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Visual arts education in New Zealand: Curriculum, promise and challenge

David Bell

Visual arts education has long enjoyed a place in the New Zealand curriculum. Institutional endorsement of the value of visual arts learning for all children has maintained its status as a core subject in schools, a secondary schools examination subject and as specialist courses in colleges of education and schools of arts. The visual arts retain their presence today, and few question their centrality to a healthy curriculum. In drawing together a comprehensive statement of subject knowledge for the visual arts, with pedagogic principles that support the subjective as well as institutional dimensions of arts experience, the current curriculum document itself provides a rich foundation for learning in the visual arts. Today, however, the subject struggles to retain its place in face of the demands of increasingly complex and competing interests within the curriculum and educational community interests schools serve. Its current marginalisation in preservice teacher education programmes, the loss in many regions of traditional support services and the increasingly complex demands on teachers and schools threaten to compromise both our impressive achievement to date, and the real potentials of the curriculum we enjoy today.

Visual arts education in New Zealand: Curriculum, promise and challenge

David Bell


Visual arts education has long enjoyed a place in the New Zealand curriculum. Institutional endorsement of the value of visual arts learning for all children has maintained its status as a core subject in schools, a secondary schools examination subject and as specialist courses in colleges of education and schools of arts. The visual arts retain their presence today, and few question their centrality to a healthy curriculum. In drawing together a comprehensive statement of subject knowledge for the visual arts, with pedagogic principles that support the subjective as well as institutional dimensions of arts experience, the current curriculum document itself provides a rich foundation for learning in the visual arts. Today, however, the subject struggles to retain its place in face of the demands of increasingly complex and competing interests within the curriculum and educational community interests schools serve. Its current marginalisation in preservice teacher education programmes, the loss in many regions of traditional support services and the increasingly complex demands on teachers and schools threaten to compromise both our impressive achievement to date, and the real potentials of the curriculum we enjoy today.

Visual arts in the New Zealand curriculum

Visual arts has been included in school programmes in New Zealand since the mid-19th century. Drawing had been included as a school subject as early as 1840 (Collinge, 1978, p. 15). It was incorporated in the preservice training of teachers from 1876 (Johnston & Morton, 1976, p. 10), and its teaching has subsequently been founded on clearly defined conceptual foundations or rationales (Collinge, 1978). Thus drawing was a core school subject in New Zealand from the 1870s in both the public schools and the Native Schools, when it was cited as one of the subjects in the 1878 Standards Syllabus, the first national curriculum in New Zealand (Department of Education, 1878). Learning content was founded on a utilitarian rationale. This meant that “drawing” was regarded as a subject with economic potential rather than as something to be taught as a means of expression or for any notion of art-for-arts-sake. This utilitarian stance, which subsequently pervaded New Zealand’s earliest approach to art education, derived specifically from the South Kensington System of art instruction set up in Britain in the 1850s (see Collinge, 1978; MacDonald, 1970, p. 67). Teacher training was provided through a “pupil-teacher” apprenticeship system from 1864, and a “practising school” model at the Training Department of the Otago Normal School from 1876 (Johnston & Morton, 1976, pp. 4, 10). Like its precedent in British models, the New Zealand pedagogic model was instructional, teacher-directed and copyist. It included drawing from casts, engravings and mechanical diagrams (Bell, 2000, p. 7; MacDonald, 1970, pp. 226–227). This model was to survive into the 20th century (Collinge, 1978, p. 15).

The first liberal/socialist Labour Government elected in 1935 brought a commitment to new educational ideas (Collinge, 1978, p. 14). From the late 1930s to the late 1960s, the status of visual art, especially in the primary sector, was invigorated under the leadership of the Minister of Education, Peter Fraser, the support of Dr Clarence Beeby, Director of Education from 1940, and the charismatic guidance of Gordon Tovey. Beeby established the Art and Craft Specialist Service in 1946 and appointed Tovey to be the first National Supervisor of Art and Craft (see Hardie, 2005; Henderson, 1998). Tovey’s approach drew on ideals such as the Canadian educator Arthur Lismer’s notion of nurturing creative potentials: “… all children are endowed by nature with a capacity for creativity which should be given every encouragement to carry through into adult life” (Henderson, 1998, p. 66). Art education enjoyed rich institutional support during this period, realised in comprehensive preservice training and teacher resource support. This was most clearly evident in the training of over 250 primary art specialist teachers and Art and Crafts advisers between 1938 and 1966 (see Hardie, 2005, pp. 19–56).

