pupils to have covered. So they may not know what to ask. For instance, most primary pupils will have done the unit 'take this seat' in which they looked at chairs, and then designed and made an imaginative chair. However, unless secondary teachers are aware of this, the question "tell me about the chair you designed and how you went about it?" does not come readily to mind.

The fact that about 80% of primary schools use the QCA scheme in one way or another means that most of the Year 7 students in art rooms will have much more in common than their secondary art teacher expects. Most will have done the same units and almost all will have done work which follows a sequence of developing ideas, experimenting and referring to the work of artists before making their own work. Almost all students will have looked at, talked about, written about and probably worked in the style of, different artists. Although the range of artists studied may sometimes be limited to the nineteenth century French schools with a smattering of work from different cultures (which can unfortunately reinforce unhelpful, often 19th century, stereotypes) there is increasing evidence that the range of artists referred to in primary schools is expanding and often is very wide indeed. On one visit to, a not particularly big, primary school there were 63 different artists represented in various displays about the school (I counted them).

Last year I worked with QCA and Marc Berrett, Curriculum Leader of Waddesdon School (Specialist Art College) to explore issues to do with assessment and transition between KS2 and KS3. Marc spent time with a primary art co-ordinator and also looked at all the art records for year 7 sent by primary schools. He learned a great deal about the primary curriculum by doing this. This included the fact that most primary schools would have followed a very similar art curriculum and that the primary art curriculum does follow a similar creative process to that used in secondary schools. He made a note of the units of work including KS1. He also noted that often the pupil records sent by primary teachers referred to skills, attitudes and experience in art. Sometimes primary teachers had recorded pupil's ability to research in art - or in design technology.

The meeting with the primary art co-ordinator was also useful in interpreting the experience and the units. For instance, he was able to note that often units would be taught by teachers with relatively limited subject knowledge and that this would tend to limit the scope and depth of research and experimentation by children. He also noted that as art was taught by the class teacher children would often research, write and talk about art and artists easily and fluently just as they would in any other subject. This meant that they probably had a repertoire of critical skills and experience already. He also noted that self evaluation and reflection was often a natural part of primary experience in art, as in other subjects.

The next phase of the project involved working out how to ask the right questions so that:
  1. The pupils could give better information about the learning and experience they brought with them from their primary schools. This would help the art department to reflect upon the KS3 curriculum and pitch their expectations more appropriately.
  2. The art teachers could confirm, re-affirm and celebrate the prior learning (six years) of the pupils. This would give them confidence in their abilities and enable them to make quicker progress.
  3. The art teachers could use this early experience to build and model the practice of self evaluation that would be used throughout the Key Stage.
This, of course, is simply to apply the principles of assessment for learning to induction procedures.

Marc developed a simple strategy which became a single lesson held in late September. In the lesson children were reminded about the sort of work they had done in their primary schools with a slide show. Marc had collected images of work related to primary units of work from the co-ordinator and the QCA website. They then worked in groups sharing their primary experience and creating a short presentation about what they had done and learned. They then completed a written questionnaire individually and shared this in pairs.

Through this lesson Marc was able to talk with them purposefully about their experience in their first six years of art education (and most of them remembered the work they had done in Years 1 and 2 as well as in KS2). He was also able to confirm and celebrate with them the fact that they already knew a great deal - for instance, confirming that at Waddesdon too they will also be developing ideas through research and experimentation in sketchbooks.

As a result of this exercise the art department modified its KS 3 curriculum and art teachers tried to build upon the six years of art education the Year 7 brought with them. I don't know what impact it had on pupil's progress and whether they were able to build more effectively and quickly on their prior learning - but next time I see Marc I will ask him.

The work at Waddesdon School is included in the case study material published by QCA in August 2006. (The packs are called 'Teacher assessment activities Art and design, Key Stage (1, 2 or 3)' They are available from QCA Orderline, PO Box 29, Norwich NR3 1GN. Tel 08700 606015 Ref QCA/06/2427)