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National Curriculum

Understanding the arts - Programme of learning

Statutory content

Learning in this area should include an appropriate balance of focused subject teaching and well-planned opportunities to use, apply and develop knowledge and skills across the whole curriculum.

See related key actions

The programme of learning is made up of:

Curriculum aims

This area of learning contributes to the achievement of the curriculum aims for all young people to become:

  • successful learners who enjoy learning, make progress and achieve
  • confident individuals who are able to live safe, healthy and fulfilling lives
  • responsible citizens who make a positive contribution to society.

Explanatory text


Why this area of learning is important

The arts are a source of inspiration, enjoyment and fulfilment. They provide contexts in which children learn to express their thoughts and emotions, use their imaginations, experiment and develop creativity.

This area of learning makes a key contribution to children's personal, social and emotional development and to their growth as confident individuals. It enables them to participate in and respond to the creative and cultural life of their communities. Working as artists (i) and designers they are encouraged to develop their own voice and to actively collaborate in order to communicate with different audiences through a variety of media and contexts (i).

Participating in a range of art forms – including art and design (i), drama, music and dance – helps children become responsive, critical and appreciative. They discover the value of discipline and practice and, in responding to the work of others, they gain insights into different viewpoints, identities, traditions and cultures.

Explanatory text

Artists: Artists refers to people engaged in any branch of the arts
Media and contexts: This includes the use of new and developing forms and conventions associated with creative writing, poetry, computer graphics, digital photography, animation and film
Art and design: Art and design includes art, craft and design

1. Essential knowledge

Children should build secure knowledge of the following:

  1. how creative ideas can be developed in response to different stimuli and imaginative thinking
  2. how different art forms communicate and evoke moods, thoughts and ideas
  3. that designing, creating and performing require discipline, control, technique and practice
  4. how and why people from different times and cultures have used the arts to express ideas and communicate meaning
  5. that accepted forms and conventions can give structure and purpose to artistic works but can be adapted and changed.

Explanatory text


2. Key skills

These are the skills that children need to learn to make progress:

  1. explore, investigate and experiment from a range of stimuli and starting points, roles, techniques, approaches, materials and media (i)
  2. create, design, devise, compose and choreograph their individual and collective work
  3. improvise, rehearse and refine in order to improve their capability and the quality of their artworks
  4. present, display and perform for a range of audiences, to develop and communicate their ideas and evoke responses
  5. use arts-specific vocabulary to respond to, evaluate, explain, analyse, question and critique their own and other people’s artistic works.

Explanatory text

Media: Media and techniques include the use of ICT in making images, photographs, films, computer composition and performance, and the associated software skills

3. Cross-curricular studies

This area of learning should provide opportunities for:

  1. children to develop and apply their literacy, numeracy and ICT skills
  2. personal, emotional and social development
  3. enhancing children's understanding of the arts through making links to other areas of learning and to wider issues of interest and importance.

4. Breadth of learning

a. In studying the arts children should:

  1. learn how the arts are created and enjoyed (i) today, how they have changed over time, and the contribution they make to our lives and culture
  2. explore how the arts are used and valued in different cultures and traditions
  3. learn how to combine art forms imaginatively and in complementary and enhancing ways
  4. be introduced to the appropriate language of the arts
  5. perform and exhibit for a range of audiences, and work with artists in and beyond the classroom.

b. In studying art, children should:

  1. be involved in design, craftwork and fine art on a variety of scales, working in two and three dimensions and using ICT (i) to explore line, shape, form, colour, texture and pattern
  2. develop their understanding through visits to galleries and exhibitions

c. When studying dance (i), children should:

  1. create, perform and appreciate dances and different dance styles
  2. develop physical skills and the ability to use space imaginatively and creatively
  3. work with others to perform confidently and with expression
  4. view and participate in live performances.

d. When studying drama, children should:

  1. use dramatic conventions (i), working in role with other children and with adults to explore areas of personal interest and enjoyment as well as issues of personal, social and global concern
  2. devise performances for each other, the school and the wider community, and respond to live and recorded professional theatre performances.

e. When studying music, children should:

  1. learn about and appraise a range of music of different genres and from different cultures including classical, folk and popular traditions
  2. learn to sing songs (i) and use instruments to perform melodies and accompaniments by ear and from notation
  3. create and compose music by choosing, ordering, combining and controlling sounds and recognising how musical elements (i) can be used 
  4. work with a range of musicians and watch, listen to and participate in live performances.

Explanatory text

How the arts are created and enjoyed: Including how ICT is used as an art medium in itself and how it can be used for graphics, animations, videos and sound sequences etc

Working in two and three dimensions and using ICT: These activities should include drawing, painting, sculpting and modelling, printing and using textiles, film and photography, graphics, and video and photo-editing software

Dance: Dance is also included in Understanding physical development, health and wellbeing

Dramatic conventions: For example, improvisation, mime, hot-seating, tableau, freeze-frame, thought-tracking, conscience alley, role on the wall, collective role, teacher in role, forum theatre, image theatre, performance carousel, eavesdropping, voice collage, narration
Songs: Including chants and rounds
Musical elements: Musical elements include pitch, duration, tempo, timbre, texture and silence

5. Curriculum progression

The overall breadth of learning should be used when planning curriculum progression. Children should be taught:

Understanding the arts - across the area of learning


E1. To explore a wide range of media and materials, tools and techniques to create artworks (i), improvise and depict imagined worlds, and model the real world through the arts

E2. To explore movement skills and create movement patterns in response to stimuli (i)

E3. To use role play and imaginative play to engage and empathise with characters, situations and events from known stories and stories they create together

E4. To sing songs and make music with expression and control (i)

E5. To listen and observe carefully, taking account of simple instructions (i)

