Your art classroom is likely to be one of the most inclusive areas of school. Barriers that may impede learning in other disciplines such as low levels of literacy and numeracy may prove less problematic. The real challenge lies in the art teachers ability to get to know their students when class sizes are often large and time is often small.

Differentiation is the practice of teaching a class of individual talents the confidence, resilience and the determination to succeed. The mixed ability classroom has many challenges, these are my priorities:


‘In great lessons, the nuanced teacher knowledge of the student’s needs is always evident’ Tom Sherrington.

Building a relationship with your students forms the bedrock of all teaching and learning. Get to know your students ability early by organising an art and design baseline test with the new intake at the start of year 7. This will provide you with a good starting point onto which targeted intervention can then take place. Feedback whether verbal or written should always be tailored to the individual as should questioning which if done with care will enhance the relationships you have with your students.

2. Organisation

The classroom environment is a crucial tool to help support the learning of all of our students. Creating and using display space to exhibit work where strong students are inspired and weaker students can be directed to look and investigate is very important. A mixed ability class is better accommodated when drawers of equipment are clearly labelled and where students have to at times, make their own choice of material. Having equipment such as light boxes to support the initial tentative marks of a less confident draftsperson can also be an asset to an art room. Using visual sources that will appeal to a range of abilities can also support the growth in confidence in all. A colleague created a differentiated toolkit which is a good visual reminder of the equipment that can support weaker students with their art and design work.


3. Collaboration

A collaborative environment where the responsibility of teaching and learning is shared by all helps support the progress of our students. Routines that reach as far as working together to clean a sink or using peer to peer demonstrations make for a rewarding and enriching learning experience. Using simple straightforward language and an illustrated format I aim to make all my schemes of work accessible to all. I share all projects that I teach via the school website so that parents are able to support their children’s learning. Each student is given this same guide to be put in the front of their books or folders and teaching assistants are given a yearly training session in the department on the use of equipment or materials. Working closely together is very beneficial to us all.

4. Ownership

When your students can work without constant direction this will give you time to make the kind of precise interventions that facilitate good progress. Progressively from year 7 through to year 13 my students are given increased flexibility and responsibility for the self direction of their work. At the start of year 7, students are given options on which materials they may use for a final piece or which of 2 artists will influence the direction of their ideas. By year 11 students are able to plan their own projects and by year 12 they will be prepared to put forward a plan that demands much invention, commitment and a serious level of challenge. Self directed study provides a real opportunity at any level for the teacher to have personalised conversations with individuals which of course will be tailored to their specific needs.


‘Gifted and talented pupils in art and design are those who: show distinctive skills in their ability to make, record and manipulate in visual and/or tactile form; have a very good knowledge and understanding of the subject area; are able to interpret, critically appraise, problem solve, take risks and develop information, materials, thoughts and ideas; and show the tenacity and ability to imagine, create and express in visual and/or tactile form in order to make a unique and original contribution to art and design.’ NSEAD

Here is some ideas on how I approach planning for the provision of our most talented students;

  1. A Flexible and Creative Curriculum.

Each SOW at each key stage provides opportunities for self-directed learning and highly personalised student outcomes. Our most able students are routinely directed towards more challenging outcomes and the experimentation of materials and ideas is extensively promoted.

  • Mentoring and Support.

Most able students act as mentors to other students across all year groups. They are given opportunities to work alongside older age students and support younger students each week; such as during Art ASA’s.  Sixth form students devise lesson plans and run classes for primary students during primary art week. Our sixth form art prefects organize our talented students to support the department during whole school productions and other Creative Art initiatives.

  • Access to the world around us.

MAT students are taken on cultural visits to enhance their appreciation of the world in which they live. We have a cultural information board dedicated to the promotion of both local and international art galleries. This notice board is also used to direct our most able students towards making their own visits.

  • Individual Studio Space.

We provide an independent studio space so that our most able students can dedicate some of their free time to independent study.

  • Working with Professional Artists.

We bring in professional artists to run MAT workshops. We take our most able students to artists studio’s in Moscow and extend our curriculum with organized life drawing sessions. Our MAT students have regular opportunities to discuss the value and opportunities open to them in Art and Design, such as during our recent ISM STEAM event.

  • Exhibitions and Competions

We exhibit our most able student work in both physical and digital formats. All our students have access to the ISM online Student Gallery where their work is shared. Here our most able and talented students have access to the very best artwork produced in each academic year. We use this to ensure that our most able students always have access to the high quality work made by their peers.