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Key Stage 3, Junior High, Middle school Art & Design

“The role of the teacher in the arts is at once vital and complicated. The task is not simply to let anything happen in the name of self-expression or creativity. Neither is it to impose rigid structures of ideas and methods upon the children. The need is for a difficult balance of freedom and authority. In principle, everybody can be enabled to develop their knowledge and skill to a point at which they can become innovators. Their doing so depends on their interest and commitment to, and on the extent and quality of their experience in, the work in question. Some of them will be, or will become better than others in some areas of work— both in what they produce and in the skills they develop.” 

Sir Ken Robinson The Arts in Schools 1989 


Curriculum Intent: Define your curriculum Vision Intent

Your philosophies of education drive the curriculum forward. They culminate in your curriculum intent or vision, and it define what you include in your curriculum and how you teach it. Your beliefs about what the critical factors are in a high-quality curriculum and how it should be taught (pedagogy), form and shape your curriculum. Some teachers prefer a traditional, rigorous, skills mastery approach; others favour a creative, constructivist model; some an ideas-led curriculum. It’s really important that you clearly demonstrate what it is that you want your pupils to learn, what their experiences will be, what kind of art they will make, what type of artist they will be - what they will know and be able to do. 

In my previous page, I outlined Powerful Knowledge in art and design:

  • OBSERVATION: Developing your pupil's ability to ‘see’ the world they live in, in all its glory, beauty, and ugliness! 

  • SKILLS & TECHNIQUES: Interpreting and doing art using practical knowledge, in a range of ways but preferably personalised to suit the individual. 

  • CREATIVITY & IMAGINATION: not simply ‘coming up with ideas’ or ‘designing’ but actually training your pupil’s ability to think, invent and refine what they do. 

  • KNOWLEDGE & UNDERSTANDING: theoretical and disciplinary understanding to acquire and apply knowledge of art, craft, and design in order that pupils become thinking, knowledgeable artists. 

  • REFLECTION - not just writing ‘Went Well’ or ‘Even Better If’s’ but actually being able to make sensitive choices about their work whilst they are doing it. 

  • APPLYING & CONTEXTUALISING art to situations; design, commissions, public art, personal art, issue-based art, commercial art, fine art, illustration, craft, ceramics, architecture, film. 


Now I’m sure you will want to place these curriculum objectives at the heart of your learning goals, never-the-less you should clearly identify what your own ‘big picture’ of learning is and this should be done as a collaborative effort with your department and your school’s own vision. 


Your vision should encompass the ideals and ambitions you have for every child who passes through your doors. It will hopefully be inclusive for all abilities, exciting, innovative and contemporary. Is your vision going to embrace new technologies, and thinking skills and give pupils the opportunity to make statements about the world they live in? Your vision should be real, not so wordy or crass that it isn’t relevant. Don’t spend hours writing something only for it to end up in a folder on your hard drive that is never seen again, or it becomes a poster in a forgotten corner of the room that no one reads. Make your vision part of your planning and part of your everyday discussions, be ambitious, be brave, and try to fit enjoyment somewhere in your plans, because it’s seriously lacking at the moment. Your intent statement should reflect your curriculum and be inclusive and embrace equal access for all. 

The art and design curriculum at ______ school inspires pupils to observe and engage with the world around them in new and creative ways. We deliver a range of skills and techniques in making art, craft and design in order to build our pupils confidence to create art in ways that suit their own needs and intentions. Our curriculum teaches pupils a knowledge of the history of art across time, place and cultures to enable them to become thinking, knowledgeable artists. They will be given opportunities to facilitate imaginative responses to stimulating, challenging tasks and use it to make appropriate, sensitive, meaningful art. Our curriculum reflects inclusivity, fairness & equal access for all, and is relevant to real-life situations, vocational practice & contemporary issues.

