Art Tug-of- War:teachers' abilities and perceptions to delivering the arts curriculum in New Zealand primary schools.

Year: 2012

Author: Irwin, Michael

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper reports on a study of the abilities and perceptions of New Zealand teachers concerning the delivery of the arts curriculum at the primary school level (Years 1 to Years 8). Data was collected using a survey and individual interviews from 82 participants. Research issues included teachers' attitudes and knowledge to teach the arts and creativity, the delivery  of the Arts in the classroom and school, and the emphasis given the Arts within the school.

Teachers are under great pressure to achieve higher standards of student achievement with a greater diversity of student in the classroom than ever before.   New Zealand's National Standards for Educational achievement introduced in 2010 have placed a greater emphasis on numeracy and literacy. The Arts in many schools are being marginalised and devalued as a minor curriculum. Many researchers believe the Arts are so important that they should be the centre of the primary school curriculum. An art enriched programme has the ability to reach the diversity of students in today's classrooms and raise their achievement across the curriculums.

Leading educationalists and government policymakers have identified creativity, innovation, collaboration and higher order thinking skills as attributes that the 21st Century learners and workers require to be successful. This paper compares teachers' responses to these pressures and the place of the Arts and creativity within today's classroom.  Differences were apparent in the teachers' specific knowledge and skill in the Arts. Teachers' specific art skills and confidence had a direct bearing on their attitudes to art , time spent delivering the Arts curriculum and perceived  benefits students may obtain from participating in the Arts. The emphasis given to different curriculum areas by school leadership influenced teacher time spent on the Arts, and the budget available for art delivery. Professional development for staff to improve their knowledge and delivery of the Arts was non-existence. An individual teacher's passion for the Arts was often the force keeping art alive in many schools. Many research participants felt as if they were being shoved one direction or another along a continuum. "Being pulled left and right, like a tug of war competition" is how one teacher explained curriculum expectations.   At one end is the expectation to reach National Achievement Standards and at the other end the expectation to develop creative and imaginative 21st century learners. This research examined how teachers cope in such a pressure environment to meet these expectations.