What the inspectors saw - Good practice spotted by Ofsted

Aiming high in art: Durham Johnston School

In brief

Art is viewed as an important subject at Durham Johnston Comprehensive School. Staff are keen for students to make excellent progress in the subject and to achieve good results in the sixth form.

The project

"The role of art in our lives must be recognised - from the clothes we wear and the chairs we sit on to the packaging we admire enough to make us buy a product," says Sheila Hitchcock, subject leader for art. "Art can break down barriers between abilities, genders and cultures."

From the start of Year 7, the students at Durham Johnston Comprehensive School learn about visual concepts and how to apply them; for example, with the skilful and sensitive use of colour.

They learn to draw on their own experiences for their work and to understand artists and their creativity. Regular assessments help staff to identify the best teaching strategies and set the right targets.

One Year 8 student says: "My favourite piece of art work this year was the abstract painting inspired by music. The colours and shapes used reflected the mood. I painted very intricate abstract patterns; the music gave the painting different dynamics of colours and shapes."

Sixth-formers are encouraged to experiment and criticise their own work, a process that is managed carefully by staff. "This course allows you to cultivate previous talents while developing new ones," a student in Year 12 says. "A key to success is improvement through critiques."

Printmaking, photography and painting are used to improve drawing skills across a range of media. For example, students learn how to combine detailed, controlled work with "accidental qualities" through the experience of printmaking: they see their carefully drawn and crafted print blocks transformed by the process of inking and printing.

The links between printmaking and painting are made early, throughout key stage 3, and the exploration of topics through photography is also introduced during key stage 3.

Students take and manipulate their own photographs as part of the creative process. Images are often generated as a visual resource when studying composition, and photography enables students to explore a wide range of topics, ideas and observations.

The photographs also provide a rich source of discussions between students and their teachers, as well as with each other, and help students to develop their creative ideas.

Signs of success

Durham Johnston has gained an excellent reputation for students' skilful work, reflected in the school's success in achieving a Saatchi prize and selection for the Royal Academy of Arts online A-level exhibition.

"Those who say they can't are taught how they can, and those who can are given opportunities to see the potential of their skills," Hitchcock says.

What the inspectors said

"The high-quality outcomes achieved reflect the excellent teaching and the high importance students attach to the subject. The many applications of art, craft and design are emphasised throughout the course.

"There is a buzz in lessons and a lively, productive atmosphere. Students are nurtured, encouraged and challenged to aim high and regard excellence as an attainable goal."

Read the full Ofsted case study report at: bit.lyYvHtJw


Name: Durham Johnston Comprehensive School

Location: Durham

Type: Comprehensive

Age range: 11-18

Number of pupils: 1,500

Intake: Mostly white British; below average proportion eligible for free school meals.

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