Small fish pull together for art

21st December 2012 at 00:00
Jackie Cosh is drawn to a cluster project that enables teachers to develop a joined-up approach

Teaching art can be daunting, particularly if you are not arty. In nursery, children are usually given a free rein with painting and drawing, but in primary, pupils have set tasks to complete - without the expertise gained in secondaries.

With this is mind, Kirkintilloch High in East Dunbartonshire has, for the past year, been working with the primary schools in its cluster to develop a joined-up approach to art, with the aim of having all children starting secondary at the same level.

"The local authority has a cluster policy to develop a different area of the curriculum each year with funding made available," explains Fiona Clark, head of art at Kirkintilloch High. "I met with heads in May 2011 and they wanted to develop skills and confidence. From there we put a plan together."

Twenty teachers from the five primary schools in the cluster, as well as staff from three of the nurseries, got involved. At the first meeting an audit was taken of what schools were doing, what they found useful, finding good points and looking at what needed improving.

It was decided to focus on three areas - painting, drawing and printing, with a sub-group for each being set up, consisting of teachers and practitioners from different levels - nursery, first level and second level.

"After that initial assessment, we felt that we had a huge mountain to climb," recalls Ms Clark. "All lacked confidence in terms of resources. They saw the fantastic facilities here and were intimidated. A huge part for me was trying to get them to buy in and take ownership.

"In primary schools there is huge pressure to have a finished product. It was about trying to get them to change their mindset."

The groups met regularly and it soon became obvious that they all wanted to have some material they could refer to, linking to experiences and outcomes, and bringing in skills they would develop, as well as assessment and vocabulary. Together the groups worked on this and finally came up with a folder of information and suggested lesson plans. Lessons are colour-coded, and at the back there are hand-outs for practical workshops, step-by-step techniques and printing methods.

"We decided that it was important to get staff to work through it, so we had a workshop and offered three different CPD areas," says Ms Clark. "We had about 50 staff here one afternoon and the whole art department led."

Judy Moore, P4 teacher at Oxgang Primary, was in the printing group. She says: "We got to see progression from basic to more complex techniques. So we could see how we could use it with our classes. Previously, we had used the Borders pack, which was excellent but too prescriptive. We wanted something that could be adapted to topics. Also, Borders' wasn't connected to Curriculum for Excellence."

Pamela Casey, P1 teacher at Harestanes, says she learned a lot from discussion and collaboration. "It was good to find out about what they do in nursery. I now know what we are building on, and how to plan progression.

"I found afterwards that I was a lot more motivated. I now feel much more confident - about the skills I want them to achieve and about the lessons."

Ms Clark refers to the art cluster pack as a "bi-product". "We didn't set out to make a pack," she says. "What we wanted was a progressive approach to art from nursery to secondary. The teachers wanted a shared understanding of what we wanted to achieve.

"Instead of having an outcome-based approach, we wanted to have a skills-based approach. The primary schools wanted to be able to plan based on topics. They couldn't really do that before. They wanted something structured but that could be adapted."

Oxgang Primary teacher Andrew Jackson wasn't part of the working groups, but was given the opportunity to go up for the CPD session. "It was really enjoyable to be given the chance to try out something different. Otherwise I couldn't imagine having the time to research art skills. To be given time with experienced art teachers is invaluable," he says.

The cluster work has made staff at the high school aware of the constraints primary schools are under, as well as connecting them with nurseries.

"Up until now we haven't done much with nurseries," says Ms Clark. "They do much more exploration. It is less planned and is child-led. It has opened our eyes to the fact that the child should be at the centre of learning, and brought it home to us. We wouldn't have ever achieved that without this."

She readily admits that initially they were looking at the project for what they could get out of it. "Selfishly, the aim was to get pupils up to the same level, so that when they started first year we could guarantee that they had covered the same skills, and so that we didn't need to recap. If we can be sure that we have the right vocabulary, it makes life easier for us and for exams, without having to explain. It avoids the downtime at the start, and makes things smoother."

But the primary school teachers have reaped huge benefits. "We are only one term down but everyone has been able to access the folder and it has definitely made me more confident in what I feel we can do art-wise," says Mrs Moore.

IN NUMBERS

324: Hours of cover allocated

2: Hands-on CPD sessions

52+: Staff more confident in delivering art and design skills

6: Morning sessions

63: Pages of lessons, skills progressions and exemplar material created in the programme of study.

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