International Journal of Art & Design Education

School Art – What’s in it?

Volume 24.3   2005



In 2003/4 NFER undertook a study of the content of the art curriculum in secondary schools in England on behalf of the Arts Council England (ACE) and Tate Galleries. In 18 schools, eight of which were identified as engaged with contemporary art practice (referred to throughout the article as the CAP schools), 54 art teachers were asked to describe the content of their most recently completed art module. ‘Content’ was taken as: the media and materials in which pupils worked; the artistic and cultural references used to support the teaching; the skills taught; and the thinking processes used. They were also questioned about the factors that influenced their choice of curriculum content and the aims that guided their choice of content. Most of the teachers (excluding the heads of department) were asked which of a set of six art images they would include in their teaching, and the reasons for their decisions. Teachers in the CAP schools were also asked to explain why they chose to include contemporary art. The findings revealed substantial differences between the two cohorts of schools, not all of which were related to the inclusion of contemporary art practice. A preoccupation with the teaching of skills was more apparent in the randomly selected schools, which also drew very heavily on the early twentieth century for their artistic references. Unsurprisingly, the CAP schools drew heavily on contemporary references, but included many from other periods, cited twice as many references overall, and had a generally more eclectic view of the purposes of teaching art.