E6. To experiment with designs, shapes, colours and sounds (i), explore and record ideas using ICT where appropriate

Explanatory text

Artworks: This includes making images and artefacts using appropriate tools, for example brushes, sponges, crayons, rollers etc, and using materials, including paper, card, textiles, clay, wire etc, and using ICT as a medium in itself and to explore other art forms. This includes 2D, 3D and technologies such as computer art and graphics, animations, electronic compositions, videos and so on

Movement skills and create movement patterns in response to stimuli: Including whole-body actions which vary speed, strength, shape, size and direction of travel

Expression and control: This includes identifying and controlling how sounds can be made and changed, for example using the voice confidently and with expression in a variety of ways, and playing tuned and untuned instruments

Simple instructions: This includes copying, mime, and musical sound: repeating musical patterns, using call and response, making changes to musical elements, and being aware of how each person contributes to the whole

Experiment with designs, shapes, colours and sounds: Through editing and formatting techniques, for example changing the size, order, shape, speed of digital information such as photos, sound sequences and graphics


M1. To use their senses and the world around them to stimulate and develop imaginative ideas that inform their creative work

M2. To explore how the arts can evoke and express feelings and ideas, and how combining the arts can enhance this

M3. To describe and interpret their own work and the creative work of others

M4. To explore alternative approaches to develop and refine performances and communications, working in a variety of digital forms (i) when appropriate

M5. About the role of the arts (i) in their life, their locality and wider society

Explanatory text

Digital forms: Including computer graphics, presentations, animations, sound sequences, videos etc

Role of the arts: This includes public art galleries, libraries, museums, theatres, concerts, the built environment or objects they buy and use


L1. To work individually and with others to use each art form by itself and in combination to create and to perform for different audiences

L2. About the diverse roles of the arts within the cultures of their locality and the wider world

L3. To select and use appropriate ICT tools and techniques to develop and refine their ideas across the arts

L4. To evaluate and appreciate their own work and the work of others

Explanatory text




Understanding the arts - art and design



Explanatory text





M6. To explore and refine a range of techniques, materials, processes and media, including digital media, to draw, sculpt, model, design, paint and print

M7. To design and create images and artefacts, expressing ideas for clearly defined purposes

Explanatory text







L5. To investigate, explore and record(i) information, to appreciate aesthetic qualities and generate imaginative ideas

L6. To design and create images and artefacts by selecting, developing and refining techniques and using a range of materials and media ideas

Explanatory text

Record: This includes using sketch books, journals, photographs, mood boards, ICT and video



Understanding the arts - dance



Explanatory text



M8. To explore a range of actions, dynamics, space and relationships, and how to create dance motifs (i) and compose simple dances

M9. To learn, practise, refine and perform dance phrases with physical control, expression, rhythmic timing, musicality (i) and an awareness of other performers

Explanatory text

Motifs: A simple motif is several movements linked together smoothly to create a sequence (or phrase) that symbolises or communicates an idea or feeling

Musicality: This includes performing with a sense of rhythm, flow, emphasis and, where appropriate, with an awareness of music or other sounds


L7. To draw upon different dance styles to compose dances and communicate meaning

L8. To develop and refine their movement repertoire and show understanding of artistic meanings and intentions when they dance

Explanatory text



Understanding the arts - drama



Explanatory text




M10. To adopt, sustain and develop a range of roles for different purposes (i) using a range of dramatic conventions (i)

M11. To create and perform in order to make and convey meaning

Explanatory text

Purposes: Purposes include exploring real and imaginary situations, feelings and issues of human significance
Conventions: Conventions at this stage might include freeze frame, hot seating and tableau


L9. To create roles and devise performances that sustain characters, plots and intentions

L10. How facial expressions, body language, movement and space can communicate different emotions and characteristics of behaviour

L11. To select and experiment with a broad range of drama conventions and forms for different purposes (i) and effects

Explanatory text

Different purposes: For example, to explore issues of human significance

Understanding the arts - music



Explanatory text





M12. To listen carefully, recognise and use repeated patterns and increase aural memory

M13. To perform (i) with control and awareness (i) of audience and what others are playing or singing

M14. To compose and perform (i) simple melodies and accompaniments (i) recognising different musical elements (i) and how they can be used together to compose music (i)

M15. To recall, plan and explore sounds using symbols and ICT

Explanatory text

Perform: This includes use of the voice, use of musical instruments and improvisation

Awareness: This includes maintaining a simple part within an ensemble, working with several layers of sound and having an awareness of the combined effect of that sound, as well as recognising the importance of articulating words to communicate meaning to an audience
Perform: Opportunities should be made available for children to learn to play a musical instrument
Accompaniments: This includes rhythmic or tuned accompaniment to a main melody
Musical elements: Musical elements include rhythm, pitch, tempo, timbre and dynamics
Compose music: This includes choosing, ordering, combining and controlling sounds with awareness of their combined effect and sometimes combining sounds with movement and narrative


L12. To listen carefully, developing and demonstrating musical understanding and increasing aural memory

L13. To perform by ear and use notations and ICT to support creative work

L14. To compose their own instrumental and vocal music and perform their own and others' compositions (i) in ways that reflect their meaning and intentions (i)

L15. To describe and compare different kinds of music using appropriate musical vocabulary

Explanatory text

Compositions: Including recognising and making creative use of the way sounds can be changed, organised, controlled and layered to develop melodic and rhythmic phrases for effect, including rhythmic or tuned accompaniments to a main melody

Intentions: This includes singing and playing with increasing technical control, accuracy of pitch, expression and awareness of breathing, diction, dynamics and phrasing as well as communicating effectively with each other and their audience to achieve an overall effect



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