Some attempts were made to make art education more culturally inclusive. For example, from the 1930s in the Native Schools there was a move from assimilation to adaptation in the inclusion of Māori crafts and themes, though what was taught was decided by Pākehā officers of the Department of Education (see Simon & Smith, 2001). Tovey’s ambition was to incorporate Māori cultural perspectives into a vision for New Zealand art education, and the development of a generation of specialist advisers, both Māori and Pākehā, supported art learning and creative innovations in generalist classrooms.

A milestone in the development of art in secondary schools was the 1943 Thomas Report (Department of Education, 1944). Its recommendation that secondary schools include art and craft as part of the core curriculum in order to provide a more balanced curriculum was subsequently confirmed in The Education (Post-Primary Instruction) Regulations (Department of Education, 1945). Despite the emphasis on “craft”, these regulations accelerated the development of secondary school art education. Change was further assisted by new regulations for School Certificate, which provided a wider range of options for students (see Ewing, 1970). Reflecting the pragmatic approach to education following World War Two, the revised School Certificate Art prescription was labelled “Drawing and Design”. In 1989 the first national art curriculum was published. The Art Education: Junior Classes to Form 7, Syllabus for Schools (Department of Education, 1989) refined art knowledge into domains of “Knowing How” and “Knowing About” and understanding social contexts for art. Its implementation was supported by comprehensive preservice training provided in art curriculum courses for primary generalist teachers and in secondary preservice programmes in colleges of education. The art curriculum, unlike previous syllabi, which had emphasised utilitarian drawing, design and crafts, now drew on teachers’ sound knowledge of art practice, but challenged them to extend their knowledge of understanding through contextualisation.

In a controversial outcome of curriculum reform promulgated by successive governments during the 1980s and 1990s, The Arts in the New Zealand Curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2000) was drawn up, the last of seven essential learning areas to be developed (see Bracey, 1998; Grierson & Mansfield, 2003). Visual art lost its discrete, core curriculum status as the new arts curriculum combined the four arts (music, dance, drama and visual art) within a single agenda. Arts (rather than just visual art) education remained compulsory to Year 10. Implementation support was still provided, though in the new climate of economic rationalism this was confined to contracted professional development by the Ministry of Education (see McGee et al., 2003), supported by resource development and online professional networks. The achievement objectives of its four-strand knowledge framework presented teachers with comprehensive guidelines for developing art learning experiences. However, a significant implication of a generic arts curriculum is the competition between each of the arts for time and resources. With the disestablishment of the Art and Craft Advisory Service in 1972, and of subject supervisors in 1975, support for art teachers has been largely replaced by inservice courses for teachers at the request of their schools (see Bowell, 2009). This is the climate in which art teachers are currently implementing The New Zealand Curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2007).


The New Zealand Curriculum incorporates the four-strand subject-knowledge model for visual art into a clear philosophy for teaching and learning. It challenges the resources of teachers more than ever before, yet lacks at least three of the four sources of support its predecessors had enjoyed. The document emphasises pedagogy. It favours co-constructive strategies consistent with those of arts engagements themselves, encouraging teachers to examine anew the construction of art knowledge in negotiating learning pathways within their programmes (Ministry of Education, 2007). Learning is a contextualised experience, defined through the developing interactions between child, teacher, subject knowledge and community cultures. This is a constructivist view, in which the learner actively constructs meaning from their understandings of their experiences of their world. What is learnt is conditioned by the ecology of the learning environment and the political and sociocultural contexts of the learner. Linda Darling-Hammond (2006, p. 186) explains that in this model:

… programs must wrestle with how to maintain a healthy dialectic between the complementary and sometimes competing goals of teaching toward a common set of curriculum goals and teaching in ways that attend to students’ uncommon starting points and pathways … If they are to succeed, teachers must become learner-centered and learning-centered, being clear both about what the nature of the subject matter is (why it is important and what is to be learned) and about how the particular learners they are teaching come to that content (what they know and need to know, how they learn, and what they care about) and then connecting the two.

