On second thoughts

It feels wrong after all the rants and indignation but – I’ve just spent time with the revised (almost) finished version of the art curriculum and I think it may be not so bad after all. I am doing some work with Bucks Advisory Service rolling it out to primary schools so have been thinking about how to describe, and sell, the changes.

In one sense it will be OK to just carry on. It doesn’t demand change. But what if schools did want to use it to refresh their thinking and curriculum: what would that look like? It seems to me that the new curriculum does encourage a new look at what we do. In particular it backs away from the notion of the termly ‘project’ with a process leading inexorably to a (usually predetermined) outcome. I guess this model has been almost universal since the well meaning, but flawed, QCA Units. Without the heavy obligation to produce an outcome the new curriculum seems to offer the opportunity to change the rhythmn and pace of teaching and learning. It could be something much lighter and brighter where skills, and techniques are explored and developed for their own sake and because it is fun. Perhaps drawing can be placed at the heart of the curriculum, developed through regular imersion and practice and not relegated to the second or third session of each termly themed project. One can envisage a varied programme of study with units of different lengths and a return to a spiral curriculum building skills and experience in more obvious ways than at present.

In Key Stage One the programme of study appears to be simply an invitation to play, explore and learn from the experience. In Key Stage Two the notion of creative engagement with materials and techniques similarly invites students to explore, discover and learn from their experiments. The notion of a simple open ended exploration of materials, that is, freed from the burden of the termly theme, should not worry us, rather the reverse.

The programmes of study retain the obligation to look at art and consider the role of artists which is appropriate. If we interpret ‘history’ as anything that happened before yesterday then we can still look at contemporary practice.

The new version is better written, which is not difficult in view of the shambles of the first draft. But there is still some clumsy phrasing. For instance it rather misrepresents the role of a sketchbook simply as a place for recording ‘observations’. This unhelpfully leads to the implication that ideas will only arise from such ‘observations’ in a sketchbook. In fact, of course, ideas will arise from many different sources and drawing, from observation or not, will embrace many different materials and should not be restricted to A4 white paper. But this interpretation can be challenged through training, exemplars and natural osmosis. (For ‘sketchbook’ read ‘portfolio’ and for ‘observations’ read ‘observations, reflections, ideas, research’)

I think the KS3 programme of study is a poor piece of work which shows a limited grasp of art education as it is currently taught. However, I suspect that most secondary teachers will simply ignore it – I would if I were them.

I rather think it will be interesting to think through the implications of building a new curriculum. I guess most teachers will wish to retain an opportunity to research, develop and finish a piece of work in response to a particular theme/issue/idea but perhaps this would be done in the summer term building upon substantial experience of materials understood and techniques mastered earlier in the year.

I remain of the view that this is not a strong document, but perhaps it is not the end of art education as we know it.

About Dan

Senior Advisor, Art Inspector, Member of the Expert Advisory Group for Art, Consultant working with NSEAD, IOE, QCA, UCE, UOG. Currently lecturer at UCL working on a project in Kazakhstan to develop text books for a new art curriculum.
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