Hillview 20school 20for 20girls 20 20good 20practice 20example

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Developing a contemporary art curriculum:
Hillview School for Girls
URN: 118922
Local authority: Kent
Date published: 8 December 2011
Reference: 120410
Brief description
This case study highlights how a school transformed students’ achievement from good to
outstanding by developing its practice to reflect the criteria for ‘outstanding’ articulated in
Ofsted’s subject-specific guidance. Central to this improvement was the impact of investment
in a challenging programme of professional development with Goldsmiths University, which
was cascaded very effectively across the department.
Overview – the school’s message
‘As teachers, we need to be immersed in the practice of our subjects. We need to use our
own creativity; think beyond our examination results and develop students who are open to
new ideas and who really engage with the world. We need to take risks with the teaching so
that students develop the imagination to make leaps in their learning’.
Cavan Pledge, Curriculum Leader Technology and Visual Arts
The good practice in detail
…art has allowed us
to be more expressive,
explorative and
experimental with our
ideas and chosen
concepts. The subject
allows for independent
exploration that helps
Hillview School for Girls
your Schools
Good practice
individual creativity
A creative ethos permeates the school’s approach to
teaching and learning. The students are supported by
excellent opportunities to meet creative practitioners and
leaders of Further Education courses. The visual arts
department successfully fosters a personal sense of awe
and wonder in students’ minds that engages them with
the world, their own world experiences and that of others.
Staff support students in critical engagement so that they
are not consumers but are critics, manipulators and creators of images. Students are
encouraged to utilise their personal interest and growing expertise in other curriculum areas
as a focus for their own artistic exploration. This can lead to learners gaining a breadth of
contextual knowledge that they would not necessarily gain from their subject-specific
The improvements seen are a result of a holistic approach to securing improvement across
all aspects of provision for the visual arts. As Cavan, the curriculum leader explains, ‘It is
quite difficult to identify any distinct elements that have taken us forward. The process has
been evolutionary, with core elements of a strong ethos being expanded and adjustments
made to schemes of work, modes of delivery and assessment to open up the sense of what
art is, what it can be and where it takes place, thus taking it beyond the fixed concept of the
student artist’.
Visiting a gallery helped me to understand how the space that art
is presented in affects its meaning. It also highlighted how art is
about experiencing or perceiving its meaning for yourself, whether
this be through traditional paintings or modern installations
The catalyst for some of the more radical changes has undoubtedly come through the
curriculum leader’s work as a student on the MA ‘Artist Teachers and Contemporary
Practices’ course at Goldsmiths University. This has led to engagement with new media and
much personal reflection and team discussion about what art and education are about.
‘The MA helped rationalise deep learning opportunities where the importance of the personal
meta-cognition that takes place within the students’ art-making processes and responses
need to be fed and nurtured and the introduction of contemporary practices and new media
have been useful tools in making this happen. As a direct consequence, there has been more
discussion with students about their art-making experiences, which has led many of them to
a much deeper understanding of the creative process and greater control over their own
Students are introduced to a range of art practices through thought-provoking themes, each
of which connects the learner with whom and what they are. Examples of the themes
currently explored are Year 7 ‘Journeys’, Year 8 ‘Conflict’, Year 9 ‘Structures’, Year 10
‘Identity’, Year 11 ‘Transition’, and Year 12, ‘Concealed and Revealed’. In Years 10, 11 and
12 students negotiate the direction they will explore within a theme. Year 13 students
negotiate their own focus and work on self-directed study. The teaching team and the
students are involved in the development and refinement of the themes; how they are
delivered is always open to critical appraisal. They evolve and change and are used to
expand the students’ concept of what art is and each one addresses both historical and
contemporary practice across a range of cultures.
Projects are carefully planned to support progression, for
example the theme ‘Journeys’ enables students to explore their
feelings about the transition from primary to secondary school
and to explore the physical space of their new school. Their
thinking about representations of the world around them, and
exploration of abstract concepts develops through markmaking, colour and mapping. Contemporary artists, such as
Alexandra Handal and Guillermo Kuitca who engage with issues
around mapping, migration and diaspora, are used to prepare students’ thinking for the Year
Hillview School for Girls
Good practice example: Schools
8 theme which explores issues around ‘Conflict’. Year 7 sketchbooks are investigatory
journals where students learn different ways to connect with the art-making process and
practices. The emphasis at this stage is on confidence building and eliciting genuine
responses to ideas and concepts.
Through immersion in a range of contemporary drawing and recording practises focused on
process, expression and idea, students’ preconceptions of what drawing is are challenged; to
unpick the limited notion that drawing is only successful if it looks ‘real’. Staff are well aware
that many students have low self-esteem and do not see themselves as having artistic
ability, based on a visual assessment of their own practice compared with their peers. Great
value is therefore placed on a broad range of creative practices and artistic responses as this
takes students into unfamiliar areas which create a whole new set of values, unpicking their
preconceptions about what ‘good’ art looks like.