The New Zealand Curriculum thus favours learning pathways founded on meaningful relationships between knowledgeable teachers and knowing students, developed through caring, reciprocal relationships. It recognises students as its primary focus and embraces their knowledge, beliefs, cultural and ethnic perspectives and learning interests. It fosters communication through discussion, exchange and the recognition of diverse points of view. It encourages in-depth experiences developed through sustained investigations, and relationships that empower students’ independent learning dispositions of critical reflection and enquiry, analytical thinking, reflection and evaluation, and engagement in conversation or debate. In these ways it can recognise and inform learning as a lifelong process. The New Zealand Curriculum recognises both the complex multicultural contexts of Aotearoa New Zealand and the bicultural implications of the Treaty of Waitangi, Te Tiriti o Waitangi.1 The principles for The New Zealand Curriculum are fundamental for any healthy learning experiences, not just art. They do, however, provide fertile conditions for visual arts learning. They encourage enjoyment and engagement, play, experimentation and invention. Integrating art with other learning can enhance sociocultural or aesthetic engagements that can have a profound, long-lasting relevance for the future lives of students (Broudy, 1978; Eisner, 2008; Lanier, 1986, 1987). In promoting learning through knowledge drawn from personal and shared experiences, these paradigms can nurture the kinds of independent inquiry fundamental to art learning. As the Australian educator Susan Wilks (2003, p. 28) has noted, these paradigms also found art learning experiences on skills of recognising, describing, analysing, synthesising, critically reflecting, extending, developing, inventing and evaluation. These are precisely the skills upon which art learning and art engagement are founded, and which underpin The New Zealand Curriculum’s achievement objectives. These art learning dispositions are also consistent with the curriculum’s five key competencies: thinking; using language, symbols and texts; managing self; relating to others; and participating and contributing (Ministry of Education, 2007, pp. 12–13).

Pedagogic principles like these correspond closely to the procedures and methods of engagements in the arts. They embrace the subjectivity of arts experiences within the broader frameworks of social, cultural, educational and art-world institutions. Most importantly, they recognise the special character of the arts as engagements of mind rather than simply of skill (Broudy, 1978, p. 29; Wheeler, 1971, pp. 323–325). This is, however, a curriculum that will make far greater demands than previously on teacher expertise and knowledge of art, students and their educational communities.


The visual arts component of The New Zealand Curriculum states its knowledge requirements very clearly in achievement objectives for Practical Knowledge, Developing Ideas, Communicating and Interpreting and Understanding Arts in Context. Fulfilling these objectives requires language and conceptual knowledge specific to the visual arts, and knowledge of pedagogies and assessment consistent with these. Responsive engagement with the full spectrum of community interests implies also rich world knowledge of multicultural perspectives and students. This curriculum embraces sound pedagogies, but will it be informed by the same core status, teacher knowledge and rich resourcing as its predecessors? These are the challenges faced by art teachers across all educational sectors and in teacher education.

Under The New Zealand Curriculum, visual art has lost its full core status. Although still a compulsory subject over the course of Years 1–8, it is no longer required for students at Years 9 or 10 (Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 20). There is also no guarantee that each of its four knowledge strands will receive adequate attention. Some avoidance of assessing against the 1.1 standard in NCEA Visual Arts at Year 11 (AS 90018 “Investigate Māori and European art works from established practice”) suggests evasion also of the Communicating and Interpreting and Understanding the Arts in Context strands in many secondary schools. This is clear from the number of candidates for different Level 1 Visual Arts standards in 2008 (see Table 1).


This example may illustrate that art teachers come to the curriculum with less comprehensive preparation than they require. It may also suggest that the apparent confidence expressed by some secondary teachers (below) may be conditional, or practice focused, and may not extend to the art historical or critical objectives of the curriculum.

Ironically, given the increased knowledge demands it makes of teachers, the current curriculum structure has been accompanied by reduced preservice training support. Darling-Hammond (2006) defines three fundamental principles of learning for developing pedagogic competencies for this kind of curriculum:

1.&;&;Teachers come to the classroom with prior knowledge that must be addressed if teaching is to be effective.

