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A Summary of Ofsted's Art Research Review for Teachers and Leaders

These are my notes and a summary of the Art and Design review from the Ofsted Research Review series. Like for the other reviews, I’ve shared my notes in the hope they’re helpful for others and save you some time in making your own notes. They don’t replace reading the review itself, but I hope they might save you some time along the way. Click here to go to the Ofsted Research Review.

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The Purpose of Art and Design

  • Art at its best should be both ‘intellectually challenging and creatively demanding’.

  • Art is both practical and theoretical, informed by studio practices and academic disciplines.

EYFS and Primary

  • High-quality EYFS practice develops children’s interest and imagination, providing the foundations to be successful in the future.

  • The report has found a recent decline in the quantity and quality of art education at primary which may be linked to subject knowledge, a decline in funding, and focus being placed on other subjects.


  • Key Stage 3 is important for a variety of reasons: it can be the last opportunity some pupils have of a formal art education; it is the time to build on foundations laid at primary; and the time for pupils to be taught the breadth and depth of knowledge required for success at KS4.

  • Time is important: limited time for art is unlikely to benefit pupils.

  • There has been a recent decline in both the number of specialist art and design teachers and the number of hours pupils are taught art (between 2010 and 2020).

  • Art and Design is an important qualification for future training and work opportunities within the creative industry which is worth nearly £116 billion to the UK economy.


  • The curriculum should set out how pupils will ‘get better’ at Art.

  • Pupils can develop their practical knowledge of how to create art by learning the methods and techniques used by artists, craft-makers, and designers.

  • Pupils can learn the theoretical knowledge of the tools, materials, and history of the subject.

  • Pupils can learn the disciplinary knowledge of art, such as the ways in which it is judged, valued, and evaluated.

  • Pupils make progress in art when they build all three types of knowledge and make connections between them.

  • The National Curriculum for Art is different to school’s art curricula. The NC sets out the aims of the subject and outlines the content, but the detail and specificity needs to be decided by schools. This means there are several different ways in which a high-quality art curriculum might be achieved, and the report focuses on content which might be included by schools.

  • Schools will also need to decide on the sequencing of content.

  • Due to the lack of detail in the NC, those with responsibility for the curriculum need to consider whether they have enough content in the Art curriculum for it to be ‘cumulatively sufficient’ to be high-quality.

Domains of Knowledge

  • The review suggests three domains of knowledge in art - though there are many other ways and terms used across the literature.

  • The three domains are:

    • practical knowledge - developing technical proficiency

    • theoretical knowledge - cultural and contextual content about artists and artwork

    • disciplinary knowledge - content about how art is studied, discussed, and judged

  • There is no expectation (by Ofsted) for schools to use this terminology. They have been chosen because they link with the aims of the NC and to wider traditions in art education.

  • Knowledge is defined as the ‘curriculum objects’ - the concepts and principles which pupils will acquire through their study of the subject. It is not about memorising disconnected facts.

  • Knowledge can be either productive or receptive.

  • Productive knowledge relates to becoming proficient in the aspects of art or producing art.

  • Receptive knowledge relates to pupils learning about aspects of art.

  • The three domains of knowledge include both productive and receptive knowledge.

Practical Knowledge

  • Practical knowledge develops pupils’ ability to make and create art as it allows them to make choices based on the limits and possibilities of materials and media.

  • The National Curriculum specifies that pupils need to learn about drawing, painting, and sculpture as well as “other art, craft and design techniques”. Schools will include areas of making beyond the three specified.

  • Other areas of making include printmaking, ceramics, creative craft, collage, textiles, photography and lens-based media, installation and site-specific work, digital and new media, and design and graphic design.

  • School leaders will need to make decisions over which of these areas to include in the school curriculum. They should have a ‘sound rationale’ for why they have included the combination they decide upon. This is linked to being sure that the curriculum is ‘cumulatively sufficient’.

  • The curriculum should not be superficial: this requires the different areas of the curriculum to be taught and revisited over time.

  • School leaders need to be clear about which materials, media, and technical terms they want pupils to learn. They will also need to plan for pupils to learn the foundational knowledge for areas of making.

  • Practical knowledge includes the many components of artistic practice and techniques which enables pupils to represent what they envisage.

