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Art Coursework Background Ideas For Photos

‘Why AQA Art and Design?

Have you ever wondered why so many creative people are successful in many different walks of life?

Creativity isn’t only about pursuing artistic interests; it can also open the door to exciting career opportunities.

Our Art and Design courses are flexible and stimulate creativity, offering a high degree of choice and a range of different media, processes and techniques. All our courses give students the opportunity to produce a portfolio of work that they can show to prospective employers or use to help secure a place in higher education.

From the AQA website http://www.aqa.org.uk

The Arts allow pupils to develop their own ideas, creativity and expression through a number of different disciplines. Here at the Short Stay School for Norfolk pupils study art and design in KS3 as a distinct subject and as part of a nurturing project based programme.

Pupils have the opportunity to learn experiment and explore a variety of drawing, painting, and printmaking and sculpture techniques using a variety of different materials.

As part of the nurture timetable pupils link their art lessons to the topic they are studying and use 2D and 3D creative techniques to create images and models on their theme. The autumn term is about discovering different parts of the world and pupils have been looking at flora and fauna from other countries to inspire their designs for rainforests.

Our KS3 art & design curriculum encourages pupils to develop their own ideas within a structured project. In the autumn term pupils start to draw and paint inspired by the natural world and try out a range of 2D media. In the spring term they develop ideas around Sculpture and Pop Art creating 3D models in plaster, junk modelling or air drying clay. In the summer term they look at an Artist from a Fine Art background and develop a personal response. Each project includes skills for each objective Develop, Refine, Record and Present. These four areas are used to organise work at GCSE level so our KS3 pupils are learning how to structure a project in readiness for a GCSE course.

At KS4 years 10 & 11, GCSE art courses are offered with the AQA board and across the Short Stay School for Norfolk, we offer three different disciplines: Art & Design, Photography and 3D design. Each subject has two parts a personal portfolio, which is worth 60% of the marks and an externally set exam, which is worth 40% of the marks. Each project is assessed on four areas

  • AO1: Develop ideas through investigations, demonstrating critical understanding of sources.
  • AO2: Refine work by exploring ideas, selecting and experimenting with appropriate media, materials, techniques and processes.
  • AO3: Record ideas, observations and insights relevant to intentions as work progresses.
  • AO4: Present a personal and meaningful response that realises intentions and demonstrates understanding of visual language

GCSE in Art & Design at KS4

GCSE Art & Design is a general art course where pupils have the chance to experiment and use a variety of new materials and techniques to create their own work, in drawing, painting, sculpture and printmaking. Most of the work is practical but the course also includes some written work, interpreting the work of other artists, craftspeople and designers. Pupils keep a personal sketchbook to develop their ideas and artwork, alongside their main finished paintings, prints and sculptures. All their work is put into a coursework portfolio that is awarded 60% of the total marks for GCSE.

In the spring term pupils receive an exam paper from the board with several themes to choose from for their exam project. Candidates have four months to produce a project based on their chosen theme before using the ten hour exam time to make a final piece of work in the art rooms. The exam portfolio is awarded 40% of the total marks.

Art offers pupils the chance to develop their own ideas through hard work and enjoyment.

GCSE in Photography at KS4

In Photography pupils use light and lens based media to capture and create images. They look at the work of other photographers, artists, craftspeople and designers to inform their practice. Image manipulation is taught using Adobe Photoshop and pupils learn to alter and change their images. Drawing is included in the portfolios as part of the recording, planning and refining process and final pieces are created from the developing ideas. Written elements of the coursework show how a pupil’s work relates to their chosen photographer or artist. Coursework is again portfolio based and this makes up 60% of the final marks.

In the spring term pupils choose a project from the themes offered on the AQA exam paper and create a personal project. They develop their ideas and produce final images within a ten hour period under exam conditions; this usually runs over two days. Written work is included as part of the analysis of other photographer’s work. 40% of the marks are awarded for the exam project

GCSE in 3D Design at KS4

3D design offers a practical discipline where pupils learn to analyse the work of other designers, how to record their observation from the world around them and develop their own ideas. Different processes for creating functional and decorative objects out of different materials are taught and pupils learn how to use a variety of hand and machine tools within our workshop. 60% of the marks for GCSE are awarded for the projects created as coursework. Final realisations are created in response to themes and design briefs.

In the spring term pupils choose a project from the themes offered on the AQA exam paper and create a personal project. They develop their ideas and produce final images within a ten hour period under exam conditions; this usually runs over two days. Written work is included as part of the analysis of other artist work. 40% of the marks are awarded for the exam project.

Arts Award in Performing Arts at KS4

Performing arts incorporates many disciplines. Pupils have the opportunity to investigate drama, performance, music and technical. Assessment is through coursework which documents their effort within their project.

Arts Award in Performing Arts at KS4

Performing arts incorporates many disciplines. Pupils have the opportunity to investigate drama, performance, music and technical theatre.

Assessment is through coursework which documents their effort within their project.

The Short Stay School for Norfolk recognise the benefits that the performing arts can have on young people.