2.&;&;Students need to organize and use knowledge conceptually if they are to apply it beyond the classroom.

3.&;&;Students learn more effectively if they understand how they learn and how to manage their own learning. (pp. 9–10)

Preparation for the first of these competencies, in particular, makes significant demands on both subject knowledge and pedagogic dexterity. As these requirements have become more explicit, however, preservice art education courses have experienced reductions of epic proportions. This is evident in the loss of preservice subject teaching departments, leadership and advisory services. A decade ago each college of education maintained a discrete visual arts curriculum department, led by a head of department, and staffed with visual arts specialists from secondary and primary education backgrounds. Preservice primary education students in at least one college of education might have enjoyed three full art curriculum courses at 100, 200 and 300 level, totalling 156 hours of class time. They might also have extended their learning in the subject to a total of 450 hours through elective papers in art. In one other college, students would have received a compulsory 33-hour course during their first year of study, and could have enrolled in up to seven full elective courses in their second and third years.3 Today the total compulsory art experience may be as low as 8.5 hours over the three years of study (Ferguson, 2009). The inevitable consequence must be the trickle-down effect and marginalisation of art in primary school programmes. Students entering secondary school will be ill-equipped to select visual art elective pathways, or to engage in art programmes, without rich foundation knowledge in the subject. This may already be evident in the avoidance of the Communicating and Interpreting and Understanding the Arts in Context strands suggested by the relative numbers for the NCEA Visual Art entries noted above. The effects are certainly evident for primary teachers. As Ian Bowell (2009, p. 4) reports:

In New Zealand primary school teachers’ confidence in teaching visual art is being threatened by a reduction in traditional sources of support. Since 2002 teacher training courses have reduced time allocation to courses in the arts. Reductions in specialist courses in undergraduate and one year graduate diplomas in teaching (McNaughton 2007) have had an impact on arts education in schools. The number of specialist primary school art advisors in New Zealand has also decreased in the past eight years, along with the time for primary visual art advisory work. The combination of this contraction of traditional support for primary school teachers is threatening the confidence teachers have in their teaching of visual art.

Bowell cites the 2003 Ministry of Education curriculum stocktake (McGee et al., 2003) in arguing the paucity of subject-knowledge-focused development for the visual art curriculum through either preservice or inservice programmes. Successful resources like the Artists in Schools programme or the Ministry of Education Quality Teaching Partnership Fund have been cancelled.4 The loss of full compulsory status, rich teacher training and resourcing may have significant implications for the marginalisation of art in schools in the future. The impact in primary schools may have profound repercussions in secondary schools.

Informed by comprehensive subject knowledge, the pedagogies promoted in The New Zealand Curriculum can inform the ways we teach students, not just the subject, so that the learner is honoured, and individual and inventive learning practice is promoted. Sociocultural contexts of learning and their complex implications can be recognised, and students’ ideas, thinking and inquiry and risk taking valued. Poorly informed teaching can do little to realise these potentials, however, and the avenues for developing knowledgeable teachers seem to be increasingly compromised.

If The New Zealand Curriculum holds much promise for art education, it also raises some key questions. Shifting learning away from objectively focused directive teaching towards subjectively focused co-constructive models encourages a healthy move from assessment-focused learning to student-centred learning. Responsive rather than transmissive teaching and learning strategies, meaningful subject-integration approaches, project- or inquiry-based strategies, co-constructed learning pathways and meeting the needs of diverse learners require complex pedagogic skills. The question is whether new (and even current) art teachers are sufficiently informed to fulfil these needs. What kinds of subject knowledge do these teachers now require? Can more knowledge better enable them to respond to diverse needs? Can richer knowledge in contextual and aesthetic domains beyond art making empower them for meeting the multilayered requirements of The New Zealand Curriculum? Do they need to develop new strategies to better respond to the diverse needs of negotiated pathways? How can we define and inform innovative pedagogies that embrace the principles of the new curriculum? The success of the visual arts in The New Zealand Curriculum will be entirely dependent on the responses teachers can bring to these challenges and questions.