  • Receptive practical knowledge includes learning the vocabulary and content about the materials and techniques involved in areas of making.

  • Productive practical knowledge includes putting those techniques into practice.

  • There is a tradition in art education that describes ‘tacit knowledge’ which is ‘unspoken’ and developed through forming habits over years of practice. Schools should focus on the many ‘spoken’ components of art education which should be identified for teaching.

  • Ascertaining the component knowledge within areas of making enables pupils to build the required knowledge to be successful in the next stage of their learning. Component knowledge can be learned and practised.

  • Traditional expressions of art do not need to be prioritised. It would be appropriate for leaders and curriculum planners to select content taken from the whole history of art and the different traditions within it. This helps pupils build knowledge and explore creative possibilities.

  • By exploring different traditions around key components of knowledge, the curriculum can be sufficiently broad as well as sufficiently precise for pupils to become proficient.

  • Pupils’ knowledge of concepts in art will be developed by learning about different examples of them. This also helps pupils develop their appreciation of the diversity of art traditions.

Theoretical Knowledge

  • Theoretical knowledge enables pupils to make connections between art’s past, present and future.

  • The National Curriculum specifies that pupils should know about great artists, craft-makers, and designers.

  • Theoretical knowledge includes learning about:

    • meaning and interpretations

    • materials and processes

    • journeys and connections through time

  • The theoretical knowledge puts the practical knowledge into context.

  • This might be an area of the curriculum which is taught less due to a focus on practical skills.

  • For pupils to learn about how humans make and understand art, they need to be taught about how art takes place within cultural, societal, and historical contexts. Not teaching about this can lead to pupils building profoundmisconceptions.

  • A high-quality art curriculum should include enough knowledge for pupils to make sense of artists, artwork, and art traditions.

  • A broad range of curriculum content can prevent pupils from developing simplistic or narrow perspectives of art, artists, and artwork.

  • The sources of theoretical knowledge should come from a wide and diverse base. It should not be limited to a very narrow group of artists and artwork. The curriculum should be designed to reflect the diversity of art from across the globe, including the established, contested, and neglected stories of art.

  • Theoretical knowledge should be carefully planned. It will not just be acquired through learning practical knowledge. Curriculum designers should think carefully about the component knowledge pupils need to make sense of art, to understand that art is a product of human culture, and that human culture affects the art that is made.

  • Theoretical knowledge also helps pupils to develop their practical art-making. An example of this is pupils developing an understanding of how their individual style has been influenced by other artists.

Disciplinary Knowledge

  • Disciplinary knowledge is about the way that art conceives of itself as a discipline.

  • This is a broad knowledge base which includes: how aesthetic judgements are formed and claimed; how art is studied; and how to participate in the discourses of artists, scholars, and critics.

  • It is not bound to specific artworks, media, or areas of making.

  • Disciplinary knowledge is important to develop the understanding that art is ‘fluid and dynamic’. It also develops pupils’ understanding of the big ideas of art which include concepts of quality, value, and purpose.

  • The review does not advocate any specific disciplinary approach. Instead, it emphasises the importance of knowledge that helps pupils to make sense of what the subject of art is and how it came to be.

  • Disciplinary knowledge is related to theoretical knowledge, but it is different. It is not bound to specific ‘ways of making’. Instead, it covers all areas of making and relates to the ‘norms, products, and purposes’ of art.

  • Disciplinary knowledge helps pupils be able to interpret art.

  • Disciplinary content needs to be deliberately included in a high-quality art curriculum. This helps pupils be able to make sense of, interpret and judge the claims and propositions that can be made about art.

  • Pupils need to be taught well-selected and diverse curriculum content to develop knowledge about some of the abstract ideas related to art and discussions about art.

  • Disciplinary knowledge can be a useful planning tool. Grounding the curriculum content in the kinds of questions that artists, critics and scholars ask.

Curriculum Progression

  • Ofsted define progression as being able to know more, remember more and do more.

  • The curriculum should enable this to happen. This means that the curriculum is the progression model.

  • Knowledge should not be understood as disconnected facts; it should be understood in ‘nuanced, subject-specific’ terms.

