Preparing the new primary curriculum: Music, art and DT

Written by: HTU | Published:

In the second part of series on the new national curriculum, Suzanne O’Connell looks at the programmes of study for art, music and design technology. With September 2014 fast approaching, how should schools prepare?

Primary schools have traditionally been strong advocates of the importance of the arts and creativity. The majority have stoically continued to deliver a curriculum which gives pupils chance to express themselves, design and make, even though the Department for Education (DfE) focus is firmly on the basic skills of the core subjects. 

This commitment isn’t always easy to put into practice. Many teachers lack confidence in delivering music and schools have often opted to buy-in specialist music provision. Design technology can be difficult to resource and is tackled by some with trepidation. 

The first draft of the new curriculum was not greeted warmly by the subject associations for these subjects. The music and art programmes of study did not appear to encourage children to engage and create their own work, but seemed to be more about developing passive receivers of a cultural heritage. Many saw the design technology content, with the inclusion of horticulture and basic mechanical maintenance, as a joke. 

Now, with the final national curriculum published, Headteacher Update takes the art, music and design technology programmes of study and considers how they have changed and how schools might prepare. We also ask Alison Peacock, headteacher at The Wroxham School in Hertfordshire, for her snapshot of what they are doing in readiness for September 2014.

Art and design 

The National Society for Education in Art and Design (NSEAD) was concerned with the initial draft curriculum because it said there was too much of a focus on historical fine art, aesthetics and beauty. This was in preference to recognition of the role of contemporary, global, design and media industries.

Changes were made following the consultation. The purpose of study was rewritten to include the importance of engaging, inspiring and challenging children. Greater involvement is now encouraged through children experimenting, inventing and creating their own works of art. 

“Creativity” was back and schools were given more opportunity to select the range of materials that might be used to develop it.

At key stage 2, pupils should be taught to “improve their mastery of art and design techniques, including drawing, painting and sculpture with a range of materials (for example, pencil charcoal, paint and clay)”.

The programmes of study for art and design along with accompanying glossary have been published on the NSEAD website. The NSEAD is also in the process of producing a parallel curriculum. 

It is understandable that teachers might want more direction. The programmes of study are extremely brief and for key stage 2 there is little guidance for the non-specialist. This is a concern as local authority subject advisors have all but disappeared and Ofsted has hiked up its focus on subject knowledge. 

At Wroxham School

“We teach art throughout the school and have taken part in several large-scale projects such as mural painting in the school grounds. However, in preparation for teaching the new art curriculum we have accessed the art and design audit tool produced by the Department for Education expert group (see further information).

“This process has helped us to review the quality and progression of our skills teaching which we now wish to focus on as an area for development. We contacted the local organisation Herts Creation to request a staff CPD session linked to our Teaching School status and have also established links with an artist locally who is studying children’s perceptions of themselves as artists. 

“Family learning has been a very popular activity at our school. One of our staff is a clay potter and she ran a series of evening sessions for children and parents. Our next plan is to provide some textiles workshops to link with our study of Celts.”

Music

It was a similar story for music as the first attempt at the programmes of study did not impress the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), which described them as being “about” music, rather than “of” music. There was no clear route of progression across the key stages and no mention of creativity.

The second draft placed more emphasis on engaging and inspiring children, creating and composing. Technology, previously omitted, was included and the creative use of voice added at key stage 1. Experimentation and composition have placed the child more at the heart of the curriculum than they were previously. 

There is a greater emphasis on singing in the new programmes of study and children are to be exposed to a wide range of music. The ISM is keen to emphasise that at all key stages, teachers should contextualise musical learning.

Once more, there is very little detail and the teacher is left to select. A luxury appreciated by the subject specialist but perhaps less attractive to those who lack confidence, experience and knowledge. 

Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the ISM, said: “This curriculum will not hamper excellent teaching; we are grateful that musicians have not been micro-managed in the way that – for example – historians have been. But sadly, at the same time, this curriculum gives little scope for challenging less good teaching, and risks doing nothing to improve our world class music education.”

The ISM is trying to fill the gap. It has produced its own set of advice for primary schools in the run up to the introduction of the new national curriculum.

At Wroxham School

“At Wroxham, we have a long tradition of celebrating music in a wide variety of ways. Our children are highly motivated to learn musical instruments as there are so many positive role-models among children in the school. We are fortunate to have a team of staff who can offer music expertise and we also employ a music specialist to work across years 2 to 6 each week. Dan Earley teaches music with djembe drums and was also the lead inspiration behind the establishment of our junk music garden. We also offer choir, windband and strings groups as after-school free clubs.”

Design and technology 

The initial design and technology programme of study was also greeted with horror by many. It reflected the often shared comment “if only we had learnt this at school” when the car breaks down or a shelf needs erecting. It might have equipped students for doing their own DIY but not for leading the nation in the use of biomimicry.

After an outcry from such influential voices as the Confederation of British Industry, the DfE was in no position to resist. The second draft presented much more considered programmes of study with subject content organised under the headings of Design, Make, Evaluate and Technical Knowledge. Cooking stays in there but is now outlined as a separate section. The design element, almost completely removed from the first draft, reappears and pupils are required to research and develop, investigate and analyse and apply understanding of computing to programme, monitor and control their products. 

Gareth Pimley is the lead primary consultant for the Design and Technology Association. He told Headteacher Update: “In addition to addressing the ‘subject content’ for the key stages they teach, we hope that planning and practice in primary schools reflects the ‘purpose of study’ and addresses the ‘aims’ in a way that is appropriate to children’s ages. We hope that schools do not abandon existing curriculum planning without first seeing if it can be adapted to include the new requirements.”

The Design and Technology Association hopes that each class will carry out one design technology project per term and that schools will ensure that children design and make something for somebody and for some purpose. It also advises that schools begin by auditing their own practice against the new requirements and considering how they will introduce new elements.

For those looking for help, the association is publishing a new scheme of work “Projects on a Page” to support primary schools with implementation and are providing local and regional CPD focusing on the new requirements. 

At Wroxham School

“Our curriculum planning for design technology is guided by these fundamental aspects of the subject as defined by the Design and Technology Association:

  • Activities which involve investigating and evaluating existing products.
  • Focused practical tasks in which children develop particular aspects of knowledge and skills.
  • Designing and making activities in which children design and make “something” for “somebody” for “some purpose”.

“We have booked Mr Pimley to lead a staff meeting and whole day of training at our teaching school in the summer term. 

“We are excited by the new curriculum and our children are very keen to engage with a wide range of activities, such as building bird boxes, designing and making toy cars, sewing and cookery. This week our year 6 children completed picture books incorporating pop-up paper technology, that they read with our year 1 class. 

“This project involved reviewing and evaluating a wide range of picture books for young children, prior to designing and making their own books.” 

 

  • Suzanne O’Connell is an education writer and former primary school headteacher.

Further information

Curriculum series

This is the second in Headteacher Update's four-part curriculm series. Already published is our focus on the new geography, history and languages curriculums (http://bit.ly/1enTyIn). The final two articles in this series will be published in May and June.


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