Challenges for secondary school teachers

How do teachers feel about these issues? It is difficult to gauge the feelings of those from all sectors, and it seems reasonable that experiences and opinions would be as diverse as the individuals, teams, contexts or sectors might be. Thoughts from specific groups and some implicit indicators are available, however. At the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Art Educators Art Works/Mahi Toi conference in April 2009, approximately 70 teachers, mainly secondary visual art specialists, contributed to a round-table discussion about the promises and challenges for the visual arts curriculum today (Bell, 2009). This round-table discussion was developed through a sequence of questions:

•&;&;In what ways can The New Zealand Curriculum promise better teaching and learning in the visual arts?

•&;&;What challenges will The New Zealand Curriculum bring for you?

•&;&;How well equipped do you feel for evaluating the learning of your students for all four strands of The New Zealand Curriculum?

•&;&;How would you like to see the challenges The New Zealand Curriculum brings for you met?

•&;&;How do you feel about the aims for the visual arts in The New Zealand Curriculum?

•&;&;In what areas would you welcome more knowledge and resources?

The discussions provoked by these questions explored issues of strategies for more effective teaching and learning, the key competencies and knowledge strands, diversity and inclusion, co-constructive and inquiry-based learning, preservice and inservice provision, whole-school implications, professional networks and the promise for enhanced visual arts learning in schools. Although these discussions reflected the diversity of interests of the contributors, they also confirmed what might be expected—that participating teachers in secondary and tertiary sectors felt comfortable in their subject knowledge, especially in terms of art practice, and highly motivated to continue to develop and expand their professional knowledge both within, and around, their own specialist interests. They claimed to feel comfortable with their ability to work with The New Zealand Curriculum, and to work in the interface between it and the requirements of achievement-based assessment in the senior school. The participants appreciated the correspondence between the multifaceted character of learning and practice in visual arts and the holistic nature of the key competencies and integrative and inquiry-based learning paradigms. Secondary teachers in general held a positive view of The New Zealand Curriculum’s challenge to teachers to reflect on their practice and capitalise on opportunities for the further development of collaborative programmes and development of individually negotiated learning pathways. They acknowledged the special significance of the visual arts as a most appropriate area for realising those ideals. They acknowledged also a degree of comfort in melding curriculum expectations with diverse teacher skills and knowledge, and the professional mentoring networks they already have in place for supporting their practice.

The levels of comfort revealed through these aspects of the discussion may, perhaps, have been informed by the confidence or awareness of a select group of teachers sufficiently motivated to attend a national conference. They may not represent the thinking of the broader range of teachers who did not. The discussion session did reveal several areas in which that comfort was conditional, or where teachers saw real challenges for the profession. One was the issue of transferability of increasingly individuated learning from one environment to another. Another was the impact of the continuing expansion of the potentials of media and technical processes of the visual arts for continuing learning for teachers. Teachers are also confronted with the broader contextual implications for teacher knowledge and for flexibility in provoking and responding to the demands and potentials of diverse multicultural interests—an area of particular relevance for visual arts programmes.

Early in the discussion it was suggested that The New Zealand Curriculum will require a huge change of mindset for teachers. The visual arts have long offered a congenial setting for the engagement of the competencies identified in the curriculum (Wilks, 2003, pp. 27–28), but this may need to be made more explicit in the development of programmes in the future. During the past four decades, art education thinking has experienced a shift from a “top-down” curriculum, defined through the disciplines of its subject knowledge, to student-centred co-constructive paradigms. This emphasises the diversity of interests to be accommodated, in larger classes especially. Responsive and flexible accommodation of diversity makes high demands on every aspect of subject knowledge and pedagogic skill.

