The two meetings covered many issues, too many to record here, and many of those present will have found ideas to take forward in their own school, or perhaps in partnership with colleagues they met at the meeting.
Key features of the meeting at Sir William Ramsay School included:
- Opportunities to see and hear about the work of Annie Hearn. Annie is an AST for art, and manages the outreach work of Sir William Ramsay School. She shared some of the excellent work she has done with primary schools on drawing and sketchbooks . This was informative and inspirational and primary colleagues were pleased to discuss ideas about how Annie might work in their schools. Annie explained that she currently has many commitments but will be willing to discuss ways in which she might be able to support schools. It was noted that Annie is one of several AST's and that information about them and their work can be found on the Bucks Grid for Learning (Arts Team). It was also noted that the Bucksgfl included further information and resources about drawing.
- We talked alot about the QCA units of work. These were being followed by many but without enthusiasm. I made these points:
- The QCA units of work are not statutory, they were written before they were taught and almost certainly contain too much material for the time specified. Once plans for Christmas, Easter and Mothers Day art activities are added to the mix the timing becomes really difficult and nothing is done well.
- However, as an example of a purposeful planned sequence of work in which children are given opportunities to generate and research ideas, experiment with materials and apply what they have learned - and talk about art, they are quite good. And certainly better than what tended to happen before the national curriculum which often included an ecclectic mix of one-off craft activities.
- There is now clear evidence that, at every level, schools are being encouraged to take ownership of their curriculum. QCA is supporting this process through its 'Futures' debate. This means that teachers should feel able and competent to amend and change their art programme of study to match their own interests, expertise and resources. This would include the recognition that a 'unit' of work does not have to last a term. Ofsted no longer reports on the curriculum and the fear that QCA units will be expected by Ofsted is no longer the case - in fact it never was.
- However, schools will have invested considerable time and resources in creating a programme of study using the QCA units and it is indeed true that this investment will sustain their use for some time to come - and there is nothing wrong with that.
- Art co-ordinators who wish to make changes are tending to develop their ideas in partnership with their colleagues by amending and adapting existing units. It is anticipated that as they gain in confidence momentum, ownership and enthusiasm will grow.
- Another way to develop the programme of study is to recognise that there is more to it than three termly units. Christmas could become a planned unit as could Eid and Mother's Day.
- It was noted that drawing has suffered through the termly unit structure because there is not an opportunity to draw regularly. It was noted that the best way to raise standards was to create a 'drawing unit' or entitlement. This is simply an agreement that children should draw regularly and to build into planning an opportunity for children to draw seriously once a fortnight (or whatever). This may be in the context of art but could be related to work in other subjects. Incidentally seriously does not mean realistically see the campaign for drawing.
- An opportunity to talk to Clare who is the artist in residence at the school. Clare has a small studio space in the classroom. Disussion noted that a key feature of using an artist is to look over their shoulder at their creative process - to recognise that it involves, play, risk and lots of cups of coffee. This is perhaps more important than a simplistic quick workshop in which the artists teaches a single skill to a group of children who she has never seen before.
- An opportunity to hear from Marc Berrett (Curriculum Leader) about the work of the art department as a specialist arts college - and an opportunity to look at and be inspired by the work on display.
- An opportunity to hear from Katie Bowness about the work she does as an AST for art. Katie is part of the Arts Team and has some time when she is able to work with schools.
- Ideas were shared about arts weeks and drawing (again). You can see more of Katie's work by watching this online presentation.
- There was relatively little concern about QCA Units at this session as co-ordinators were already making changes and amending the programme of study. Others recognised the investment of time and the fact that this sustained standards and confident teaching.
- I spent time showing the resources available on the art pages of the Bucks Grid for Learning. In particular:
- ideas, directories and funding possibilities for working with artists
- examples of basic advice available for inexperienced art co-ordinators such as how to manage painting
- resources for drawing
- examples of different schools' policy documents
Our thanks were given to Annie and Marc for hosting the meeting and for the hospitality and support of the two specialist arts colleges in Bucks.