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Secondary Curriculum Planning

Planning an art & design curriculum isn't easy. That's because, even among art education experts, there is no agreement on how best it should be taught. It is also extremely complicated because the same principles of making art apply from the very youngest pupils to the oldest. This guide will hopefully help you understand how to design your own units of work at any educational phase. Download the guide here

Art & Design Curriculum graphic image

Art & Design Curriculum Content

Your curriculum content should deliver FOUR broad areas of art education over time: 


1. Theoretical Knowledge

  • Embed facts & info about a range of contemporary, modern & traditional artists, designers, craftspeople

  • Learn about style, purpose, meaning, function of art, Formal Elements

  • Learn theoretical facts and information about art materials, processes & techniques

  •  Content should be diverse, inclusive, and anti-ableist.

  • Western, Non-Western, Local


2. Practical Knowledge (Skills)

  • Drawing, Painting, Sculpture, and others where possible

  • Skills should be sequential, building on prior knowledge

  • Use of sketchbooks

  • Opportunities to practice & time for mastery

  • Support & extend where appropriate

  • Theoretical aspects of practical knowledge.


3. Creativity

  • Ideas, Imagine, Invent

  • Design, Problem Solve

  • Open-ended tasks (divergent)

  • Closed tasks (convergent)

  • Opportunities for choice of:

  • Materials

  • Direction/Outcome

  • Artist sources

  • Provide experiences via:

•           Experimenting

•           Exploring

•           Play

  • Observational work

  • Collaboration/group/pair/solo


4. Reflection

  • Thoughts, ideas, and opinions about own & others’ work

  • Metacognition - Thinking skills, evaluation

  • Can be oral or written

  • Is often evidenced through annotated notes in sketchbooks

  • Might be a final written evaluation at the end of a project

  • Is developed through ongoing dialogue between teachers, peers, self

  • Formative assessment feeds into the reflection process & informs future actions

Planning Art & Design Projects

We usually teach our four curriculum areas via art projects. Projects often last a half term or even a term. Projects will comprise of learning stages:

Stimulus - Artists - Creativity - Practical Skills/Activities.


These link to Curriculum Content coverage. By altering the order in which we teach these, we can emphasise different curriculum approaches.

A - Stimulus

These are project themes, interesting objects, images, art, film, visits, books/texts, observational study, a design brief, news stories, world events

B - Artist Sources (theoretical)

Projects should incorporate knowledge about Art, Craft, Design. Artists, Style, Function, Purpose, Meaning, Formal Elements.

C - Creativity

We should teach pupils how to develop Ideas, Imagine, and Invent. Also, to design, and problem solve. We do this by providing a choice of materials, artists, and possible directions. by experimenting, exploring, play. 

D - Practical/Activities

There should be guided instruction on how to develop Skills, Making, Drawing/Painting/Sculpture, etc. We learn skills as an ongoing process & by working toward predetermined outcomes.

However, we don't have to teach these learning stages in the same order for every project. By re-arranging them, or by emphasising one or more over others, we can create different types of art projects that highlight different learning objectives. For example, by leading with an artist source, we can create a knowledge-rich project. By leading with skill, we can create a skills-led project, and by leading with creative play, we create an exploratory, experimental project. 

Art Curriculum project planning

Art & Design Teaching & Learning Considerations

The projects and activities we design must take a range of complex teaching & learning factors into consideration. These are either prior considerations that affect the type, length, or complexity of an activity; or they are part of ongoing classroom practice, or they are summative activities we do after the principal learning has taken place. These factors are critical considerations to help you create high-quality learning experiences. 



•           Formative and Summative

•           Clear learning objectives

•           Success criteria shared

•           Measure individual progress toward learning objectives and endpoints

•           Ownership and awareness of own development 

•           Opportunities to reflect on learning and then correct, develop & improve

•           Critiques are used to consolidate learning & motivate


Adaptive Teaching

•           Understanding the needs of pupils: SEND, EAL, HLP

•           Knowing prior attainment/ability

•           Setting high expectations

•           Supporting pupils with literacy

•           Clear direction and focus for the learning

•           Awareness of relevant disciplinary/component knowledge 

•           Linking to prior & future learning

•           Awareness of Cognitive Load Theory to ‘chunk’ information

•           Use of different types of instruction - teacher-led, pupil-directed 



•           Thoughts, ideas, and opinions about own & others’ work

•           Metacognition - Thinking skills, evaluation

•           Can be oral or written

•           Is often evidenced through annotated notes in sketchbooks

•           Might be a final written evaluation at the end of a project

•           Is developed through ongoing dialogue between teachers, peers, self

•           Formative assessment feeds into the reflection process & informs future actions

Teaching & Learning considerations lists

Art & Design Project Planning

You've now got the essential ingredients to create a Project Plan or Unit of Work. The projects you plan should motivate the pupils and be rich in knowledge, learning, and creative potential. You will probably combine different learning experiences within the same project. Usually, you’ll lead with explicit instruction of teacher-led knowledge and skills, then provide creative opportunities to implement them. Keep it simple if you aren’t experienced at planning and learn from other examples.

1. Establish the length of the activity

How long have you got for the project? How many hours in total/each week?

2. Outline what the learning should be - linked to the curriculum progression map

What do you want pupils to know/be able to do? What experiences will they have? How does it link to prior learning & current needs?

3. Decide basic content: Theme, Artists, Area of Practical Activity (drawing, painting, sculpture etc.)

Roughly work out what the main content will be and what theme it will have. 

4. Divide the time available into learning stages (A, B, C, D)

Now begin writing the learning stages in more depth, thinking about the order you want to teach it in and the approach you want to take- teacher-led, or more self-determined for example.

5. Adapt the learning - build in assessment, reflection opportunities, SEND etc.

It takes some expertise to know how to embed support for SEND, Higher Learning Potential, literacy support and how and when to assess for example. You should always be thinking about how you will support students to achieve the learning you are planning, and also how you might extend the same activity. Make sure each learning stage has clear success criteria so that pupils know how to achieve it.

Planning art curriculum tool

Sample Planning

Here's an example of a Unit of Work I've planned called Me In a Box (download):

  • Outline of Activity - this is a simple outline overview that might link to the Long-Term Plan

  • Main Learning Objectives - these describe what learners should know and do after completing the unit

  • Progression - this is taken directly from the curriculum progression map and makes it clear how the curriculum is being covered. You should ensure that the unit of work is specifically addressing this knowledge. It should be sequenced, build on prior knowledge, and be appropriate for their age. 

  • Assessment - this indicates the success criteria for the learning stage. It should make it explicit what the teacher is looking for.

  • The Knowledge & Skills sets out what pupils will know and do. This should link to the progression of skills above but be more descriptive & pragmatic. 

  • Creative Activity - this is a description of the activity the pupils will do. It should be stimulating and engaging and relevant and appropriate for the age and ability of the pupils

‎curriculum planning Secondary lesson plan
‎curriculum planning Secondary lesson plan


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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