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New Report Shows that Caring is the Key in Art Teacher CPD

An image of a piece of art a big eye created by a school pupil

A new report from Arts Connect: Practices of Care: Teacher Responses to Arts Connect’s Professional Development Programmes by Professor Pat Thomson and Dr Becky Coles, finds that a crucial but missing element to the effective continuing professional development of teachers is the kind of care, attention and challenge that is characteristic of Arts Connect’s practice.

The report offers new knowledge and insight for those who are working to develop the teaching workforce and specifically responds to the urgent call from the APPG (All-Party Parliamentary Group for Art, Craft and Design in Education) report ‘Art Now’ to improve, motivate and retain art teachers in all schools.

Arts Connect is part of the School of Creative Industries, at the University of Wolverhampton.

Pat Thomson PSM PhD FAcSS FRSA, Professor of Education, University of Nottingham, said: “Unlike many professional learning programmes on offer, Arts Connect recognised that teachers have different backgrounds in contemporary art and taught in vastly different contexts. The teachers we interviewed put their changed teaching practice down not only to the quality of the programme, but also the bespoke encouragement and support that was offered to them. Busy teachers were enabled to engage with British Art Show 9 at their own pace and with their own teaching demands in mind.”

Professor Thomson and Dr Coles reviewed the impact of Arts Connect’s work with art teachers over the last four years through their programme of innovative Continuing Professional Development and Learning (CPDL) inspired by contemporary art practice. Beginning in 2020 as part of the British Art Show 9 exhibition in Wolverhampton, the programme has to date engaged 98 schools, 179 teachers and 3,735 children and young people predominantly in the Black Country.

The Arts Connect way is found to be noticeably different to current approaches to CPDL on offer in the UK that tend to be one-size-fits-all, risk averse, one off and process focused. Arts Connect do the exact opposite, introducing a methodology of care, challenge, collaboration and continuation.

Becky Thompson, Education Producer at Arts Connect, said: “This report shows how our application of care and individualisation to art teacher CPDL has enabled teachers to engage on a different level, shaping their learning and love of art in ways that matters to them. Our ambition is to continue to collaboratively grow a pro-active network of art teachers in the Black Country who are ambitious, curious and bold in their practice and in their aspirations for themselves and their students."

The report finds that teachers had changed their teaching practice, moving them from “acquiring knowledge to asking open questions; from censoring to discussing difficult issues in the classroom such as race and sexuality; from learning skills to valuing exploration and from being classroom-based to being out and about in the community.” Teachers report a significant impact on their personal confidence and sense of themselves as artists and makers.

Teachers told the research team how they had applied their learning from their CPDL with Arts Connect, in the classroom and how this had increased the confidence of their students as artists, encouraging them to think more deeply about what their work could do, how art could be current, challenging, inclusive and political and how it could be joyful and fun. 

Arts Connect are credited with opening up a world of creative opportunities for teachers. Their success in this was due to a deep understanding of the issues teachers are confronting, a deep understanding of art and design education and the contemporary arts landscape and a hands-on approach to helping teachers overcome the barriers they face. 

Effective CPD/L is essential to the development of the current art and design teaching workforce in order to develop subject knowledge, build confidence and skills and support teacher retainment. There are significant issues with morale and well-being in the art and design teaching community in the UK with the recent report Art Now from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Art, Craft and Design in Education, showing that the majority of the 1,860 art and design teachers from across the four nations, that they surveyed (67%) are thinking of leaving the profession. In this report strategic investment in subject specific CPD/L is a key recommendation.


Radio, TV and press interviews can be arranged with Arts Connect. For all press enquiries contact Felicity Martin, Communications and Marketing Manager, Arts Connect. Mobile: 07779 773197. Email:

Editors Notes

Who are Arts Connect? 

Arts Connect are a centre for cultural education working for children and young people at the University of Wolverhampton. For over a decade we have run projects and programmes that improve opportunities and access for the creative development of young people and the skills and knowledge of teachers, artists and arts organisations who work with them. We focus our work in the Black Country.