  • Developing expertise (in the review) means to build sufficient knowledge and skills that could enable pupils to achieve ‘high degrees of specialism and proficiency in art’.

  • The curriculum should be designed so that content is sequenced to bring about qualitative change in pupils and to help them achieve the subject-specific goals of the curriculum.

  • In a high-quality art curriculum, content is selected and sequenced so that pupils build on what they already know and are prepared to learn content in the future.

  • A breadth of knowledge is needed to make sense of new content and engage in new ideas.

  • Sequencing applies at many levels: within lessons, across a teaching sequence, and across key stages.

  • However, a curriculum is organised (e.g. some curricula are based on themes), it should ensure pupils gain a sufficient combination of practical, theoretical, and disciplinary knowledge to achieve the curriculum goals.

Convergence and Divergence in the Curriculum

  • As art involves pupils creating original responses, the end points can be understood as being either ‘convergent’ or ‘divergent’.

  • Convergent outcomes are more prescribed outcomes so that pupils learn a specific curriculum object. For example, practising mixing secondary and tertiary colours. This includes learning ‘about’ and ‘with’ art.

  • Divergent outcomes are less prescribed outcomes which are diverse and radically different from others. For example, producing work where a range of different techniques could be applied. This includes learning ‘in’ and ‘through’ art.

  • Subject leaders may need to be clear about the type of goal the curriculum is aiming towards. They will need to decide on the content needed to achieve both convergent and divergent outcomes.


  • Practice is a vital component for pupils to achieve the goals of a curriculum.

  • The curriculum should be planned so that opportunities for practice are ‘built in’.

  • The curriculum should be structured so that it is sequenced for practice. This goes beyond sequencing individual schemes of work. It means that there should be regular opportunities to work with related content so that they can learn the content in the long term. This might include returning to previously taught media and layering on knowledge so that pupils also practise techniques which they have previously learned.

  • School leaders should consider how pupils can re-encounter curriculum components in different contexts so that they have the time and instruction to practise and master content.


  • The casual definition of ‘creativity’ is unhelpfully broad to be used when determining curriculum content and pedagogy.

  • A useful definition with art is the central idea that ‘pupils can make creative contributions in art, craft and design if their knowledge and skills in a particular area are sufficiently developed’.

  • When considering creativity as part of a high-level outcome or disposition which is developed as a consequence of the curriculum, it is useful to think of it as a product of the range and depth of knowledge obtained.

  • It is more useful to think of ‘creativity’ in subject-specific terms.


  • Pedagogy includes the teaching methods, approaches, and means of teaching art and design.

  • Pupils’ learning experiences should have real educative value which goes beyond being engaging or interesting.

  • One effective approach when considering pedagogy is to make choices which follow from the curriculum content teachers want pupils to learn.

Pedagogy: Practical Knowledge

  • Pupils need sufficient amounts of practice ‘in the moment’ of learning the content, as well as across sequences of learning.

  • Purposeful, deliberate practice of techniques can help pupils reach the level of motor automaticity they need.

  • Pupils benefit from activities which do not vary much when they are being introduced to techniques for the first time.

  • Activities which isolate techniques are especially important in the early stages of learning. Too many aspects being introduced at once can lead to cognitive overload.

  • Varied practice can become more useful as pupils get better at techniques over time. The variation in practice helps pupils build a broad schema. This leads to ‘building more rounded, deep and durable learning’. Teachers should use pedagogical activities which reflects pupils’ expertise.

Pedagogy: Theoretical Knowledge

  • Teachers need to be clear about what they want pupils to learn as this knowledge base is vast, abstract, and nuanced.

  • Teachers should consider which approaches will focus pupils’ attention on the ideas, concepts, and principles they want pupils to learn. The direction of pupil attention is really important.

Pedagogy: Disciplinary Knowledge

  • One effective approach when considering pedagogy is to make choices which follow from the curriculum content teachers want pupils to learn.

  • Pupils need secure knowledge of sufficient concrete examples to be able to develop their understanding of more abstract concepts of disciplinary knowledge.

  • Teachers should be clear about the concrete examples they want children to draw upon when teaching disciplinary knowledge. It is likely these will have been previously taught.

