Art teachers slam Higher 'shambles'

28th March 2003 at 00:00
AS senior students brush up for their final exams, art and design teachers from 17 authorities have launched another impassioned attack on the Scottish Qualifications Authority's assessment regime. They say it is driving out fun and creativity and destroying the subject they love.

A grass-roots support group has been established to fight for the soul of the subject after a meeting in Perth last week described the current testing procedures as a "shambles". The SQA has pledged no more reform for two years while it conducts a further review.

More widely, principal teachers condemn the tighter focus on the basics in the 5-14 programme for squeezing time for their subject, leaving many pupils with only one year of decent aesthetic experience, either in S1 or S2.

Their concerns follow the recent elevation of creativity in the national priorities for education and the lift to school music by the First Minister's promise to give every primary child the chance to play instruments.

Bill Smith, principal teacher at Ellon Academy in Aberdeenshire and co-ordinator of the campaign to reclaim the subject, said: "Experienced principal teachers are distressed and in despair at the confused administration of our subject at national level.

"They are particularly concerned at the negative influence of the SQA on the curriculum. We have moribund courses because of the exam-led culture."

Mr Smith alleges that the SQA has consistently failed to listen to teachers and has lost the confidence of the profession. He has attended local and national training events where staff have spoken out against developments but "every single point has been ignored".

Forbes Hogg, who teaches at Anderson High in Lerwick, believes the new forum is long overdue. "It was obvious my feelings of frustration and loss of confidence in my understanding of National Qualifications was not an isolated case. It seemed that almost everyone had identical concerns about the state of art and design.

"Many aspects of the new courses are excellent but I feel that a lot of fun and creativity has been sucked out of this subject I love. The true creativity has been smothered in some way by assessment and unrealistic restrictions."

Art teachers in Angus criticise the constantly shifting ground in Higher and Intermediate courses. "Despite genuine and well-founded concerns raised during implementation, SQA representatives and course architects swept these aside as teething troubles," they say.

They point out that the Standard grade expressive and design course demands five sheets of practical work in each topic, against only three in Higher but between 10 and 18 in Advanced Higher. "Progression is at best inconsistent."

Staff from Aberdeenshire say the cut in Higher assessment sheets from five to three is presenting major problems, with Mearns Academy teachers claiming pupils are being used as "guinea-pigs to see if this format works".

The SQA responded to grievances from art and design teachers last autumn by agreeing to bring forward a further subject review. Two development officers have been appointed.

An SQA spokesman said: "We are aware of concerns in the sector. A major review of art and design will allow teachers to scope the future. But it is important to note that across Scotland we have considerable success with the courses and expressions of satisfaction with the new developments."


"Art is in a crisis and lacks leadership at national level. But how do we progress this subject?" asks Bill Smith.

"Art is no longer fun and is seen as a rather stressful option. It's definitely harder to get pupils into art and design."

Figures released this week show that last year more than 7,000 students took Higher art and design.

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