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The effect of formal assessment on secondary school Art and Design education: a systematic description of empirical studies. Summary


There have been debates about the ways in which art education is and has been assessed. Art is often linked with conceptions of creativity and aesthetics. Therefore, teaching and assessing this school subject area is greatly influenced by these concepts. The influence of formal assessment of art creates polarised views: on the one hand, art – and pupils’ creativity and self-expression – should not be constrained by formal assessment; on the other hand, assessment and success in national examinations can raise the profile and status of the subject. Whilst some question whether or not pupils’ art should be assessed at all, it is evident that smaller numbers of them would study it in England and Wales at Key Stages 3 and 4 if this did not lead to a GCSE.

This review describes a section of the research literature on assessment in art education. The literature is summarised and described in terms of its findings; the research aims, samples, data types and collection are compared; and the findings as reported by the authors are also included. It should be noted that these have not been assessed for quality; they are described without any attempt to rate their reliability and validity.


The aim of the review is to highlight the main theories and concepts of assessment and examinations in secondary art education.

Review question

What are the effects of summative assessment on Art and Design curricula, teachers and students in secondary schools?


The systematic review used guidelines and tools devised by the EPPI Centre. In short, a protocol or plan for the research was drafted, including a provisional research question for the initial map of research in the field. Exclusion and inclusion criteria for the literature search were written. The protocol was peer-reviewed, revised and then published on the Research Evidence in Education website. Research papers were searched, identified, screened for relevance and then keyworded to create an initial database. A map of research studies in the field was generated. Data was extracted from the papers and assessed for quality and weight of evidence with respect to the research question.


The results of the initial round of searching elicited 2,945 titles and abstracts; 2,837 were found not to be relevant to the review as they were not topic-relevant, did not provide original data, were not written in English or were produced before 1977. Only eight studies met the inclusion/exclusion criteria of this review.

A map of this research was then created to provide useful information for dissemination to users of this review. This map describes the studies in terms of the following:

  • their aims
  • the research methods that they used
  • the types of assessment practices which were described
  • the samples used in the studies
  • the data-collection methods and tools described in these studies
  • the kinds of data that were collected
  • a consideration of the questions and themes that arose from the eight studies.

No synthesis of the studies took place.



A valid investigation could be undertaken to examine the impact on the curriculum of Art and Design examinations and, in particular, the extent to which external assessment dictates classroom practice. This should be undertaken by an independent body, such as the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), and might include a comparison between assessment and classroom practices in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Other important foci would be to examine the following:

  • the level to which art teachers’ pedagogical style is test-driven or exam-driven
  • how art teachers’ resources influence what is taught and assessed
  • how different examination options influence teaching and assessment.


Most of the research included in this systematic map was carried out by teachers and related to their practice. Although this probably caused the studies to be quite small scale, that this was taking place is perhaps indicative of a desire by practitioners for research evidence that would guide them on the topic.


The research reports that were found in this review are about assessment methods, their effects on how art is taught, and the possible influences of them on art students’ work. Although there was also a considerable amount of unsupported theory or rhetoric, there was little empirical research. This suggests that more reliable and valid research in this area of the art curriculum needs to be carried out. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), for example, could investigate systematically the impact of the various examination specifications or syllabuses.

Strengths and limitations

The review identified very few empirical studies of the impact of assessment. The studies identified were quite disparate in character. This difficulty was compounded by inadequate reporting of important details of study methods and results. It was therefore not possible to synthesise the findings from individual studies to provide answers to the review question.

This report should be cited as: Mason R, Steers J, Bedford D, McCabe C (2005) The impact of formal assessment on secondary school Art and Design education: a systematic description of empirical studies. In: Research Evidence in Education Library. London: EPPI Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.

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