The curriculum brings challenges for teacher knowledge. The evidence cited above of some avoidance of the Level 1 “Investigate Māori and European art works from established practice” standard may also suggest teachers’ confidence is focused more on areas of art practice and development of ideas than on understanding art works in relation to their contexts. While teachers in this group claimed to be comfortable in their knowledge and strategies for teaching all four strands of The New Zealand Curriculum, some felt less effective in their assessment or evaluation of learning in the Understanding the Arts in Context strand, and implicitly also the Communicating and Interpreting strand. Some felt the challenges to be particularly evident in the literacy required for engagements in oral and written communication about art. Larger departments, especially those able to embrace art history programmes, seemed better able to respond to this challenge. These teachers noted also that the very intense condensation of diverse and complex knowledge implicit in each line of the achievement objectives of the curriculum requires a close unpacking. Teachers who have experienced the broader context of curriculum development in the visual arts may be better informed for responding to the challenge of the requirements—and potentials—of these subtle complexities of The New Zealand Curriculum. This may favour more experienced teachers, but it challenges new ones, and has significant implications for the content and structure of preservice curricula.

Teachers in this group also noted the increasing requirements of administration and compliance that have accompanied the changes in curriculum and assessment paradigms during the past decade. The resources of school communities have also been subject to increasing, and increasingly complex, demands. Teachers discussed the challenge of maintaining the position of the visual arts—in all of their own diversity—in increasingly pressured school environments. Some noted a marginalisation of their subjects within the broader school curriculum in the junior or middle school years at secondary school, especially as their schools have been pressured toward a greater rationalisation of course choices. Teachers did also acknowledge that The New Zealand Curriculum encouraged complementary opportunities for art teachers to enrich their contribution to broader school experiences. Good art teaching can enhance teaching and learning in general. As Geoff Harris, the National Moderator for NCEA Visual Arts, commented:

… the best teachers are being reflective and constantly evaluating what they are doing. This is just something else to think about as they go about it. What the opportunity, part of the challenge, is, is that opportunity for dialogue within the schools and with the other subjects and creating those kinds of rich paths of inquiry learning that have been suggested. Now the challenge there is the enormous workload, and making that happen. (Bell, 2009, p. 12)

There was broad agreement on the impact of the heavy-duty workload! For secondary school teachers especially, assessment is a key issue. There seems little problem finding an accord between co-constructive principles for art learning, the curriculum construct and assessment procedures in the senior school. A number, however, noted the “cart before the horse” problem of achievement standards assessment practices, especially as they drifted down to Years 7–10, beginning to assume a driving role in the formulation of teaching and learning programmes.

Teachers here also emphasised the challenge of resourcing for better—and more flexibly responsive—teaching. They acknowledged the benefits of both online support systems and arts advisory services. The systematic reduction in advisory support, however, has by now had significant impact in schools, especially in the South Island. Advisory or resource support must be consistent with the philosophical ethos of The New Zealand Curriculum. Teachers agreed on the limitations of “pre-packaged” projects or unit plans and resource packs as support strategies. These are inconsistent with the principles of co-construction or flexible learning pathways, favouring “top-down” pedagogy rather than empowering teachers.

Overall, however, this predominantly visual-art-specialist group did agree on the very positive potentials of the 2007 curriculum for enhancing learning in, and through, visual art. They seemed comfortable with the balance between its four-strand knowledge structure and the “open-endedness” of the curriculum principles. Most appeared to agree on the close correspondence between the nature of learning, engaging and making in the visual arts and the underpinning principles for teaching and learning encouraged by The New Zealand Curriculum. Most also agreed that this has very positive implications for the central role the visual arts can continue to play in facilitating holistic learning experiences at all levels.

Challenges for primary school teachers

Generalist primary teachers may feel differently, however. In the same discussion, one participant acknowledged the relevance of key competencies for teachers in primary school settings, and the ways these serve the interests of holistic learning experiences for each child. She noted also the ways, especially in learning in the arts, that the key competencies could be incorporated into teaching and learning in diverse and inventive ways to develop more balanced programmes more closely related to the interests of the broader learning community. Conversely, however—and already consistent with the implications of reduced visual arts content in preservice courses—a significant number of primary teachers seem ill-prepared to develop informed learning pathways of this kind. Ian Bowell (2009) noted that:

According to a 2003 Ministry of Education curriculum stocktake (McGee et al., 2003), 20% of New Zealand primary school teachers expressed a need for professional development in visual art. If that 20% figure was extrapolated to the approximately 27,000 primary school teachers working in New Zealand today, then about 5,400 would consider themselves in need of support in the teaching of visual art. Given that the survey was conducted at a time when the number of specialist primary visual art advisors was greater than now, because of Ministry of Education funding for implementation of the Arts curriculum (2000), it is likely that more than 20% would express a need for professional development in visual art if the survey was done today. (p. 4)

