Visual arts specialism: a case study of its effect on pupils' learning and the curriculum in two schools.
University of Wales Institute, Cardiff.
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Specialist schools are now the majority in England, 95% of all maintained schools are operational specialist schools. Much of the current research about the specialist programme is focused on results and value added. However, this study sought to gain an insight into teaching and learning across key stages 3 and 4 rather than attainment results and to draw conclusions about whole school effects. Sharp and Le Métais (2000, pii) suggest that the arts are universally considered to be indispensable to a well rounded education. If the arts, in particular the visual arts, are embedded in the culture and curriculum of a school and the art department is allowed to develop to its full potential, pupils' learning should be positively affected. Two visual arts specialist schools participated in the study and information was gathered about the views and perspectives of pupils and teachers regarding learning, the curriculum across the school and the choice of specialism. This study found that staff and pupils felt that pupils' learning is affected to some extent. Learning within art in these schools is strong due to large departments and extra equipment and facilities funded by the specialism. Visual learning was encouraged in both schools across subjects resulting in a perceived benefit to pupils through improved teaching and learning. Currently the specialism does not have a substantial effect on the whole school curriculum in either school; both schools, however, were in the process of developing a new curriculum. A number of reasons emerged for schools applying for a visual arts specialism; these included building on the strength of the art department, a need to improve teaching and the funding available from gaining the specialism. Further research is necessary to better identify the relative effects of increased funding versus the character of a visual arts specialism on improvements in teaching and learning and the curriculum.
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