Visual Arts

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Visual Arts

Faculty Leader

Miss C Harwood

We want our students to be valuable citizens of society, community and country.


Visual Arts: The Big Picture:


Art in schools should not be side-lined. It should be right there right up in the front. Art teaches you to deal with the world around you; it is the oxygen that makes all the other subjects breathe.

Alan Parker, filmmaker.

To value creativity within myself and others:

"Art opens up those possibilities to think beyond what we already know."

Catherine Opie, Artist.


Creativity is defined as the use of imagination or original ideas to create something.This mantra is at the heart of everything our visual arts curriculum stands for. Our curriculum encourages self-expression and creativity in all disciplines and has been designed to empower students to build confidence as well as a sense of individual identity.  We have a culture of high expectations through which students feel safe to experiment, make mistakes and feel free to invent new ways of thinking.

To be literate and able to communicate:

One definition of communication is ‘the successful conveying or sharing of ideas and feelings.’ Our visual arts curriculum provides a medium of communication for all. With a high proportion of our students having English as a Second Language, and many of our students joining late as International New Arrivals (INAs), for many the visual arts are vital. The arts transcend the barrier of the written and spoken word, and allow students and teachers to communicate through a universal language. For some, this is the key to developing confidence, and ultimately having a successful future. 

Considering our local context, and the fact that over 50% of our students have a reading age below their biological age, improving literacy and oracy is something we are passionate about as visual arts teachers. Reading, writing, speaking and listening are a key feature of most lessons, with students encouraged to critically analyse art work, read and summarise artist research / art theory, and reflect upon / evaluate their own work utilising key terminology and concepts. Verbal communication is key to improvement for all students, where a combination of verbal feedback and active listening between teachers and students is constant and integral.

To be ambitious and able to make appropriate life choices:

Learning through and about the arts enriches the experience of studying as well as preparing our students for life after Essa. Involvement in the arts, especially for students from a low-income background, is associated with higher levels of attainment in both high school and university. This is why, given our local context, we feel that ‘compulsory arts’ is a key component of our wider curriculum vision.


Our arts curriculum is ambitious. Our lessons are well sequenced and rigorous and time is utilised fully to maximise the quantity and quality of work students produce. Students use industry standard materials and software right from Year 7, from the highest quality acrylic paint to state-of-the-art Mac computers with the latest Adobe Creative Cloud software. We set ambitious targets for our students, which are often beyond what is expected, and through our drive to succeed and the passion we instil in all stakeholders – we aspire for all students to meet or exceed expectations. 


Our curriculum provides regular links to the industry, careers and life after Essa. We make it clear to our students that those who can arrange, present and display material in a way that is aesthetically pleasing have an advantage over others.People who are multi-skilled are astronomically more useful, well-rounded, hireable and capable of excelling in a much wider range of professions. 


To be healthy, safe and fit in mind and body:

The arts have been proven to help with wellbeing and improving health and happiness. Many students at Essa Academy comment that their visual arts lessons act as an outlet for releasing the pressures of studying as well as those of everyday life. 

  • Self-discovery: Creating art can help acknowledge and recognise feelings that have been lurking in the subconscious.

  • Self-esteem: The process of creating art will give a feeling of self-accomplishment which can be very valuable to improve self-appreciation and confidence.

  • Emotional release: Art provides a healthy outlet for expressing and letting go of feelings and fears. Complex emotions such as sadness or anger sometimes cannot be expressed with words. When you are unable to express yourself, but you desire emotional release, making art may help you to do it.

  • Stress relief: Creating art can be used to relieve stress and relax the mind and body.


Our curriculum enables students to regularly explore self-identity and self-expression. The ‘personal response’ to briefs empowers students to create art which is meaningful to them, often motivated by past experiences and/or emotions. Our daily extra-curricular clubs support our students in maintaining a healthy mind, giving students a calm, purposeful space during social times and after school to be creative and express themselves.

To be digitally literate and aware:

Our Visual Arts department place a strong emphasis on the development of digital art and design alongside traditional art and design throughout Key Stage 3 and 4. The National Endowment for the Arts notes that the demand for web designers, app designers, software designers, graphic designers, digital illustrators, multimedia artists, video producers, online publishers, animation artists, game designers and many other digital careers is undergoing unprecedented growth.


Whilst Art continues to be a desirable option for students wishing to pursue ‘traditional’ creative careers, such as Architecture, Interior Design or Painting / Fine Art related professions, the internet has seen an explosion of exciting, new roles emerge recently, which is why we offer Graphic Communications and Photography alongside Fine Art throughout all year groups and ensure students have access to industry standard digital facilities and software, including iPads, Mac PCs and Adobe Creative Cloud.

To be numerate and able to problem solve:

Through our visual arts curriculum, students are problem solving in every element of every lesson. Creating a piece of art work, in any discipline, is about preventing and solving problems. We teach students to calmly approach and break down any difficulties with ease. Through the way we break down our demonstrations and tasks, students learn to split a problem into smaller chunks and solve it one section at a time. Problem-solving within visual arts is the ability to choose the right method for the right concept and discipline through experimentation. Through scale, shape, pattern, perspective, proportion and other key elements of many art lessons, numeracy is embedded into all elements of our curriculum in some aspect. 

To be aware of the world and how it functions:

Studying arts subjects help to develop critical thinking and the ability to interpret the world around us. At the core of our visual arts curriculum is an observation of the real world: recording, analysis and creation of a visual response to our surroundings. Art makes students look at things differently and make sense of it in their own way; even mundane ordinary aspects of the world. 

Through reading, (D.E.A.R) we encourage our students to look at certain art-related issues from new perspectives. For example, we provide opportunities for students to debate the ethics behind photo manipulation, graffiti art (vandalism or art?) and the effects social media has on the art world, forming their own opinions about the world and how it functions.

To be able to take care of myself and the world:

The arts challenge us with different points of view, compel us to empathize with others, and give us the opportunity to reflect on the human condition. Our visual arts curriculum is a journey of self-discovery where students are encouraged to independently learn about themselves and discover their talents. At Key Stage 3, students begin by looking at ‘me, myself and I’ in Year 7, exploring ‘self-identity’ in a range of forms and disciplines. This grows as students focus on ‘my surroundings’ in Year 8 where they begin to draw upon inspiration from their community and their individual ‘worlds’, learning as they go. Our workspaces are mature and are often compared to a post-16 art environment. This requires students to learn how to manage and take care of themselves, others and high-quality equipment through day to day practice.


We link all lessons to the bigger picture and provide rationale behind each technique and piece of knowledge learned in relation to the wider world. Our visual arts curriculum is designed toenhance fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, problem solving skills, lateral thinking, complex analysis and critical thinking skills. No matter which path our students choose to take, knowledge and skill in these areas will be essential to ensure that our students can take care of themselves and others.

Curriculum Maps