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What impact has the pandemic had upon arts and crafts?

We all recognise that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on children’s educational development and mental wellbeing has been massive, but what is not being acknowledged is the fact that practical curriculum subjects have been disproportionately affected. While some pupils have been relatively unaffected by the constant disruption, there are many who had limited or no access to art materials during the lockdowns meaning that they have missed out altogether on making or engaging with art. 

In findings shared at the recent launch of a major four-nations, cross-phase survey Art Now: A National Survey of Teachers of Art and Design Teachers, undertaken for The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Art Craft and Design in Education, it was reported that the key impacts of the pandemic on art, craft and design provision in schools were: 

  • less time for teaching art and design in their school and it was much harder to teach skills and techniques
  • fewer resources available for the subject
  • enrichment activities such as gallery and museum visits, after school clubs and visits by artists were badly affected
  • less time available for professional development. 

Planning for the future

As a professional community we have work to do to ensure that, moving forward, all pupils receive a full and rich curriculum offer that addresses the shortfalls experienced by so many over the last couple of years. 

One advantage of art, craft and design having a curriculum with minimum prescribed content, is that teachers can define their own curriculum. They can respond to the needs and interests of their children and communities with the themes and subjects that they chose to cover. So, as part of the recovery from the pandemic, now is an opportunity to review your curriculum. Pupils need to develop a good understanding of the formal elements – the visual language of art, craft and design, and they need time to practice working with a range of media, processes and techniques and to contextualise their practical studies by through study of work by artists, craftspeople and designers. Be ambitious for your pupils. A good curriculum will enable children to experience working two and three-dimensionally and should encourage and allow space for creative ‘play’ and risk-taking alongside formal teaching. 

There are plenty of excellent resources to help support teachers, for example, the Oak primary curriculum, which was created in consultation with The National Society for Education in Art and Design (NSEAD), will help with planning and lesson ideas and it reflects the need to have art, craft, and design as an integral part of recovery. The Oak and NSEAD curriculum frameworks are available in a word document, in the hope that these materials can be adapted locally for your own setting or school. NSEAD also has a wealth of other resources to support pedagogy, curriculum development and assessment of art, craft, and design, and primary art teachers can join a lively Facebook group (Primary Art: Ask NSEAD) to network and share with others. 

While reflecting on the content of your curriculum and what might need to change, it’s an ideal time to consider the issue of diversity. NSEAD is encouraging every school to be actively anti-racist and the Anti-Racist Art Education Action (ARAEA) Group’s checklists (for your art resources and for your art curriculum) are important and helpful resources to facilitate thinking, initiate discussion and promote best practice when striving to achieve equity in the curriculum.

Arts and Crafts in the classroom

Time is a precious commodity in schools and with so much emphasis placed on catch up of the core curriculum it can be hard to see how to create space for the other subjects too. Don’t pass up any opportunity to include art across the curriculum! For example, reinforce the skills of drawing, such as developing shading techniques, teaching about creating texture or colour blending when making diagrams or maps or posters. Teach about concepts such as tonal modelling and light sources when teaching about the solar system and the rotation of planets around the sun, or about perspective when looking at geometric forms. Use art and artefacts as a stimulus for speaking and writing, or as a resource to explore aspects of history, heritage and culture. All teachers are expected to promote high standards of literacy across the curriculum, so why not apply this to visual literacy too. 

As part of the recovery curriculum, art, craft and design play a key role in supporting mental wellbeing. Providing opportunities for personal expression can help children to process their emotions and feelings, and neuroscience studies have found evidence to suggest that both making art and looking at art can be good for our brains, releasing stress-reducing chemicals that provide the right conditions to maximise learning. Surely a good reason to engage in more designing and making! 

Article written by Liz Macfarlane

Liz Macfarlane is currently President of NSEAD and a freelance art and design education consultant working with primary and secondary schools and academies across the country to provide support and bespoke CPD. She is a visiting tutor for the eQualitas school-led teacher training programme and supports creative and cultural education programmes for The Mighty Creatives, the East Midlands Arts Council Bridge Organisation. Liz has inspected for Ofsted and holds the Professional Qualification for School Inspectors. She is also co-author of the ‘Cambridge International AS and A’ Level Art and Design Student’s Book’. She started her career teaching in secondary schools in Leicestershire, where she was a Head of Department and Lead Practitioner.

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