Dr Richard Jolley speaks at the University of Oxford on children’s art education

Dr Richard Jolley

Dr. Richard Jolley (Senior Lecturer, Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research) blogs about being an invited discussion panel member on arts education held at the University of Oxford in March 2018:

What is the current state of arts education in National Curriculum schools? What are the benefits of arts education for children’s development, and does learning in the arts promotes attainment in other school subjects? How do other school systems (e.g. Steiner, Montessori) and countries (such as China) approach arts education? What are the barriers to providing children with a more extensive and rich arts education, and how do we address these? What can promote children’s engagement with the arts beyond school contexts? These were some of the questions I was invited to debate upon in March this year by an Oxford student-based charity, Schools Plus, together with three other experts in arts education, at Balliol College, the University of Oxford.

Schools Plus is the largest student-led charity at Oxford. With around 250 volunteers, its aim is to combat educational inequality by pairing volunteer tutors from Oxford and Oxford Brookes Universities with pupils at underperforming local state schools to deliver weekly one-hour lessons. The purpose of the discussion panel was to inform the charity’s volunteers, and other Oxford University students, the important role of the arts for children’s education.

As well as myself, the other speakers on the panel were Dr David Whitley (University of Cambridge), Dr Paulette Luff (Anglia Ruskin University), and Mr. Naveed Idrees (Head Teacher of Feversham Primary Academy, Bradford). Dr. Whitley’s research takes inter-disciplinary perspectives into how art, especially poetry and film, promotes imaginative connections in children’s engagement with the natural world. Dr. Luff is the academic lead of the Creative Writing through the Arts Project with Royal Opera House Bridge, which aims to promote children’s creative writing skills through integration with art, dance and drama. Mr. Idrees has overseen Feversham Primary Academy be transformed from being in ‘special measures’ to within the top 10% nationally for children’s academic process by incorporating the arts into every part of the school day.

The discussion panel (from left to right): Naveed Idrees, Richard Jolley, Lennaert Ludvigsen (chair), David Whitley and Paulette Luff.

During the panel discussion I was asked specifically to lead on the benefits of art education, particularly in relation to drawing, and how other educational systems (such as Steiner and Montessori) and other countries (principally China) approach arts education in their schools. Art education has many benefits for children: promoting their imagination and creativity, expression of emotion and ideas, visual thinking, observational skills, problem-solving and analytical skills, as well as physical/neurological benefits of fine motor control, hand-eye coordination and the development of the brain. How arts education is approached in schools varies considerably in the emphasis they place upon different skills: Steiner (creativity, imagination and expression), Montessori (representational skills), and National Curriculum (a balanced approach). Furthermore, in China, we observe a far more prescriptive approach to teaching art, in which copying existing images still plays an important role but as building blocks of representational schema to then develop more imaginative pictures.

For further information about the discussions you might like to read Schools Plus own article of the event published in the Oxford Student newspaper:


The discussions I participated in, and meeting the other panel members, helped me reflect upon the bigger picture of my own research on children’s making and understanding of pictures within the wider sphere of children’s arts education. I am currently leading the writing of a grant proposal to the Arts and Humanities Research Council to investigate which types of art experience children are exposed to have a positive impact upon the drawing development. I hope to find out more about the art culture Feversham Primary Academy created that has had such a positive impact upon their children’s general learning experience. It was clear among all the panel members that arts education in all its forms is fundamental for children’s education. We were all of one mind that the challenge for championing its cause, whether presented in research, practice or to government policymakers, is necessary to fulfil the true purpose of education.

Children’s engagement with pictures has been a long-standing research interests of mine, and if you share the same interest you may like to refer to a book I have written on the subject, ‘Children and Pictures: Drawing and Understanding’. The topic is also a subject which students at Staffordshire University study as part of a final year option module on our undergraduate psychology programmes, and has always been popular and well received.

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