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Drawing out the essence

Kevin Wright introduces one London borough's set of essential end-of-year standards for primary art

Most teachers, headteachers and school prospectuses say they want pupils to fulfil their potential. But how do we know when someone's potential is fulfilled? Is it a finite point? And if it has been fulfilled what do we then do? Send them home early? Nowhere is this issue better illustrated than in the art and design curriculum. What do pupils have to do to keep on making progress and to find greater and greater personal rewards and fulfilment through art and design?

Many art educators have avoided committing themselves to specifying what students should be able to do in practice and what they should know at any specific stage. Possibly people have thought that art was too creative and too spontaneous an activity to be subjected to a set of rigorous practical standards. Maybe they think being able to deploy skills and competences accurately and precisely is a hindrance rather than a help to artistic achievement.

In the London borough of Barking amp; Dagenham primary headteachers have welcomed the publication of End-of-Year Essential Standards. They recognise the usefulness of a guide to what children in each year group should be learning in the subject. It can tell them whether the pupils have covered enough work. It also provides clear structure to plot the pupils' progress through the key stage and between key stages.

The guide lays out what all children should be able to do and understand by the end of each year. In art and design four areas have been identified: drawing; painting, colour and collage work; sculpture and relief; print and textiles. These four areas are repeated each year so it is easy to plot progress in any area.

There are usually only two or three statements dealing with "practice" and one dealing with knowledge, which asks pupils to explain or describe their work using key language. For example, the Essential Standards for Year 2 drawing ask that all pupils should be able to:

* draw an object from several different viewpoints * select from a range of pencils, pastels or chalks to represent textures or patterns that can be seen on the surface of the object * draw an object from an angled viewpoint that reveals both the front and the side together * describe how, when an object is placed in a particular way to the viewer, two sides can be seen at the same time.

The Essential Standards for Year 6 drawing ask that all pupils should be able to:

* draw a group of objects and use pencil tones to show the fall of light and shade across the group * show both the shading found on an object and the shadows cast by it on to other things * draw both reflective and transparent objects showing how images appear on the surfaces of refective objects and how objects are distorted when seen through transparent objects * comment on the way that light-coloured objects bounce light back on to nearby objects.

The Barking amp; Dagenham Essential Standards are expressed in terms of the basic things that a busy non-specialist teacher should be able to cover within the normal timetable of art and design lessons lasting 50 minutes each week. When the class teacher gets most of the pupils to arrive at the essential standards for the year, then we believe that class has received a secure art and design education. It can be built on year by year, and is common to all classes in the school.

Boiled down to its essential ingredients the "creative process" in national curriculum art and design (and many other documents and theories) simply means that:

* pupils make sketches and studies (or gather visual resource items) to try out ideas and materials * they organise their work and plan the processes they use - even using things that they copy from other artists' and designers' methods * they review how their work is progressing, how it ends up, and how others' work ends up.

Teachers have long been frustrated by the language that is used to describe school art and design. For example, the national curriculum programme of study for KS2 describes the teaching of making art and design like this:

"pupils should be taught to combine visual and tactile qualities of materials and processes and to match these to the purpose of the work" and "pupils should use a variety of methods and approaches to communicate observations, ideas and feelings, and to design and make images and artefacts." Primary schools have had to invent a realistic and manageable set of levels for themselves. Schools have sorted out their own attainment levels by creating art and design schemes of work.

However, a scheme of work is not a set of essential standards. A scheme of work is a teaching route that enables pupils possibly to arrive at those standards. Recently the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has weighed in with its own recommended scheme of work, which is a good start. There are many equally good routes to achieving a basic provision, including many schools' schemes. It is not possible to include every conceivable art and design experience in a set of essential standards, but a good basic programme should cover most of the things that a pupil should be able to do in art and design.

For a copy of the Barking amp; Dagenham End-of-Year Essential Standards for KS1 and KS2 Art and Design, write to: Art and Design Team, Community andamp; Advisory Service, Westbury Centre, Ripple Road, Barking IG11 7PT.

Kevin Wright is general inspector for art and design for the London borough of Barking and Dagenham

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