Assessment practices are used to promote students’ confidence and self-belief. The
department is piloting the marking of Year 7 work by not sharing the attainment levels with
students, but providing constructive comments and targets regularly, written on ‘sticky
notes’ in their sketchbooks. Self- and peer-assessment also focuses on particular strengths,
followed by possible improvements. Students respond positively by revisiting and refining
their work, an overwhelmingly positive experience. The emphasis is much more on the
quality of engagement and response than on a notional level of attainment, giving students
the opportunity to explore and learn to accept that they can make art.
Parents have responded positively. ‘Although my daughter is only in Year 7, I feel that
Hillview has managed to capture her interest in art and boosted her confidence’, says one
parent. ‘I particularly like the fact that the girls are not given grades for their work initially
which I feel stops them from becoming negative about their ability and level of creativity. In
an era where the education system seems to have become obsessed with grades and exam
results I find this approach refreshing… As a practising artist I know only too well how
important it is to feel confident about your work. It makes the children feel that they can
achieve anything’.
Another parent says that, ‘it is the freedom of scope given to the students to explore their
artistic talents and ideas…art spurs my daughter on to do more; there are no boundaries and
for kids with imagination it is amazing to see how they develop. The concept of “better if…”
is also extremely positive and empowering to the students too, encouraging them to expand
their thinking and ideas’.
The aim is to open students’ minds up to the idea that art making is not just a personal
adventure about them and the world, but that it is exploration and discovery that is to be
shared with others. Knowing that their work will be exhibited encourages a greater maturity
in their practice. For students to be in a position to produce mature work, staff recognise
that they need to encourage students to be ambitious and to be risk takers.
‘As teachers, we aim to bring the expansive creative skills of the artist into the place of
learning’, says Cavan. ‘We share our own artwork with students and
take a creative approach to launching new projects incorporating
workshop activities and happenings which are designed to take
students outside their “comfort zones” and to encourage new thinking.
Key to our approach is that we have a clear purpose in what we do but
we do not prescribe what the outcome will be. Recent projects have
started with responses to the school environment or within immersive
art installations that incorporate video, sound and projection. These
Hillview School for Girls
Good practice example: Schools
temporary setups enable students to imagine beyond the studio space and to access their
own imaginative powers’.
The high quality of students’ reflection and response justifies the considerable work involved.
Lily, a Year 10 student says: ‘You felt you were part of the work we were doing and like we
were submerged by the coast and sea. It personalised the sea and made me realise what a
huge unstoppable force it is, but it could be a very lonely place too’.
For students to ‘think and act like artists’, an aim of the National
Curriculum, staff recognise that students need a range of role
models. With the support of the school’s Careers and Education
Adviser, they are developing a network of artists and designers to
work with students across different years. Parents and exstudents who have gone on to study the subject at degree level
have provided a rich source of contacts with creative practitioners
willing to help. In 2010/11, students studying three-dimensional
design have benefited from the expertise of one of the country’s
top set designers, photography students have been able to use a
professional studio and fine art students have experienced
workshops run by an ex-student and practicing artist.
The relationship between the artist and school can be a symbiotic one in which all parties
benefit from the collaboration. Ruby Manson, a visiting contemporary artist says: ‘Working at
Hillview has enabled me to consider more about my own practice. The students are
introduced to artists working in creative industries, such as photographers and set designers,
which means that I have had the opportunity to meet people and broaden my own
knowledge. It has also led me to seriously consider going forward in a career in art
Role models are also provided by older students. Younger students visit
GCSE, BTEC and A-Level lessons and interview students as if they are
practising artists. Visits to further education colleges and galleries expand
the learning beyond the studio and provide students with an
understanding of the wider context within which they are working.
Students have recently taken part in the Tate Gallery’s
‘Turbinegeneration’ collaboration with schools in Columbia and India and
the National Gallery’s ‘Picture in Focus’, which provided a collaborative
cross-curricular experience for Year 8 students between art, science,
geography, English and dance. Last year the ‘Turbinegeneration’ project
enabled students from Years 8 to 10 to work collaboratively with dance students and to
produce a very successful fusion of art and dance, stage managed and choreographed by
the students themselves. Engaging with art beyond the art studio environment also helps
students recognise the importance of visual communication and develop their capacity for
using its currency to engage with the world.
The school recognises that to develop truly creative and independent learners who are open
to new ideas and understanding, they need to take risks too. Staff consider contemporary
art practices and new media technologies fundamental in creating ‘journeys into the
unknown’, taking students on the full journey of art making from conception to curation and
exhibition; transforming good to outstanding!
Hillview School for Girls
Good practice example: Schools
The school’s background
Hillview School for Girls is a larger than average performing arts specialist school serving an
area that contains some selective schools. Since September 2006 it has collaborated with
neighbouring schools for sixth form provision. The school holds Artsmark Gold, Healthy
Schools Status, Clean Food Award, Investor in Careers Award and the International School
Award. In addition, it has achieved Investor in People status. Most students are from White
British backgrounds. The percentage of students eligible for free school meals is just below
average. The proportion of students with special educational needs and/or disabilities is
below the national average but increasing. The school converted to academy status under
the provisions of the Academies Act 2010, on 1 August 2011.
Are you thinking of putting these ideas into practice; or already doing something
similar that could help other providers; or just interested? We’d welcome your views
and ideas. Get in touch here.
To view other good practice examples, go to:
Hillview School for Girls
Good practice example: Schools

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