Inservice training opportunities and advisory support services offer little to compensate for the lack of preservice training for primary teachers in many parts of the country. The combined impact of the severe reductions in preservice training and the paucity of ongoing support is now clearly evident. A Sunday Star Times article in June 2009 noted that the most recent report of the National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP) showed that the art-making efforts of Year 4 students were rated fair, poor or very poor 75–90 percent of the time, despite the fact that the children rated the visual arts as their second most popular subject (Ferguson, 2009). The decline in levels of achievement coincides with reductions in subject training. The article cited the claim of Carole Johnston of The University of Auckland that this is reflected in bad art teaching in schools—or none at all. Graham Price, senior lecturer in art education at the University of Waikato, echoed the sentiment: “When a teacher wants to do art—but they haven’t had the foundation or the confidence in their own learning—they will reach for anything that looks easily taught” (Ferguson, 2009, A8). As comments at the round-table discussion suggested, the impacts are twofold: easy-access templates, photocopies or ready-made worksheets can do little to challenge and extend the innovative and creative engagements that art practice can best engender; and prepackaged solutions bring little to the co-constructive and inquiry-based student-centred learning The New Zealand Curriculum requires. As Ian Bowell also noted, teachers whose own resources are already strained will need to be increasingly self-reliant in expanding and developing their subject knowledge consistent with the pedagogical pathways of their students:

If the School Support Service is unable to support all primary school teachers, and pre-service teacher training is inadequate in preparing newly qualified teachers to teach visual art, teachers may need to turn to new sources for support. One such source could be within the schools themselves. In the same 2003 curriculum stocktake, 72.2% of teachers identified other teachers at their school as their most important source of curriculum support. (2009, p. 4)

Bowell described a collaborative strategy for enhancing visual art teaching in primary schools, and the prerequisite conditions for the success of schemes like this. These include the dependence of such strategies on the existence of expertise within the school, and continued access to outside support as a source of visual art knowledge and teaching strategy (Bowell, 2009, p. 8). While these conditions may still survive in some schools, the sources of expertise and support will surely evaporate as a new generation of teachers enters the profession with minimal visual arts subject knowledge.

Though primary teachers’ art knowledge may now be compromised, they can bring other experiences to visual arts learning. Generalist programmes favour opportunities for meaningful integration, and the arts can contribute to and profit from these strategies. The 2000 arts curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2000) was followed by contract support for some schools, the development of curriculum-targeted resources and the evolution of online networks that continue to provide a changing fabric of support. Only the latter service survives. Learning Experiences Outside the Classroom (LEOTC) experiences in museums and art galleries continue to offer resources for informing, through relatively brief and occasional experiences, arts learning experiences, which can be extended within the school itself. Like the school programmes that access them, however, LEOTC gallery programmes in New Zealand are a resource under pressure. They offer intensive learning interactions, but face inevitable tensions between the demands of servicing the needs of many schools to meet Ministry of Education expectations, and the challenge for schools of fitting multiple visits into programmes. Teachers can access informed professional networks like the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Art Educators, though their current focus on the interests of secondary or tertiary specialists may seem exclusive or intimidating for many, and in any case stressed primary school budgets may be unable to support the kinds of participation these organisations offer.

Although integration, external services or teacher networks may offer some support, they still rely on a shared expertise of experienced teachers that may be soon compromised as the effects of reduced training and advisory services impact further on classroom practice. More importantly, they offer no solutions to the real problem. In providing occasional, bandaid or cosmetic enhancements, they avoid the real issue: new teachers in the primary sector are simply ill-equipped to respond to either the knowledge expectations or the pedagogic principles of The New Zealand Curriculum. There are no guarantees that secondary teachers will continue to be informed by the kinds of preservice curriculum preparation they currently enjoy. Of all the pathways for continuing to realise the potentials of visual arts learning in New Zealand schools, the preservice curriculum offers the greatest potential. The specialist knowledge of visual arts graduates may not correspond directly to school curriculum requirements. Non-art graduates may have almost none. The best solution would be for all preservice pathways to prioritise learning of art knowledge. In doing so they would need to contextualise that learning within the broader experiences of bicultural and flexible transcultural engagement, and enhance opportunities for integration with other subjects. It might also be important for preservice programmes themselves to demonstrate classroom best practice, intimately melding their own engagements in visual arts learning into pedagogic strategies in ways that best realise the vision of The New Zealand Curriculum.