  • Pupils will need the necessary knowledge required to understand ideas of disciplinary knowledge which they might develop through visiting art galleries and exhibitions and when speaking to practising artists, designers, and craft-makers.


  • It is not appropriate to adopt a single approach to SEND in the art classroom.

  • It is important that the curriculum be ambitious for all pupils.

  • The specified end points of the national curriculum apply to all children; pupils with the most complex needs might require that the curricular goals be adapted for them.

  • Pupils with SEND generally do not benefit from differentiated teaching, activities, or resources to achieve a curriculum goal.

  • Targeted teaching is different to differentiation: it can enable teachers to break down or reinforce aspects of the curriculum. This might mean that some pupils practise different components of the curriculum when studying the same content areas.

  • Theories of cognitive load are important for teachers to consider when working with pupils with SEND. Cognitive overload inhibits pupils’ ability to retain knowledge and develop schemas. Isolating the important aspects of a piece of work is a useful way for teachers to structure learning.

  • Expectations for pupils with SEND should not be unnecessarily lowered. When introducing pupils to the work of artists, it can be useful to start with identifiable subject matter so that pupils have more chance of making sense of the artwork. This means that SEND pupils are being enabled to study the same artists as their peers.

  • Teachers should think carefully about which teaching approaches and activities are both subject-specific and will enable all pupils - including pupils with SEND - to learn and to remember what they have been taught in the long term.

  • Leaders might consider including the study of artists who might be considered ‘disabled’ so that pupils have a range of positive role models.


  • High-quality assessment uses different types of assessment for different purposes.

  • The validity of assessments rests on teachers’ clarity about what they are assessing and why they are assessing it.

  • Effective assessment uses various forms of information (products) and provides feedback to pupils during the process.

  • The nature of art and design presents unique challenges for assessment.

  • It is important for teachers to design assessments which are sensitive to the nature of the subject but also remain valid and reliable.

Formative Assessment

  • Formative assessment plays an important role in providing feedback to both pupils and teachers. It can help support improvement in the immediate task.

  • Formative assessment needs to be able to check that pupils have learned the component knowledge intended for them. There are a variety of ways that this might occur depending on the nature of the content being assessed.

  • Assessing practical knowledge does not need to be limited to the final piece which pupils produce. Rather, it can be sourced from pupils’ notes, sketchbooks, portfolios, observations, and pupil talk. Aggregating insights from a range of sources can help teachers make better inferences about what pupils have learned.

Summative Assessment

  • The broad purpose of summative assessment is to determine how well pupils have learned what teachers have planned for them to learn. Pupils make progress when they have learned the expanding domain of the curriculum.

  • Summative assessment needs to be able to determine how well pupils have learned and remembered the different strands of knowledge (practical, theoretical, and disciplinary) over time.

  • Final pieces can be used for summative assessment, but teachers must be clear about what is being assessed.

  • Simple assessment tasks, such as multiple-choice quizzes, can be useful to assess isolated aspects of pupils’ knowledge. These approaches may be too blunt to assess more complex knowledge.

  • Summative assessments should take place at sufficiently long intervals to allow time for enough curriculum content to be taught and learned.

Systems, Culture and Policies

  • School systems and policies can have a negative effect on art and design education if its subject specific aspects are not considered.

  • Whole-school teaching strategies or approaches to assessment are likely to be too generic to fully capture the forms of knowledge included in the art and design curriculum.

  • The approaches from core subjects can be incompatible or less compatible with the forms of progress in art and design.

  • Leaders should make sure that policies are adapted to specific subjects.

  • Leaders should ensure that sufficient and adequate time is attributed to art and design. Lengthier blocks of time can help counter the time required for housekeeping activities such as cleaning and organising.

  • Sequencing the curriculum to help pupils make links between different subject areas can be a useful way to develop the contextual knowledge pupils need to make sense of art. For example, introducing the context in subjects such as mathematics, RE and history.

  • It is not acceptable to remove art from the timetabled curriculum and offer it only as an extra-curricular club. This does not lead to providing opportunity for all.

  • Teachers should be supported to develop their subject content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge. Lacking this knowledge inhibits teachers’ ability to provide a rich, subject-specific curriculum.

  • Primary teachers often have low confidence around teaching art.


A Summary of Ofsted's Art Research Report
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