OK the new art curriculum is out now. The aims retain the core principles that have informed all previous versions – there is a continuity of underlying practice and principle. Children will continue to develop ideas, develop skills and make work and learn about art and artists (designers, craftspeople, etc.).
Changes are of emphasis and a further reduction of predefined content and prescription. The programmes of study acknowledge the differing characteristics of the learning and engagement in art of children in each Key Stage: tending to reflect their stage of development.
In KS1, for instance, there is a greater recognition of the typical characteristics of children in this age group of open and creative discovery and play.
In KS2 there is a greater emphasis on developing technical and making skills typical of KS2 childrens’ desire to ‘get it right’. One new requirement in KS2 is the need for children to use a sketchbook. It is preferable to recognise that a sketchbook is more of a process of recording, reflecting and developing ideas rather than a textbook used only for observational drawing. It is perfectly proper to gather together all children’s sketches, studies, ideas and notes, retrospectively if necessary, and call this a ‘sketchbook’.
Significantly this new curriculum can be seen as, or used as, a means of moving away from a programme of study that was shaped by the QCA ‘units of work’. This defined the art curriculum as a sequence of very similar termly units each leading inexorably to a single outcome. Although this remains a perfectly reasonable curriculum model it is possible to envisage a lighter and brighter programme of study composed of units of different lengths, objectives and outcomes. For instance, it is possible to plan units which simply develop particular skills and techniques, or to spend a sequence of sessions simply developing drawing skills: a good thing. Such units may not always have to lead through a predetermined (termly) path towards a final outcome. Techniques can be developed for their own sake. This leads to a view of an art curriculum which not defined by a single termly unit, but which is both short term, perhaps 3 or 4 sessions, and longer term, taking account of the balance of experience across the whole year, or even key stage.
This curriculum makes little attempt to define curriculum content, although it suggests that artists, designers (architects) studied should be ‘great’ implying some sort of historical judgement has been passed. It may be helpful to understand history as anything that happened before yesterday and thus allow the study of living contemporary artists such as Anthony Gormley and David Hockney.
The lack of prescribed content is not such a problem, this programme of study is not going to be policed. But it provides little upon which to build and we will have to look elsewhere for content and indications of appropriate range, breadth and depth. The real issue, however, will be the requirement to record progress in the absence of levels. I suspect it will be the way that schools choose to define, record and report progress in art that will be the real arbiter of teaching and learning in the subject.