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Primary Key Stage 1 & 2 Art & Design Progression

Progression in art and design is an enormously difficult and complex process that has been widely studied and researched for over a hundred years. This webpage attempts to set out how you might do it.


To summarise progression:

  1. You need to identify pupils' individual starting points in key art areas of skills, knowledge, and creativity. 

  2. List the skills you will teach year on year so that they gradually increase in difficulty over time and provide opportunities for pupils to learn and properly embed them.

  3. Outline a map of the essential knowledge you want pupils to know and remember year on year. This should not only be the names and factual details of art and artists, but also the meanings behind why they made the art and how it connects to other art. 

  4. Stimulate creative growth, imagination, applying visual language, exploration, and inquisitiveness through the construction of projects and activities that nurture personal choice. 

  5. Measure the progress children are making through simple assessment metrics embedded into positive, but constructive dialogue. 

  6. Identify endpoints in your curriculum - learning goals, attitudes, and behaviours that pupils will demonstrate at key times. 


To teach art and design, deliver SKILLS & KNOWLEDGE through CREATIVE projects that improve pupils' own PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT over time. 

First, audit your current art and design provision

If you want to maximise the progress pupils are making in art and design you must first analyse your schools current provision, and that means evaluating the expertise your school has for teaching the subject, the resources you have and the time you allocate for the subject in the curriculum. 

At a national level, art education in the primary phase is often taught for an hour or less per week over a school year, sometimes in a carousel with DT and often pushed down, or off the timetable due to pressures of attaining high standards in core subjects. 

Resources for making art can be expensive and schools that are struggling to maintain a budget will invariably try to save money by cutting spending on expensive art materials such as ceramics, textiles and printmaking. 

The subject is often led by newly qualified teachers, often with little or no experience of teaching art, and most primary classroom teachers I work with are less than confident art practitioners and even less confident teachers of art. When you see Facebook posts of schools with amazing art they have nearly always have high expertise coupled with lots of time and money for art.


NEW Drawing skills progression produced in conjunction with Hannah Davies St Mary’s & St Peters Primary School Teddington

What does the National Curriculum say about progression?

If we analyse progression in the National Curriculum for art and design we see it is very poor. We can simplify the four aims of the curriculum into; producing creative ideas for art, skills proficiency, knowledge of art and artists and evaluating and analysing art, and when we do this we see there is no continuity, no sequential progression and few ‘threads’ of sustained development over key stages. For example:

  • Design and make, central to the ‘design’ element of our subject, is only mentioned in key stage 1 then never again.

  • The same thing applies for the formal elements of colour, line, tone, shape etc. which are in key stage 1, but not again after that. 

  • There is no mention of evaluating and analysing art in key stage 2, but it is mentioned in key stages one and three.

  • Other important aspects of the subject such as ‘develop creative ideas’ and ‘history of art’ are simply stated that they must be taught with no indication of how it is to be done. 

Screenshot 2021-12-20 at 10.29.39.png

What do OFSTED say about progression?

Despite the total lack of continuity and clarity from the DfE, Ofsted are demanding more and more; giving schools ever higher targets. The latest School Inspection Framework September 2021 effectively states that school leaders will be evaluated on their ability to deliver curriculum content that has been identified as appropriate for their school, and that cumulatively and sequentially works towards clear end points that are rich in knowledge and skills. 

However, as we have seen, there is no indication in the national curriculum of what the essential knowledge and skills in art and design are or how best to sequence them. This has resulted in schools the length and breadth of England in a state of panic. They do not have the expertise to construct and deliver a complex curriculum such as art and design. Subject leads in art are often recent, or newly qualified teachers and they are being expected to take on a role that I find challenging after forty years of doing it as a full-time expert. It is really quite shocking. 

Define your art pedagogy

There are a few (contradictory) ways of teaching art that have existed for decades side by side:

  1. Traditional - where art is valued where it possesses a higher level of technical skill than can be achieved by the average person. Higher technical skills and greater knowledge are the principal objectives of the curriculum. Creativity can only come from knowing more and being able to do more. This is very much what the DfE and Ofsted’s current (as of 2021) ethos is.

  2. Contemporary - creativity is inherent in all of us and should be nurtured. Art has a loose definition, everything is valued. Knowledge and skills are important, but conceptual ideas are a skill also. Art is inclusive and pupils cumulatively develop preferred ways of working.

  3. Abstract - derives from the idea that art can never truly represent forms accurately; we are always depicting, identifying, and drawing out our own versions of reality. Art is centered on the formal elements and representing emotions and pure form, rather than an accurate representation. 