This kind of practice may require a substantial review of preservice degrees, for primary teachers especially. Pathways might need to be restructured. Four-year undergraduate teaching degrees or supplementary specialist-knowledge graduate courses might be needed to accommodate in-depth visual arts learning experiences sufficient for informing good teaching practice. Graduate degree pathways might need upgrading to postgraduate status to elevate academic standards and to enhance the kinds of research-empowered practice that can inform ongoing learning for teachers. Promoting research potentials has implications for budget constraints. Whatever the outcomes, preservice providers will be key players in determining the future of visual art in schools. They are currently, and for the future are most likely to be, the single most important resource for preparing teachers for their profession, and for supporting their development during their careers.


Learning and practising in the visual arts are more than important dimensions of a well-structured curriculum—they are basic human rights, endorsed in Article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.5 As Elliot Eisner, Lee Jacks Emeritus Professor of Education and of Art at Stanford University, California, argued in his 2008 Lowenfeld Lecture What Education Can Learn from the Arts, the visual arts also have great potential for enriching teaching and learning in every dimension of the curriculum. The multidimensional, interactive, holistic, finely nuanced, risk taking, considered, reflective, intuitive, imaginative and inventive dimensions of arts practice and learning are relevant to healthy learning in every other subject domain, in integrated learning pathways, and in co-constructive learning environments. In Eisner’s words, “… how much time should be devoted to the arts in schools? The answer is clear: all of it” (2008). The challenge for teachers, educational communities and the curriculum in New Zealand is to continue to nourish these potentials today as generously as they did in the past.


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1&;&;&;New Zealand’s founding document, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, The Treaty of Waitangi, was first signed on 6 February 1840. The treaty is a broadly framed agreement, between Māori and British Crown signatories, of the guiding principles through which the New Zealand nation state was to be developed.

2&;&;&;My thanks to the National Moderator in Visual Arts, Geoff Harris, for this statistic. 2009 figures were not available at the time of writing.

3&;&;&;All Dunedin College of Education students enjoyed the benefits of full visual arts curriculum courses in each year of preservice study. Students could also choose from a comprehensive range of elective visual arts courses to supplement their degree curriculum or to develop a major, or specialisation, in visual arts education. The Auckland College of Education programme included a compulsory 33-hour art education course at year 1 (now 7.5 hours), a 33-hour art education elective at year 2 and the option of up to six elective courses in art education, painting, printmaking and mixed media/clay at years 2 and 3 (J. Smith and R. Hoeberigs, personal correspondence, 22 March 2010).

4&;&;&;In the 2009 Budget, presented several weeks after the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Art Educators conference, government funding for the Artists in Schools programme was cancelled. In 2009 this programme had seen the funded participation of 57 artists in 46 schools. Subsequently the Ministry of Education has also withdrawn its contribution of the Quality Teaching Partnership Fund (QTPF). This withdrawal will impact on the potentials of subject associations and leaders to support curriculum implementation.

5&;&;&;“Article 31 (Leisure, play and culture): Children have the right to join in a wide range of cultural, artistic and other recreational activities” (“Convention on the Rights of the Child”, n.d.).

The author

Dr David Bell is Senior Lecturer and Coordinator, Postgraduate Programme at the University of Otago College of Education. He teaches programmes in art education and also contributes to the Programme in Art History and Theory. He is currently President of the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Art Educators (ANZAAE) and editor of the ANZAAE Journal. David maintains teaching and research interests in curriculum, pedagogy and assessment in art education, specialising in secondary practical art and art history. He is currently researching art gallery education strategies in New Zealand and North American settings. He also researches and publishes in the field of 19th century Japanese art.