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Put them in the picture

Sue Learner finds out how GCSE pupils at a London school are making a big impression on the examiners

Art teachers must try to strike a balance between fostering children's creativity and meeting examining board's increasingly rigid criteria for GCSE. But they may fear that the growing emphasis on written work about the process of producing a piece of art is overshadowing the final piece of artwork.

One school in Hounslow, west London, has pupils painting on the walls and producing big, expressive pieces of art. Steve Hook, who has been head of art at Heston Community School for 15 years, says: "At GCSE we don't do whole-class projects as pupils tend to gravitate in their own directions.

But at the end they have to produce something big and impressive.

"I tell them I want them to produce something that will make an impression on the examiner's mind. We also put up displays all round the schools. From Year 7, the pupils see the big things on the wall and it inspires them to want to do the same."

Mr Hook believes trips to London art galleries such as Tate Modern and the National Gallery are very important in demystifying art. "It is great taking them to galleries. They see paintings close up and realise they are often painted with rough brushstrokes like they use themselves."

Heston Community School, which this year scored 82 per cent A* to C, is a beacon school for art and a centre for excellence. The extra funding this gives means the art department has money to spend on staff, materials and resources. But Steve Hook says: "Even before we had more money we used to paint big, as we used to pull apart cardboard boxes and paint on those."

Technique and skill are very much emphasised at Heston: "We are rigid on teaching skills such as drawing and painting." He says that the shift in emphasis by the examining boards from the finished piece to the process means "you can still get very good grades from ideas". When teaching GCSE, Steve Hook believes time and individual teaching have a huge impact on pupils' work.

"We have written to each of our GCSE kids this year saying they should attend one after-school lesson every week. They get much more one-to-one teaching after school and that is the secret of good grades."

Another important factor is good materials. "At GCSE they use oil paints and good watercolour paper. They also start painting on huge pieces of drawing paper on boards stuck on the wall," he says. "But all of that is only possible if you have got good discipline and control. It is all about ethos," he says.

From the beginning, he pushes his students to produce their best: "What I try to do is get the first piece of work they do to be A standard. That way you can use that as a benchmark and hopefully they will go on to always produce that level of work."

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