What Does The 2023 Ofsted Research Review Mean For Art And Design In Primary Schools?

Published 28 March 2023 by Kapow Primary

Ofsted’s long-awaited report into what makes a ‘high-quality art and design education’ was released on 22 February 2023. We break down what this means – so you don’t have to!


The Ofsted Art Research Review 2023: an overview

The overall aim of Ofsted’s review is to help schools understand the factors that may influence a ‘high quality’ art education. Ofsted felt it necessary to undertake the review due to what it described as a decreasing amount and quality of Art and design education in KS1 and KS2, which it attributed to a focus on core subjects as well as a lack of funding and CPD.

Ofsted helps teachers to recognise the importance of Art and design in school. The Research Review suggests that a high-quality art education should not only be broad enough to capture the wide range of the subject but also have sufficient depth. Schools are given a lot of freedom over curriculum content, so how can you feel confident your curriculum meets these requirements?

We’ve explained the key terms in the Ofsted report – to help you understand how they may apply to your school.


What does the Ofsted 2023 Research Review say?

Ofsted introduces terms that may be unfamiliar to non-specialist teachers. Yet it is likely that your school is already a good way towards covering what is required or may just need to make a few changes to ensure you are.

The key concepts in the Ofsted research report:

Three different types of knowledge:

  • Practical knowledge
  • Theoretical knowledge
  • Disciplinary knowledge


Two different types of outcome:

  • Divergent end points
  • Convergent end points


So, what does this mean in practice?



Ofsted’s three different types of knowledge

1. Practical Knowledge developing technical proficiency

What is practical knowledge? Art and design is a practical subject, so this area of knowledge seems a fundamental building block in any curriculum. Ofsted argues that practical knowledge enables pupils to make decisions about what techniques, materials and media to use. Pupils then use this knowledge to create art by applying their understanding of skills, techniques and practices. 

How can I make sure practical knowledge is taught? Through repeated practice, play and exploration. For example, teaching drawing may include developing an understanding of line, shape and form, as well as different terms (‘observational’, ‘white space’) and media (pens, brushes, pencils). There should be plenty of opportunity to build on pupils’ competencies so that these skills become ‘autonomous’. 

What does this look like in the classroom? Providing a curriculum that explores how ‘artists, craft-makers and designers have expressed different areas of making’ and plenty of varied opportunities for pupils to get hands-on experience.

How does Kapow Primary help? ‘Practical knowledge’ closely maps onto our ‘Making Skills’ strand. Here we build the key knowledge of techniques, materials and vocabulary to help support pupils to develop their artistic practice. Many of our lessons reinforce this idea of repeated practice and the understanding of key terms and techniques, such as ‘perspective’, in One Picture, Four Views, Tints and Shades, Applying Skills in Clay and 3D Drawings.



2. Theoretical Knowledge – knowledge of artists and art history

What is theoretical knowledge? Introducing the historical and cultural context of artists and artwork from a diverse range of art, craft and design examples – not only names, dates and facts, but also meanings and interpretations; helping to put practical knowledge into context and make creative links. Artists don’t create in a vacuum; they are influenced by the work of their contemporaries, historical artists, the political situation, and different cultural traditions. 

How can I make sure theoretical knowledge is taught? A good example from the Kapow Primary Art and design scheme is artist Cai Guo-Qiang. Born in China in 1957, he grew up during the Cultural Revolution, when witnessing explosions was a part of everyday life. This early context informed his work, creating huge drawings using gunpowder explosions and performance art using fireworks. Our scheme discusses how Cai’s interactive artworks can be variously classified as sculpture, installation or performance art and how they fit within traditions in contemporary art.

What does this look like in the classroom? You will need to be clear about what knowledge of artists and art history you would like your pupils to learn and how to build on links between units and year groups. Ofsted emphasises the use of a variety of different ‘stories of art’ – with diversity across artistic traditions, time periods and communities.

How does Kapow Primary help? Children gain theoretical knowledge through our ‘Knowledge of artists’ strand. This prompts them to consider interpretations of art and study processes and materials used by artists, as well as their socio-political and artistic contexts.



3. Disciplinary Knowledge how art is studied, discussed and judged

What is disciplinary knowledge? This is a question of quality, value and purpose. Or, to put it more simply, it is asking and considering ‘What is art?’ This will allow pupils to analyse and evaluate different artists and their works, drawing on both their practical knowledge and theoretical knowledge to help inform these judgements. 

How can I make sure disciplinary knowledge is taught? Understanding art through trips, artist visits, and questioning and linking to personal cultures and experiences naturally develops disciplinary knowledge. This also covers art in a broader sense and how disciplinary knowledge can be applied to areas such as craft and design. Our Year 4 Craft and Design: Fabric of Nature unit helps children understand the different approaches and career paths in the art, design and craft industries. 

What does this look like in the classroom? This may seem to be the hardest type of knowledge to include; however, it can be developed organically when children look at and talk about art. Teachers can support this by providing plenty of opportunities for children to question why and how artists do what they do, and for interpretation and discussion.

How does Kapow Primary help? Our ‘Evaluating and Analysing’ strand weaves through all the units in our Art and design revised scheme, ensuring there are moments for children to reflect on the works presented to them, and on their own works!



Divergent and convergent outcomes

Divergent: Creative and exploratory. Personal responses

Convergent: Set and defined

What are divergent and convergent outcomes? Ofsted is asking that schools ensure they provide a mix of different activities: some with set outcomes that display a specific skill, and others that are less structured and allow the children to display their knowledge in an experimental manner. 

How can I make sure these outcomes are taught? A sequential curriculum should build towards both sets of outcomes. Planners should carefully consider which outcomes should be convergent or divergent.

How does Kapow Primary help? Our units include a mix of divergent and convergent outcomes – or even situations where convergent outcomes can be adapted and made divergent – ensuring a balance across the scheme. 


Other terms used in the Ofsted report:

Productive expertise: Becoming proficient in producing art

Receptive expertise: Learning about methods and techniques


Recognising the role of knowledge in the art curriculum

It is important to acknowledge that Art and design is a practical subject and that the different types of knowledge Ofsted discusses are not discrete – they naturally feed into each other and build as children progress towards knowing more about art and developing expertise in producing it themselves.

It is also important to remember that Ofsted doesn’t expect these terms to be used by schools. They are chosen to align with the aims of the national curriculum and with current thinking around theories of cognitive science in education. What matters is demonstrating that you are thinking about how to encourage children to develop these different types of knowledge, and thinking about different outcomes for their work.


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