Arts Connect work as a Knowledge Exchange and Research Centre at the School of Creative Industries at the University of Wolverhampton.

Programme Methodology and the Philosophy Behind It  

The inspired by British Art Show 9 (BAS9) Arts Connect Learning Programme was a collaboration between the University of Wolverhampton, Arts Connect, local teachers, young people and artists who worked together to create dynamic contemporary arts programmes in schools across the West Midlands. The BAS9 inspired learning programme was developed to engage young people, inspire teachers and build upon an already vibrant arts community. It then led to additional Arts Connect contemporary art programmes, based around exhibitions at The New Art Gallery Walsall and the Wolverhampton Museum and Art Gallery namely Breaking the Mould and Contemporary Art in the Classroom.  

The programmes were designed around Arts Connect’s unique approach to CPDL: a genuine interest in art teachers both as educational  professionals, artists and as people; an in-depth understanding of the challenging circumstances art and design teacher work in; an understanding of the power in building sustainable networks across the Black Country; a mission to have art recognised and celebrated in schools and communities; a desire to support teachers to take risks and find their joy again and wanting to increase and enhance creativity and freedom in the classroom for all children and young people in the Black Country.  

Giving children access to art and design in schools is recognised by the government and Ofsted as part of the foundations of building a healthy school ecology, leading to well-balanced and well-rounded children; encouraging as it does, key cross-discipline skills as well as nurturing curiosity, self-awareness, self-confidence, independence, self-agency and personal and mental wellbeing. These attributes are recognised as being essential in enabling children and young people to become fully fledged and productive members of society, as well as making them ready for employment, both generally and in the creative industries. At the heart of all of this is the need to have a motivated, informed and supported teaching profession. A programme of intelligent, caring and consistent Continuing Professional Development is seen as part of the solution to that.  

The Report

The report presents an analysis of 14 interviews with teachers who have worked with Arts Connect over a number of years. These teachers worked across primary, secondary and further education settings and had a range of teaching experience: some were in the first years of their career while others had taught for many years and managed their departments.   

The Authors

Pat Thomson PhD PSM FAcSS FRSA is Professor of Education at the University of Nottingham. She has researched arts and creativity in galleries, museums, schools and communities in England for the last twenty years. She once was a Headteacher and civil servant in Australia. Her professional and academic passion is how to make schooling more relevant, interesting and valuable for children and young people who are typically not well served by educational institutions. Her initial teacher education was in performance and media which led her to a contemporary art. She has always been a maker and now works with metals, particularly silver (she was almost certainly an alchemist in a former life). She is also a writer and blogs regularly about academic writing, as well as publishing books (27) and chapter and papers (over 200). Her most recent arts education book is Cultural Citizenship - Arts Education for Life (2023, Routledge with Christine Hall) which reports on the Tracking Arts Engagement and Learning (TALE) project in 30 secondary schools. She is currently completing the Researching the Arts in Primary schools (RAPS) project which looks at 40 arts rich

primary schools.

Becky Coles has been a researcher of arts and education since completing her PhD under the supervision of Pat Thomson in 2014. She likes to work with methods including archival research, participant observation and in-depth and repeat interviewing. She is interested in the ways people’s love of art sits within their wider lives, structured by social change and inequality and has studied: the history of design pedagogy and young people’s contemporary pathways to work in the visual arts; education taking place in a cinema and the history of the non-formal arts education sector; the changing place of screen media within families and the practice of independent reading among children. Having previously been an urban activist, she has recently moved to Derbyshire and

discovered a passion for forest gardening and agroforestry.

Art Now Report: 

An inquiry into the state of Art and Design teaching in early years foundation stage, primary and secondary education by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Art, Craft and Design in Education.  Published 2024. 

Picture credit: St Michael's CE High School Dudley



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