Dear Art Co-ordinator

This is a copy of a summary prepared for a short briefing for primary teachers, about the new national curriculum for art 2014. In broad terms it suggests that the new curriculum sustains the conceptual framework from previous years and, therefore, does not require schools to change, unless they wish to do so. The subject content is so vague and open ended that schools should feel free to follow their own interests and experience in developing their curriculum.  If schools do wish to change the new version can be seen as an opportunity to move away from a curriculum predicated upon three termly, themed units of work.


The new national curriculum retains the fundamental conceptual framework of all the previous versions of the national curriculum. These are given as four ‘Aims’ and embody the key principles of all good art education. In brief these are that children should: 1. develop original creative ideas; 2. realise these ideas in some tangible form, developing skills as they do so; 3. understand, recognise and appreciate the qualities of creative works, improving their own work in the process and 4. know about the world of the visual arts placing their work in this wider context. Because the aims of the new curriculum are at heart the same it is likely that current good practice will be compliant with the new curriculum in all respects. The new curriculum for art, therefore, does not require schools to change their art curriculum if they believe it serves its purpose and matches the childrens’ needs.


The four aims are particularly significant because, although ‘national curriculum levels’ are being abandoned, there is an increasing demand for schools to track progress and develop an assessment framework across the curriculum. If schools are now to develop their own assessment framework which defines and tracks progress, these aims will provide the most appropriate basis for these assessments. The sections of the new curriculum defining subject content do not provide an effective basis for assessment as they simply state in the broadest of terms what children might do, not what they will learn by doing it.

Subject Content

The defined subject content is minimal in the new national curriculum.
In KS1 it simply states, in essence, that children should develop creative and imaginative ideas, use a range of materials and techniques and learn about the world of art, craft and design. This reflects the subject’s aims. Although content is defined in the very simplest terms it does tend to reflect the nature of learning in art, in this age range. That is learning which is characterised by open ended exploration of a range of materials’ Where learning about art craft and design is defined it suggests that it should be an introduction to the idea of what artists, crafts people and designers do and what roles they have in the world.
In KS2 the content again reflects the subject aims in the simplest terms. However, once again the content reflects the natural characteristics of children in KS2. That is learning in which ‘technical skills’, ‘getting it right’ and ‘mastery’ come to the fore. Children are to be taught to create sketchbooks for recording observations and review ideas. At this point it is worth emphasising that a ‘sketchbook’ is not simply a book for sketching. It is more of a process through which ideas are collected, developed, researched, and reviewed. It has elements of a portfolio, scrapbook, journal and notebook as well as a book in which observational drawings are made.
In KS2 children are to be taught about ‘great artists, architects and designers in history’. The omission of crafts people from this list should not be taken to indicate that the crafts should not feature in KS2, because, in the preamble to this section it clearly states that children should have an increasing awareness of ‘different kinds of art, craft and design’.
Care should be taken not to interpret the use of the words ‘great’ and ‘in history’ as a sign that artists studied should only come from the category of dead, white, male, European artists. There are great artists in every time and culture and schools will use their own judgement (and interests) to identify those that they wish to introduce to their children. Similarly a broad and generous understanding of the term ‘history’ (history is anything that happened before yesterday) will ensure that children have access to contemporary (20th and 21st century) artists who are making an impact upon the history of our times.

Entitlement and Curriculum

There is little in the new curriculum that defines what a minimum entitlement for art might be, other than that, all pupils should have an opportunity to pursue the aims of the subject, through the way that they engage with the programme content. Because it is not explicitly stated schools do have the freedom to define for themselves what they choose to teach and what resources and time they devote to it.
The new curriculum does provide an opportunity for those schools that wish to revise the art curriculum, to do so. Although it provides little, or no, guidance as to what form such a revised curriculum might take, this can be seen as a strength. It does, for instance, draw a line under a curriculum modelled on the QCA exemplar units of work first published in 1999. This curriculum model, for many schools, has become an orthodoxy. It is predicated upon a succession of single, termly, themed units, each leading inexorably, and usually in a predetermined way, to an outcome. While this is a perfectly proper and appropriate curriculum model it is not the only one. Schools wishing to revise their art curriculum may feel free to explore units of a different length and purpose. Units, for instance, which simply, and single mindedly, develop drawing skills over an extended period of time. Some units might provide an opportunity for children to learn about and enjoy the work of an artist, without the consequent obligation to ‘…work in the style of…’ and produce their own versions. Other units might focus on a single skill or technique without a need to pursue a finished outcome. These units could then provide the prior learning for a culminating unit of work that allows children genuine choice in the way that they respond to a task or challenge.
No doubt many schools will wish to explore a curriculum model which allows for a freer interplay between subjects, as well as one which has more variety in the journey through the key stage.


The new art curriculum provides for both, those schools that are secure in their practice and do not wish to change at the present time, and those schools that wish to revise and refresh their curriculum.
The aims of the subject are followed through into the subject content and this provides a clear conceptual framework which can inform both planning and assessment.
The minimal subject content and guidance can be seen as a strength, loosening the hold of older models of practice and prompting new thinking. However, guidance, exemplars, CPD and examples of programmes of study will emerge over time to support schools with less time, experience or expertise to reinvent their art curriculum. (for instance

While curriculum development in art may not be onerous, or even pressing, for many schools, it is likely that the requirement to develop an assessment framework to track progress will present challenges. It may be unhelpful to use the same assessment framework for both core and non-core subjects.

8 Responses to Dear Art Co-ordinator

  1. Gina says:

    I have just been given the post of art teacher in a special school for pupils with mld and sld and complex needs. I am moving up from the upper primary department and this information was really valuable for me to read. Thank you so much

  2. Ben Connor says:

    Hi Dan,
    We (KS1) are looking at setting up an Art Week for the last week in July to focus on an artist and recreate their work. We want to do it on a Four-year rolling programme so that EYFS, Year 1 and Year 2 are all involved. We decided to choose 2 Artists, a craft Maker and a Designer to focus on over the four years. We already use Van Gogh, and were thinking about Picasso, but are drawing a blank on a suitable Craft Maker/Designer to replicate in KS1. Any ideas?

    • Dan says:

      I once saw a brilliant KS1 project which used William Morris. They drew the plants and foliage from life, developed a design, made a string or soft board block, printed a repeat pattern (two colour) on fabric (tea towels or handkerchiefs). They didn’t make the curtains, however.

  3. Kelly says:


    Do you have any information about Key stage 3 ??


  4. Emily Coleman says:

    Your pages have filled me with renewed optimism about the future of arts in the curriculum. Thank you.

  5. Cathy Gill says:

    Thanks Dan- this has really helped me organise my thoughts and ideas before advising colleagues at a staff meeting as we discuss a new scheme of work.

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