Know-how's fine, but where's the theory?

4th June 2004 at 01:00
Leslie Cunliff questions whether the new specifications for GCSE art make any sense

The new GCSE specification, in all awarding bodies, highlights a muddle in art education. The relationship between "know how" and "know that" is unclear.

GCSE art specifications ask candidates to possess "know that" evidence of knowledge of art in its social and historical context, as well as to show the more traditional "know how" in making art.

The peculiar thing about the new specifications is that while the assessment objectives require both "know how" and "know that" evidence, students and teachers alike are informed that there is no requirement to submit written forms of reporting. Yet the meanings of art in context can be described to others only through written and spoken forms; stating that students need not display such evidence does not make sense.

Let us look at examples of "know how" and "know that". Suppose a candidate shows lots of good evidence of "know how" by making self-portraits in a style similar to Rembrandt's; such evidence would not stand in for "knowing that" about Rembrandt's artistic practice and how it was influenced by its 17th-century Protestant, Dutch cultural context. The new specifications fudge this issue.

Looking at AQA's 2004 GCSE specification (all other GCSE boards make the same error) are they asking for procedural or declarative knowledge, or both?

Under "Assessment Objectives":

"6.1 Introduction: The Assessment Objectives represent those qualities which can be demonstrated in candidates' work and which can be measured for the purposes of assessment.

"6.2 Candidates will be expected to demonstrate a response to all of the assessment objectives in each component of the examination. They are equally weighted. Candidates will be required to demonstrate their ability to:

"AO1 record observations, experiences and ideas in forms that are appropriate to intentions" (here the evidence base asked for is mainly procedural knowledge); "AO2 analyse and evaluate images, objects and artefacts showing understanding of context" (here the evidence base calls for both procedural and declarative knowledge, with the latter being used to evaluate images and show understanding of context); "AO3 develop and explore ideas using media, processes and resources, reviewing, modifying and refining work as it progresses" (the evidence base asked for is mainly procedural knowledge with declarative knowledge coming in verbal feedback to own work); "AO4 present a personal response, realising intentions and making informed connections with the work of others" (the evidence base asked for combines procedural and declarative knowledge, the latter being used to make informed connections with the work of others).

Following this exercise through, it becomes clear that when the specification subsequently states "There is no requirement in the Scheme of Assessment for Art and Design for candidates to produce written work as part of the Coursework or the Controlled Test", it is completely inconsistent with its earlier remark that: "The Assessment Objectives represent those qualities which can be demonstrated in candidates' work and which can be measured for the purposes of assessment."

Actually, to meet AO2, AO3, and AO4, students do need to have written or spoken evidence for declarative knowledge.

The logical extension of these requirements is that the vast majority of GCSE candidates can pass the exam only by not adhering to the demand to show evidence of meeting the assessment objectives.

Leslie Cunliff is a senior lecturer at the School of Education and Lifelong Learning, University of Exeter

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today