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Knowledge of art & design

One aspect of art education we, as teachers often overlook is the appreciation of art for the joy of seeing. How often do you show your pupils art images without any additional learning agenda? How often do they get the chance to show YOU art that they like without it being part of a bigger project, or having to write about it or do a formal presentation? By integrating simple show and tell opportunities into your programme of study, you develop the understanding that you can just look at art and enjoy it. Imagine that!


I passionately believe that all students should leave Year 9 Junior High with a firm grounding in the history of art and design. Everyone should know the difference between Medieval and Renaissance art, between Romanticism and Impressionism, the development of abstraction and know how art has developed into the contemporary art we see today. This is a minimum requirement in my mind. Yet what happens is that most pupils finish art education at the age of fourteen with the bare minimum of experience and knowledge of art and artists. They might be able to name half a dozen artists and usually have no idea where they fit into an overall picture of art. Teaching the historical development of art can be quite dry and it is often very rigorous. That is why I spent a long time developing fun, interesting activities based on drama and role play. These lesson activities address the delivery of visual literacy and (in the timeline of art) show pupils how art has developed and changed throughout history.

One of my pet hates is when art teachers deliver whole projects in the style of an artist they have chosen. So if I am a pupil in their class and I don't like this artist I'm stuck studying it for a half term or even a term. Often, the whole class emerges with the same or similar outcomes which is not only boring, but incredibly unimaginative. Instead of working to the style of the artist, why not try to uncover the deeper meanings behind the way they worked and design a project around that? Instead of everyone doing a Kandinsky style piece of art, why not create responses to music in different ways and look at a range of artists?

Lastly, my other gripe is where pupils blandly copy an artists work in their sketchbooks, write text about them copied from the internet, without really understanding the work or fully relating it to their own ideas. My Primary Factfinder sheet demands greater insight than that!

Art timeline game art art history lesson plan

Art Timeline

Teach the whole history of art in one lesson with a fun game. This is a superb lesson and it should be compulsory in year 7 in  my opinion! Great fun, great learning.

Free to Download

Art factfinder art history lesson plan

Fact Finder

Help to focus your students research on the important areas. Despite the silly image of me, this resource helps focus research into succinct, valid outcomes.

Free to Download

Carravagio art history lesson plan

Body Language

Make stuffy old paintings fun again by interpreting them through body language. Great fun.

Free to Download

 Vermeer art history lesson plan

What are you thinking?

Use freeze frame drama techniques to unravel the meanings behind the masterpieces.

Free to Download

GCSE examination - artist sources

Assessment Objective 1- Develop ideas through investigations, demonstrating critical understanding of sources

The first thing to note about the AQA 2016 version of the art exam specification is the emphasis on the phrase; 'critical understanding of sources'. Nowhere does it say; 'artist links' although the wider specification does state that a good education in art history is essential. The word sources is is important therefore and is explained further in the exam notes:

  • Students need to demonstrate critical understanding of sources, and one of the best ways of demonstrating critical understanding of sources is to show that they have informed ideas and investigations.

What the new specification indicates is that 'sources' are a very flexible term. Not only can a source be a piece of music, a poem, a song or a piece of film, it can be almost anything!

AQA Moderator's Report 2016:  Sources were, in the best instances, integrated within the themes and provided rich stimuli for investigation, exploration, research and analysis. Music, literature, performance, poetry, customs, beliefs, issues and popular culture were all cited as inspirational sources used by students in their Unit 1 submissions.


Now clearly, you're likely to get less marks for using Sponge Bob Square Pants as your source than if you used, say Rembrandt but this emphasis is important. It means that your students are not tied to being inspired by a dull painting from the past, they can use a news item, a political message or a belief to inform their art and this is very exciting!

What I find frustrating is when schools force students to produce pages and pages of 'artist research' that entail spending hours and hours of precious time copying artists work and copying text about their work in the margins. It is a complete waste of time and the moderators agree with me:

AQA Moderator's Report: (there were) fewer examples of downloaded biographies or random collections of printed images seen. Transcriptions of artists’ work were still in evidence, and this did not always show a sense of purpose behind the exercise. Connections with the work of others was frequently seen in lower attaining samples as a close imitation ‘in the style of’ of the selected sources. In higher attaining samples, students were seen to have made connections through their development of ideas and had used their selected sources as a rich stimulus and a springboard towards the creation of exciting, meaningful and personal responses.

So the skill of the art GCSE is not to mimic an artist style or to copy reams and reams of an artists work, but rather to use artists work AND OTHER SOURCES to inform and inspire their own ideas. You have to teach pupils (In Key Stage 3) how to use artist's work to help them solve a variety of problems:

1. When they have a specific problem, such as how to draw hands or faces for example or shade better.

2. How to improve their own technical ability (such as learning processes and techniques).

3. How to find the deeper meanings behind great work to understand it better.

4. To give them ideas and inspiration for their own work (but not copy).


I've tried to create a resource that puts this across as succinctly as I can. I'm not fully confident I've done it right yet, but you can have what I've done for free!

Artist sources

Download my free Pdf on how to use artist sources

Studying art

My Art Teacher's Handbook contains this 'Studying Art' Ebook which has lots of literacy activities for teaching art history and the formal elements.

More Info

Consultancy Service

As an NSEAD registered art consultant, I offer a friendly, professional art consultancy service to schools, from early years right through to Secondary GCSE. I've worked with infant schools to improve art assessment, delivered primary school CPD on skills and progression, worked with Subject Leaders to raise attainment and done whole school, secondary art department audits including formal lesson observations and department reviews. My over-arching strategy is to support the professional development of hard working professionals with positive and constructive advice for improvement.

My consultancy bookings are now being handled by Iain Simper of the Learning Partnership. For enquiries email Iain here


Training Courses

Please follow the link to see my latest CPD teacher training courses. If you can't see any that suits your needs, why don't you arrange for a bespoke in-school service?

Art consultancy art INSET CPD
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