Art & Design KS3 Sequencing & Progression

 You cannot build pupils’ artistic ability effectively by teaching knowledge and skills haphazardly. There have to be consistent threads running through your curriculum, where essential knowledge builds and accumulates over Key Stage 3. Usually, you would teach Drawing, Painting & Sculpture in this way but you should provide experiential opportunities of other types of art that you may not have time to sequence fully, such as clay or textiles, or one-off activities.


In a typical art and design curriculum, skills are often fragmented and the pupils do not have sufficient time to develop them confidently. Pupils might be successful in a particular aspect of art such as using charcoal for example, but then not get chance to develop that technique again because the teacher isn’t ‘doing’ charcoal until next year, or not at all. You cannot possibly cover all areas of art skills, so I think you should sequence some priority skills such as drawing and painting and provide experiences of less sequenced skills such as clay or printmaking. In my own KS3 progression model, I outline how all of the main areas might be sequenced, but I wouldn’t expect all of them to be rigidly taught. 


Whatever other skills you select to sequence, you should provide clear, consistent, and regular learning objectives for teachers and pupils to work to. The skills should be revisited regularly so that you can ensure they have been learned. It is common for schools to meander through art domains, jumping from one art medium to the next. If you want pupils to build their skills properly, they must have time to gradually increase the level of difficulty in selected areas, to fully embed and learn the skills they are learning.


We need to ensure we are sequencing threads through our planning so that skills build up properly. You would therefore need to identify the progression skills target you want to teach, allow time for the pupils to practice and repeat it over time, then teach the corresponding skill the following year in order to sequentially improve.  

Art curriculum sequencing

Practical Knowledge - Skills

In Ofsted's 2023 Art & Design Research Review, they describe skills in art as Practical Knowledge. They are keen to stress that schools and teachers don't have to use this terminology, but it's essential that you are aware of it. There is a hidden agenda to this switch away from the word skills, but I won't go into that here. What is important, is to know what they are saying about skills and how to teach them. I've broken their lengthy advice down into succinct areas of advice:

Modelling Skills

We tend to think of art as being a highly specialised subject, where a few exceptional pupils perform to higher standards than others, but how much of ‘ability’ in art is simply prior experience? How much of these exceptional pupils’ skills is down to them enjoying the subject and having practiced again and again? I think there is a genetic factor sure, but I also think practice plays a huge role in why pupils have greater fine motor skills than others.

When modelling skills in the classroom however, I think the old method of watching demonstrations around the teacher is problematic. This is because there is too much delay between watching the demo and getting started on the practice. Our short-term memory is only 20 seconds, yet some pupils take as much as five minutes to get started. This is way too long and can cause a breakdown of instruction. Demonstrating in real time is preferable because it overcomes the delay between observing and doing. Visualisers are great for this, and videos work well too. Videos have the added advantage of being able to pause and rewind, which is great for those that are struggling. They also enable you to have different levels of ability because high-flyers can watch individual, advanced instruction. 

In any event, what you need to happen is a transfer of skill between teacher and pupil and this isn't easy. Often, pupils will demonstrate the skill in class, under your guidance, but then be unable to repeat it at a later date. This is because the skill wasn't fully embedded. Our brains don't retain things they don't need or use, so if it isn't relevant to them they struggle to learn it properly. This is why you need to repeat the same exercises frequently. The pupils will complain loudly about this, but I just used to say 'tough, we're doing it again and if you've done it before you should be good at it!'. Repetition is key to future success. They need to be able to do some things with 'muscle-memory'.

Modelling Skills in art

Components Knowledge

Components knowledge are the small sections of skills, knowledge, and understanding we need to complete larger, more complex tasks. 

In an observational still life painting lesson for example, pupils will need to employ their existing knowledge of drawing and painting to complete their study of a still life. They might make quick observational studies, short tonal skills, or colour mixing exercises, then move on to utilising painting techniques and skills to complete the painting.