If you cannot cover all art disciplines adequately (and most schools can’t), you might stipulate in your planning what these experiences are & what they should learn, but clearly indicate that you are providing an experience of these activities, to broaden the educational outlook of the pupils, without necessarily focussing on them as a key long term objective. Explain how these experiences fit into your whole curriculum intent objectives, perhaps: to provide pupils with a broad range of experiences of art they can utilise, or develop in later life. 

This then becomes part of your pedagogical approach; ‘At our school, we take contemporary/traditional approach to art and design education where we give pupils the knowledge, skills, and confidence to express their artistic thoughts and ideas creatively and imaginatively. Key areas of drawing, painting and ______ are taught sequentially and robustly from Reception to Year 6. However, since we do not have the curriculum time to deliver the full spectrum of art and design properly, we provide stimulating curriculum experiences in a range of other art skills throughout the curriculum at various times.’

Natural Progression in art

Children will make progress in art even if you don't teach them anything at all. This is because as we grow we become more dextrous and our fine motor skills increase. It is important to understand the long history of research into child development in art. Progression in art has been a subject of psychologists and artists for at least a hundred years or more. For the first half of the 20th century, psychologists focussed on how the cognitive growth and development of the human mind can be explained through drawing. 


Pictorial development – the Stages model 

In the first half of the 20th Century, children’s drawings were studied for their illumination of the development of the minds of children, from a ‘primitive’ state to intellectual enlightenment. Many studies were undertaken by psychologists and thinkers such as John Dewey, Kerschensteiner, Luquet, Lowenfeld and Piaget. A sequenced progression model of pictorial development was outlined and broadly followed a series of stages in human development from a scribble stage in babies up to a dawning realism around the age of ten years. In this final stage, most people get ‘stuck’ and feel unable to grasp the skills they ‘need’ to be artists.


Aesthetic development: U-Curve model

In the 90’s, Howard Gardner, Jessica Davis & Ellen Winner took a more aesthetic approach to artistic development. They used a set of criteria to determine the quality of artistic production of self-portraits that were assessed by expert judges based on an aesthetic value system corresponding to the modernist artistic heritage. 


Extensive research by Davis discovered that aesthetic aspects of art progressed in a U-curve, where children aged around 5 years had high levels of aesthetic attainment, similar to those of professional artists. They also found that attainment dipped considerably until the age of eleven, where it plateaued for most, but accelerated for a talented minority who gained greater artistic capacity. Their research argues that artistic development does not proceed in a linear fashion and it does not necessarily involve improvement over time.


Kindler’s systems model 

In the 1990’s and 2000’s, Professor Anna Kindler proposed an alternative theory of artistic development based on rigorous studies of a wide range of contemporary Chinese artists who worked in traditional, sculptural and contemporary forms. She identified three dimensions of artistic development:

  • Visual imagination/sensitivity – the ability to carefully and imaginatively attend to the natural and human made environment is foundational to creative performance in visual arts, no matter what form it may take.

  • Understanding of the pictorial medium/technical proficiency – not in any specific artistic style (realism, expressionism, etc.) but rather development in any pictorial repertoire.

  • Cognitive discernment/artistic thinking – the ability to discern between the trivial and the extraordinary, to understand deeper meanings behind art.​

Pyramid Progression model 

To teach art and design, deliver SKILLS & KNOWLEDGE through CREATIVE projects that improve pupils' own PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT over time. 


Progression can’t be measured on a 2D graph because there are multiple facets to it. With the risk of confusing everyone further, I think it is actually four-dimensional, where the fourth dimension is progression over time. I know this might sound baffling, but it isn’t. It’s quite simple really. Honest. These are my four dimensions of progression in art, based on Professor Anna Kindler’s work on this subject:


  1. Technical proficiency of skills - in multiple, self-selected pictorial repertoires, not only ones selected by a teacher as being the most appropriate. 

  2. Understanding and applying knowledge - for both artistic intentions and in it's own right as critical enjoyment. All knowledge taught relates to a bigger key concept that underpins a deeper understanding of the subject. 

  3. Creativity - a series of activities, exercises, and projects that develop the ability to think and act with purpose and originality. These are the activities and lessons that you teach, the alchemy of art practice. 

  4. Personal development - the growth of the reflective, thinking artist. This develops and grows over lifetimes, not key stages, but the journey begins here. Educational stages (or years) should regularly check this progress and report back to students on their progress.

In my model, children develop their knowledge & skills in tandem with learning how to creatively express them. In this way, personal development is made and pupils should be fully aware and take ownership of, this development through critical self-evaluation and discussion. 

Pyramid Progression.PNG

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


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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?

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