How to design an outstanding primary art and design curriculum

Art & Design


13th August 2021

How to design an outstanding primary art and design curriculum
How to design an outstanding primary art and design curriculum

Have you been tasked with designing or updating your primary school’s art curriculum? Even for an experienced art subject leader, it can be an intimidating job with much to consider. How will you meet Ofsted’s requirement for well-sequenced, knowledge-rich content? How will you provide children with diverse, creative experiences? And how will teachers fit it all in?

At Cornerstones, we’ve been through the process ourselves over the past year and launch a primary art and design scheme this autumn, which forms part of our sequenced, interconnected and knowledge-rich curriculum.

We asked its author, Curriculum Director and experienced Art Adviser, Melanie Moore, to share the process behind creating an outstanding art curriculum. Whether you’re going to commit to designing your own or choose a published art scheme, these tips will help you make it a masterpiece.

How should you start to create your scheme?

The first thing to do when creating any subject scheme is to define its core principles and intentions. These may tie into the overall aims of your school curriculum, but you’ll also need to articulate any specific subject aims. For example, two of the main aims for our scheme are to build children’s artistic knowledge and to develop children’s creative competencies.

It’s also important to be clear how your chosen pedagogy helps to both structure and support your scheme. At Cornerstones, we base all our teaching on the four stages of our pedagogy, Engage, Develop, Innovate and Express. These clear teaching stages work very well for art but also enable the subject to be taught in a consistent and harmonious fashion alongside other curriculum subjects.

Once you’ve defined your scheme intentions, principles, and pedagogy, it will be much easier to plan and implement.

What about subject knowledge?

Of course, having good subject knowledge will make creating your scheme much easier than if you lack confidence in the subject. Professional development for creative subjects like art has been sadly lacking for as long as a decade, as other subjects take priority. However, as a subject leader, you will need to equip yourself with good knowledge of the subject so that you can write a scheme with the correct content and sequencing.

You’ll also need to be confident enough in your subject to support other staff with their delivery and be able to answer any questions you’re asked by colleagues or external auditors. If you can’t find any subject-specific CPD, it’s worth investing in subject books and carrying out your own research to read up on the specific disciplines of the subject. I’ve always found it extremely useful to try out techniques and activities before including them in my schemes, to make sure they work well in the classroom. National galleries and other online platforms such as YouTube offer some excellent professional development materials and opportunities. See ArtJohn for some brilliant ‘how to’ style videos.

How do I plan my subject framework?

A clear and well-structured framework will provide a strong foundation for your scheme. You should begin by breaking down the programmes of study into the larger concepts you want to include in your scheme. When you’ve identified these, you can then break these down further into the smaller component parts, which form the skills and knowledge that will be taught in your curriculum.

For example, when writing our curriculum, we broke down the art and design programmes of study into key concepts, strands and aspects and mapped these across the year groups. Then, we broke these down into smaller knowledge and skills objectives to form a progression framework from Nursery to Year 6.

An important part of this work is considering the sequencing of knowledge and skills. It’s no good expecting children to paint realistic landscapes if they haven’t learnt the basic colour theory and mixing skills first, for example. As you can imagine, planning this overview of skills and knowledge development and identifying where children will apply, refine, and revisit them is a highly complex task to do.

Finally, it’s much more effective if this process can be done alongside the development of other subject schemes. Opportunities for rich interconnections are then maximised and sequenced effectively alongside other subjects with similar concepts.

How do I plan for delivery of the curriculum?

With a clearly sequenced progression framework in place, you now need to consider how it will be implemented. Most schools take a thematic approach, organising their content into art-based topics such as colour or Still-Life. When creating our scheme, we organised the content into subject-specific projects, which build progressively over time. For example, the art of figure drawing is introduced and revisited many times across the curriculum through a number of different human form-based projects.

In terms of lesson plans, it’s up to you whether you provide these or not, but most staff will welcome some degree of support to help them to implement the scheme well. A lesson brief or lesson plan is incredibly useful, especially for the non-specialist teacher. In our curriculum, not only is the scheme organised into projects, but each project has a sequence of well-written lesson plans to help staff know what to teach and how to teach it. As mentioned before, lessons have been trialled so any pitfalls that could possibly occur have already been addressed in the planning.

It’s also worth considering how art content can support or enhance other subjects in your curriculum. In our curriculum, we make the most of interconnections between subjects. For example, the project Taotie is taught alongside the history project, Dynamic Dynasties and enriches children’s historical and cultural knowledge of the Shang dynasty.

What about resources?

In my opinion, resources can make or break a curriculum. Never underestimate the power of a good resource. If you are writing your own curriculum, you’ll need to consider how the resources you curate will specifically support your scheme’s objectives and how they well they fit with the intention of your lessons.

Practical resources should be of high quality, but they don’t need to be overly expensive. Sketchbooks are one the most effective ways to encourage and assess children’s drawing skills throughout school, for instance. Video is a wonderful way to demonstrate art techniques and introduce children to artworks across the world. Draw upon your locality for diverse resources, such as galleries, art centres, artists or art educators. Resources that are well-researched and well-written also support teachers, which is why we’ve included demo videos, knowledge organisers and instruction sheets with our curriculum.

How do I fit everything into the timetable?

It’s hard to fit every subject into a busy primary timetable and art can easily become marginalised. So, it’s best to ensure children are managing at least an hour a week of sustained work and maybe short bursts of basic sketching when possible. You can also look for other opportunities such as art days or arts weeks but remember that regular is best. As you’ll know, the national curriculum for art and design has fewer programmes of study than other subjects such as science, so there are fewer objectives to cover. We’ve designed our art scheme to cover these objectives realistically so that schools can organise their curricula without worrying about fitting everything into a crowded timetable. If you’ve designed your projects in the correct sequence, you’ll avoid spending time having to re-teach skills or missed content from previous years.

How should I build assessment into my art scheme?

When designing and implementing your curriculum, it’s important to consider how you’ll assess its impact on children’s progress. As with all curriculum subjects, we define progress in art as children ‘knowing and being able to do more’. Your art and design scheme should provide opportunities to see what knowledge children have retained and what skills they have mastered. For example, the chart below, from our curriculum, shows how children’s use of pencil, ink, charcoal and pen progresses over time to enable children to know and do more in this aspect of art and design. (Click here to download a copy of the example diagram below)

Remember, your knowledge and skills framework should provide you with clear curriculum endpoints and should help you to make judgments about each child’s progress. These judgements shouldn’t be prefaced by questions such as ‘Has the child completed pencil strength and grading?’ but by questions such as ‘Does the child know more about line work, and can they do more with line, than they could before?’. Sketchbooks in place across the curriculum will also provide a brilliant way to monitor children’s progress throughout the art curriculum.

What help is available to me?

I hope this blog has given you some valuable pointers to follow if you’re writing your own art scheme. However, there is no mistaking it; designing a well-sequenced, outstanding primary art curriculum takes considerable time and effort. For me, it’s been a labour of love for a subject I have a great passion for.

However, this may not be how you feel about the task of writing your curriculum. That’s why so many schools opt for a fully resourced, published art curriculum like ours, which forms part of the Cornerstones Curriculum; a whole school, fully sequenced curriculum spanning Nursery to Year 6. The curriculum schemes come with all the resources you need and are available on our workload-saving online curriculum platform, Maestro. Here, you can tweak and tailor the content to suit your needs, assess children’s progress in each subject, and so much more. If you would like to see how the platform works, or look in more detail at the Cornerstones Curriculum and resources, please contact us for a demo.

Book a demo of the Maestro platform or find out more about the Cornerstones Curriculum below.  

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