As the teacher, you must be aware of what your pupils’ prior experiences are, what they already know and can do, in order for them to be able to complete the still life task successfully. You might need to do some short components exercises prior to the main activity for extra practice, but you should know  and plan for the components they’ll need to produce the main painting. 

Components knowledge in art


The idea of Gladwell’s 10,000 hours ‘Outliers’ rule has been discredited. We attain mastery of skills in different rates according to multiple factors such as fine motor skills ability, attention, motivation and learning conditions. It’s important therefore, that you optimise the learning conditions because acquisition of skill is variable according to them.
One method of promoting greater skills acquisition is to create ‘Feedback Loops’ of guidance & encouragement, perhaps using fellow students, but ideally where an expert continually guides a novice in real time. Pupils might work in pairs where a higher attaining pupil offers advice in real time, to support, help and advise the other as they work. This can easily be highly annoying of course. Think of someone stood over you telling you where you’ve gone wrong! So, it has to be done in a non-judgemental, supportive manner, with judicious advice timed appropriately.  I think pupils would need to learn how to do this, to do it well so here’s a link to a video on feedback loops.

Deliberate Practice is a technique where we focus on learning key components of a much larger skill - e.g. shading a flat area of tone before attempting to shade a still life. This links back to Components Knowledge and so it’s important to understand what factors are needed to attain this skill, signpost them clearly, then practice them again and again. There’s a link to a video on deliberate practice here.

Finally, you should highlight how the same skill is applied in different mediums and contexts. To use the shading analogy again, you will use the same basic principles in many different ways across the curriculum. You will employ shading skills to shade a shoe with a pencil in year 7, but you’ll also use them to shade a planet in chalk pastel in year 8, and to paint a portrait in year 9. If you can signpost these connections with your pupils, they’ll more easily be able to draw on their existing knowledge to perform the task to a higher standard.

Feedback Loops in art


Higher reading ability gives us the knowledge we need to synthesise new ideas and concepts, it feeds our imaginations, it enables us to decipher and understand artist knowledge, and it is integral to our ability to articulate both the decisions we make and our future intentions. I've written about literacy in art and design in depth here.

Reading ability is inextricably linked to performance in art, yet at age 15, around 1 in 2 children do not have a comparable reading age, 25% of all 15-year-olds have a reading age of 12 or below and 10% have a reading age of 9 and below at age 15. Pupils on Free School Meals have reading ages around 11% lower than that, and FSM boys are 13% lower again. 

Yet, research I did into the reading levels of GCSE Externally Set Assignments found them to have a reading age of 17-19 years, while the reading age of the GCSE English Literature paper had a reading age of 14 years. This shocking statistic means that many pupils simply cannot read the art exam paper, let alone do it! This is why many of you have to do those elaborate PowerPoint presentations to accompany the ESA!

If you want to increase performance in the subject, then you have two focus on reading and literacy almost as much as you do practical art skills. Research by GL assessment found that doing well in creative subjects had strong correlations to student’s reading ability. Ask yourself: What is the reading age of the teaching materials you give out? What are the reading ages of your pupils? How do you support reading of key text? Do you use phonics? Do you correct spelling and grammar? Get your literacy right and pupils will flourish.

Literacy in art

Expert v Enquiry Learning 

How best do we learn in creative subjects? Well, there isn’t one approach that meets all learners needs at all times. There are times when you’ll need to lead from the front as an expert, in a ‘follow me’, teacher-led style, but there will also certainly be a need to teach pupils how to answer complex tasks independently. 

Experts can guide new and novice learners through difficult concepts and practices more easily. They know when to instruct, when to model and when to leave go. In an ideal world, there would be experts teaching art and design in every school. 

Enquiry-led learning has been criticised in recent years for not adequately supporting novice learners. The evidence for this came from research in core subjects, not in art where learning outcomes are self-directed. Enquiry learning will still need specific scaffolding and guidance, especially for unconfident learners. Higher ability pupils do better in these environments. There’s a link to this here.

