google-site-verification: google61ac2516f06d33bc.html
top of page

FREE Secondary, High School art, craft & design curriculum advice 

What is a high-quality art education?

In February 2023, Ofsted published its latest Research Review into factors that contribute to high-quality art education in art and design. The report is part of a series of research reviews, each identifying factors which can contribute to high-quality curriculum content, assessment, pedagogy and systems in the subject. In this review, Ofsted have made very clear statements about what they believe works best in schools, so it’s useful to understand how they have reached these conclusions. Now to be clear, I don't think either Ofsted or the DfE are in the best position to say what a high-quality art education is, but unless you are completely confident that you have a superior approach and want to do your own thing, then their standards dictate what must be taught. 


Ofsted’s two-year research study

In order to understand the latest Ofsted Research Review, we need to go back to their earlier curriculum investigations. In 2017, Amanda Spielman commissioned a major, 2-year Ofsted research study into the curriculum, to ensure that Ofsted’s inspections of the quality of education were valid and reliable. It concluded that purely knowledge-led approaches that teach disconnected facts, led to pupils having an unsatisfactory understanding of what they were being taught. Also, that purely skills-led teaching often resulted in a lack of coherence and undefined outcomes. What was more successful, in their opinion, was when curriculum leaders understood how developing pupils’ subject-specific knowledge, coupled with clear progression, assessment and acquisition of skills, enhanced their learning. 

In secondary, the whole team should contribute to curriculum content, but the old days of each specialist art teacher having the freedom to implement units of work in their own way, to their own strengths, are gone. While this flexibility was great in some ways, not least of all because it stopped the curriculum from becoming boring for the teachers; it resulted in incoherent progression and development. 


Implications of the research

Ofsted’s Research Review explicitly states that they don’t have a preference of teaching style. Neither do they favour a particular pedagogical method of administering your curriculum. Nor do they, or the national curriculum, specify what curriculum content you should teach. So, if you prefer a creative curriculum approach over a knowledge-led approach that’s fine, so long as they can see evidence of what the children are learning and how they are retaining and using it. 

That’s because for them, learning is defined as acquiring powerful curriculum knowledge that is properly sequenced, assessed, and embedded. In short, what pupils will know and can do when they leave. So long as you can justify what you believe is the powerful knowledge for your curriculum and your pupils, and you can show clear progression in how they acquire it, you have the autonomy to do that.

The continual problem is that the National Curriculum has not stated exactly what this powerful curriculum knowledge is, it’s too vague, and so we don’t have any agreement on what high-quality art and design curriculum content knowledge should be. But let’s briefly look at what has been decided about art and design curriculums.


What is Powerful Art & Design Knowledge?

The formation of the National Curriculum in the late eighties used the highly influential report; ‘The Arts in Schools’ originally written in 1982 and reprinted in 1989 as the basis for the art curriculum. There was a highlighted need to deliver art for participation, theory, and appreciation and a strong value placed on the need to teach creativity. The person responsible for writing the original final draft and the subsequent rewrite was none other than Sir Ken Robinson, then just humble Dr. Ken Robinson! But what became the basis for the UK art curriculum was; ‘the growing recognition of the importance of the arts in providing a broad, balanced and relevant curriculum which addresses young people's individual aptitudes and abilities.’ 


Incredibly, at the very heart of the report is the drive to have the arts included in the curriculum and further, to have art taught as more than just a specialist subject for those wishing to pursue art as a career, and to challenge the widely held notion that art lay outside of an academic curriculum. Isn’t it frightening that forty years later and nothing has changed? 


If we look then, at all the significant recommendations for a high-quality curriculum containing Powerful Knowledge in art and design we can see that:

  • The National Curriculum has four Aims which broadly relate to: Knowledge, Skills, Creativity & Evaluating using subject language. (These haven't changed much since the curriculum was first implemented in 1989.)

  • NSEAD National Society for Education in Art and Design outline four curriculum domains that link to the National Curriculum: Making Skills, Generating Ideas, Knowledge & Evaluation. 

  • Ofsted’s new Research Review outlines: Practical, Theoretical & Disciplinary Knowledge.  


By expanding on their recommendations and by utilising the content of both existing and previous curriculums we get an outline of Powerful Knowledge in art:

  • 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. 



Components of a high-quality art & design curriculum

Now we have a better understanding of what knowledge a high-quality art & design curriculum should contain. However, as always, education is complicated. Going back to their latest subject Research Review 2023, Ofsted outline some other aspects of high-quality curriculums that they think are important. They are:

  • Practice is vital if pupils are to achieve the goals of the curriculum. 

  • The curriculum should include different ways of making to provide an understanding of art and design.

  • It should have depth and not be too broad as to lack substance.

  • Pupils should learn about different methods, techniques & styles of making art

  • There should be an overview of art development through time, place & cultures

  • The curriculum should address the big ideas and deeper meanings in art, craft & design

  • Components of knowledge and skills should be sequenced & build toward complex endpoints

  • Content should have both convergent & divergent goals

  • High-quality curriculums build on what pupils already know and prepare them for what is to come.


When it comes to the pedagogical approaches you’ll need to teach your curriculum content, they advocate; 

  • Classroom activities that are clear about what is to be learned

  • When pupils learn techniques for the first time, teachers make sure they have enough opportunities to practice crucial components of these techniques

  • Teaching approaches take account of pupils’ level of expertise

  • Teachers direct pupils’ attention to the concepts, themes and ideas that they are exploring

  • As pupils become more proficient, classroom activities become increasingly varied and open-ended

  • When learning in other locations, such as galleries, pupils have enough prior knowledge to make these experiences meaningful

  • Teachers make subject-specific adaptations to activities for pupils with SEND, where appropriate, instead of excessive adaptations to the curriculum or lowering expectations.



Now, I don’t think these expectations are too extraneous for subject specialists, but it’s difficult to blend them into exciting, stimulating, rewarding learning experiences. This takes enormous skill and expertise. Over the following pages, I’ll take you through some detailed advice on how you might do that. 

Pyramid Progression model 

Taking Ofsted's research findings into account then, and building on the research of expert education psychologists such as Professor Anna Kindler, we can devise a robust, evidence-based progression model for the subject. This model is a pyramid model (kindlers was an open prism, I've added reflection at the top as a way of focussing art development). To teach art and design, deliver SKILLS & KNOWLEDGE through CREATIVE projects that improve pupils' own PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT over time. 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 in art and design


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.’ 

bottom of page