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National Curriculum

Developing personal, learning and thinking skills in art and design


What are we trying to achieve?

The new secondary curriculum focuses on developing the skills and qualities that learners need to succeed in school and the broader community. The development of personal, learning and thinking skills (PLTS) is essential to meeting the three national curriculum aims of becoming successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens.

The individual subjects, which make up the curriculum, provide the essential range of activities, learning opportunities and contexts essential for the effective development of these skills (PLTS).

The framework comprises of six PLTS:

  • independent enquirers

  • creative thinkers

  • team workers

  • self-managers

  • effective participators

  • reflective learners.

PLTS underpin the whole curriculum and can transform young people’s engagement with learning. They support learners’ understanding of themselves as well as their relationship with others and the world around them. Effective development of PLTS can raise achievement and make a considerable impact on learners’ ability to succeed, both now and in adult life.


How do we develop PLTS?

The art and design programme of study provides a rich and exciting range of opportunities to develop PLTS as an integral part of subject teaching and learning. Explicit and implicit opportunities are present in the key concepts, key processes, range and content, and curriculum opportunities.

Independent enquirers

Learners can develop as independent enquirers when they are provided with opportunities in art and design to:

  • plan and determine the focus of their own research, explorations and investigations

  • explore their own ideas purposefully, observe and contemplate, judging the relevance and value of information from different perspectives and viewpoints, including their own

  • select and make informed choices about materials, techniques and processes when creating their art works

  • work with increasing independence and apply their competence, cultural and critical understanding to new and increasingly challenging contexts.

Creative thinkers

Learners can develop as creative thinkers when they are provided with opportunities in art and design to:

  • generate their own ideas and explore possibilities to produce imaginative images, artefacts and other outcomes

  • experiment with creative approaches to solve problems, experiment with ideas, materials, tools and techniques, and try out alternatives

  • explore the potential of new technologies to investigate new ways of working and to explore and experiment effectively

  • use and adapt creative ways to communicate their thoughts and feelings to a range of audiences.

Team workers

Learners can develop as team workers when they are provided with opportunities, in art and design, to:

  • collaborate in order to work towards a common goal in a range of creative environments

  • recognise and respond to their own strengths and those of others, allocate roles and tasks, and take responsibility for their own contribution from generating initial ideas to final production

  • provide and respond to constructive feedback, adapting their behaviours and resolving complex issues to achieve successful outcomes.


Learners can develop as self-managers when they are provided with opportunities in art and design to:

  • take personal responsibility for organising their time and resources to carry out and successfully complete their exploring and making

  • initiate projects for themselves, demonstrating commitment and perseverance and the ability to prioritise their actions to work towards their identified goals

  • try out ideas and processes with confidence, taking and managing risks to achieve agreed outcomes

  • respond to new or changing priorities, actively embracing change and coping with new challenges.

Effective participators

Learners can develop as effective participators when they are provided with opportunities in art and design to:

  • use their creative knowledge, skills and understanding to engage actively with issues that affect them and those around them

  • apply their creative practice to communicate with their peers, across cultures and other areas of the arts, and to play a full part in the life of their school or wider community

  • address issues that they have identified for themselves, propose practical ways forward and influence others to make a difference

  • appreciate the importance of reviewing alternatives, negotiating and balancing the diverse views of others to achieve successful outcomes.

Reflective learners

Learners can develop as reflective learners when they are provided with opportunities in art and design to:

  • critically assess against criteria, their own performance and that of others for both process and product

  • adapt and refine their ideas as their work progresses, identifying opportunities for further development, setting themselves realistic goals and recognising achievements

  • use their skills to select relevant ways to communicate with different audiences, using visual and non-visual forms

  • carry out activities to evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses and learn from their mistakes, making use of feedback from peers, teachers and others

  • continuously monitor their own progress, identifying criteria for success and making changes to further their learning.


How do we plan for PLTS?

Effective planning for PLTS in art and design needs to ensure that they are embedded into sequences of work, teaching approaches and learning outcomes. When this is done well, it will enrich the experiences of learners and support their progress in  art and design while increasing coherence across the curriculum.

The following are some questions we might ask to support the development of PLTS through art and design.

  • Are there planned opportunities for learning and teaching, where the six PLTS can be taught, practised and reinforced in a range of contexts?

  • Are planned experiences sufficiently ‘open’ for learners to draw on personal experiences and set themselves personal challenges?

  • Do activities encourage learners to explore a range of settings, for example collaborative work, individual work, in the classroom, the school and events in the community?

  • Are learners encouraged to communicate in a variety of ways?

  • Are there opportunities to make coherent links to learning in other curriculum areas to effectively connect and enhance learners’ experiences?

  • Are e-technologies used effectively to enable and support such learning?


The teacher plans for the class to develop an artefact or image around the theme of a world event, and also to develop team-working and reflective skills through this context.

It is important for the learners to develop the skills to become increasingly independent, to make decisions and take responsibility about the direction and format of their work. 

Learners will work over several lessons within a given time frame. However, they will also be able to negotiate a timescale, which will be appropriate for their chosen processes and tasks. They will work in groups, taking on various roles and responsibilities that both challenge and reflect individual strengths, and ensure that each group member contributes effectively.

Learners are taught ways of enquiring and investigating, which they develop and apply appropriately for the specific activity and outcomes they have devised for themselves.

This activity involves learners in:

  • selecting and agreeing on the event, the priorities and timetable for their activity (in relation to the activities, materials and processes), the allocation of roles and taking responsibility for carrying out a specific role (self-managers, team workers, creative thinkers)

  • working from current events, local, national or international, to engage with issues that affect them and those around them (effective participators)

  • developing ideas and images to explore the issues, events or problems from different perspectives and viewpoints (creative thinkers, team workers)

  • discussing ways of experimenting with processes, using sketchbooks or journals record and generate  ideas and explore possibilities (independent enquirers, creative thinkers, self-managers)

  • evaluating their own performance for both process and product against criteria, providing and receiving feedback, and identifying targets for improvement (effective participators, reflective learners)

  • showing perseverance in achieving the goals they have set themselves (team workers, self-managers).


Are we achieving our aims?

In planning for progression, it is important to develop a clear picture of how learners demonstrate PLTS in the context of teaching and learning in art and design and how those skills can raise achievement in this subject. For example, learners may demonstrate that they are:

  • making more personal choices about materials and processes and identifying ways to improve their work, for example by identifying their own questions and planning their own enquiries

  • transferring understanding, for example of a process or concept across different contexts, media and genre

  • extending their skills and understanding, for example by exploring ideas, options and points of view, including their own, with more confidence and creativity, using processes to produce increasingly sophisticated responses.

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