Free Lesson Plans

Art, craft & design lesson plans & art resources

Media Art

Ages 11-16

Pop Art gets a 21st Century facelift! This a Contemporary Scheme aimed at improving thinking skills and asks deep, Essential Questions of your students to learn how Modern Art has evolved into a thriving contemporary movement. And instead of just making a bland Pop Art style picture, the students are challenged to think about how the media affects their life.


Formal elements lesson plan

Expressive Painting

Ages 11-16

Expressive Painting Formal Elements: Age 10-16 FULL Contemporary Scheme inc. thinking skills. Improve your student's painting techniques whilst learning the FORMAL ELEMENTS of art. Using Essential Big Questions this FULL Unit of Work is beautifully designed to challenge and stretch your students 


Surrealism Dreams art project
Macro Art lesson plan


Ages 11-16

This lesson teaches Photoshop by means of a detailed step-by-step exercise. You can use free online software if you don’t have Photoshop (links included.) There is also a detailed guide to drawing faces from observation. The skills are then combined into a fun Dream project. This is especially liked by the boys


Macro Art

Ages 7 -16

Suitable for most age ranges, this very flexible project combines digital photography with the art of observational drawing. It is a great project for getting some quality, expressive drawing work in student’s portfolios at exam stage or for teaching younger students to ‘see’ more closely. A very expressive lesson


African Mask Making art lesson plan

African Mask Making

Ages 7-16

Suitable for most age ranges, this very flexible mask making project leads your students through deep, web based investigation of the Dogon Tribe in Mali, to fully understand the reasons masks and ceremonial costumes are made, before providing a wealth of resources on mask design and mask making. Download

Me in a Box

Ages 10-14

This project is a lovely twist on the traditional art theme of identity or portraits. It uses symbolism and metaphor as well as Maths NETS to create inspirational designs on a personal theme. My own students LOVED this lesson!


Funny Fish art lesson plan

Funny Fish

Ages 7-12

Complete with beautiful supporting illustrations, a teaching Powerpoint and detailed Lesson Plan with full instructions, this 4-6 hour project teaches students to illustrate fish in detail using cross-hatching pen and ink techniques, before inventing their own weird and crazy fish Download

Alien Landscape art lesson plan

Alien Landscape

Ages 7-12

The Alien Landscape project comprises: Lesson Plan, Powerpoint resources and handouts. It will show your students the principles of landscape drawing and painting, colour, depth of field, tonal range and scale in an enjoyable and stimulating project that young people enjoy.


Tints & Shades art lesson plan

Tints & Shades

Age 7-14 

Improve your student's painting techniques by completing this range of worksheets for tints and shades.


Free download

Colour theory art lesson plan

Colour Theory

Age 7-14

Some teachers prefer to embed colour theory into projects but this stand alone worksheet & powerpoint is great to have.

Free download

Graffiti lettering sheet, art lesson plan

Graffiti Lettering

These graffiti lettering sheets have been designed for tracing.

Free download

Shading an alien man, art lesson plan

Shading an Alien Man

A simple shading exercise the pupils love

Free download


Paul Carney Paul is a nationally recognised art & design consultant having delivered specialist art CPD in schools, colleges, galleries, and Universities across the UK and for the UK’s leading training providers. He is a former Council member for the NSEAD, which means he is involved in national art education policy issues.Paul is a published author of two books: Drawing for Science, Invention and Discovery and his latest book Drawing to learn anything. He is also a practicing professional artist and designer. Paul runs his highly successful art website: that provides high quality teaching resources and advice to teachers around the world. He has over twenty years teaching experience at Primary, Secondary and post-16 levels of education, is an Advanced Skills Teacher, ex-Subject Leader for Art and was a member of the DfE Expert Advisory Group for Art and Design. In addition to this he was a member of the NSEAD Curriculum Writing Group that wrote the 'Framework for Progression, Planning for Learning, Assessment, Recording and Reporting 2014.’ 

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