  • Higher academic achievement
  • Confidence & self-presentation skills
  • A medium for self-expression and creativity
  • Problem solving & perseverance (team building skills)
  • Empathy & compassion

“It teaches children to connect, to project, to empathise. It helps them speak, shout and belong. It can make them who they are. It is an essential part of any core curriculum.” (Fin Kennedy, Playwright)

The school has a developing drama studio space with professional quality lighting and sound technology. This allows the young people attending the school to be able to perform in a professional theatre space, heightening the performance experience. It also allows young people who lack confidence in performing to take a technical theatre route and learn how to operate the lighting and sound equipment.

I’ve been thinking about the best ways to support our Year 10 photography students with their sketchbook work. It’s something that has become more of a concern: timetable adjustments mean that, sadly, we will be losing 1/6 of our teaching time in Year 11.  I’m not sure that the usual approach – allowing plenty of time for valuable mistakes in Year 10 and blitzing all the coursework in Year 11 – is going to cut it; the path to grade success might need to be more direct.

It’s a shame, Year 10 is such an important time for creative development. In sketchbook terms it’s often the bridge between those hard to shake, childhood elaborations (I’m talking patterned borders, bubble writing, and dare I mention, glitter) to the emergence of a more mature and subtle style of working.


The examples above and below, from Lizzie’s 6th form sketchbooks, show that keeping things simple and letting the photos do the work can be most effective. Her page layouts allow her high quality prints to breathe. As her understanding developed she revisited these pages and added further notes.

Perhaps by asking the following questions it might help our GCSE students to progress further:

1: Is a sketchbook really for you?

Sketchbooks are not for everyone. Students have the choice of how they would like to collate and present their photography work – folders, display boards, installations…whatever appeals. Most opt for sketchbooks or blogs, which truth be told, we actively encourage. Both methods have proven successful and, from a teacher’s perspective, blogs or books are easier to manage (and not least, store). Choosing between them comes down to personal preference, once some of the pros and cons have been carefully considered :

Good reasons to use a sketchbook for GCSE PhotographyGood reasons to use a blog for GCSE Photography
  •  You like to work in a more tactile way – arranging, sticking work in, writing by hand etc.
  • You have access to a decent quality printer
  • You look after your books – you are not likely to lose them, have your lunch leak on them, let the dog eat them etc.
  • You enjoy thinking about design / layout and can make these decisions fairly quickly
  • You do not have easy access to the internet or a computer
  • You are likely to be doing homework in different places, not always with computer access
  • Your writing is difficult to read or your spelling is very weak
  • You are interested in experimenting with moving image – film, animation etc.
  • You have easy access to a computer and the internet
  • You do not have access to a good printer / printing is not easily affordable
  • You do not want to spend too much time thinking about page layouts and designs
  • You think bubble writing in a sketchbook is cool
  • You have glitter in your pencil case


2: What is a photography sketchbook for?

For Photography lessons, ‘sketchbook’ might be a misleading term. You don’t have to sketch in it (although you can, if you wish – when relevant). It’s also important to know there’s not just one way to do things: Some students might be very ordered in their sketchbooks, others more experimental. The challenge is to find your own way – the one that presents your work and ideas most effectively.

Rosie’s book is busy to the eye, yet still maintains a strong sense of order. Importantly the emphasis remains on the work in progress – a series of ideas rather than one dominant image. This is achieved through images and blocks of text being similar in scale, and by limiting the additional colours to black and white (the occasional flash of a red tab, provides additional insights). The photos are good quality prints, cut and mounted cleanly. The titles are not overbearing and her handwriting is neat and ordered.

To keep all my classwork and homework in…?
Not necessarily. If you want to make a photobook, film, animation, sculpture, installation…then brilliant. No need to wait to be asked either, initiate those conversations to get things going. Think beyond ‘classwork’ and ‘homework’; the boundaries should blur as your independence grows. Your book is just one potential tool to document your ideas and experiments. But it is important. It needs to be looked after and will be submitted as coursework.

These pages from Hannah’s sketchbook show the lead up work to an installation. The right hand page shows her exploring a potential 3D response. There was no need to mount these up or have over-elaborate titles or explanations. It was more important for Hannah to keep making and experimenting.

To experiment within and make mistakes…?
Yes, definitely. However, mistakes – like feedback – should be valued and acted upon. It is not sufficient to say a photo that you took didn’t work. Why didn’t it work? Try to unpick your errors and highlight learning. What were your intentions? How could it be improved? And then, importantly, IMPROVE!! Show progress in a new way, or ask for further help if unsure.

Francis worked predominantly in film for this project. He used his sketchbook, with accompanying DVDs, to explain his development work. By taking screenshots of the the editing processes he could emphasize some of the subtleties that he was addressing, which might have otherwise been overlooked when assessed.

To present my photography in a creative and imaginative way…?
Not necessarily. And certainly not with bells and whistles attached. Your sketchbook can be a straightforward, ordered presentation of your work, research and insights: Let your images do the impressing. Overly designed pages can often take too long and be a distraction to the viewer. Either way, you’ll need to carefully consider the flow of your book: How do the pages – and images upon them – connect and contrast? How might you engage and ‘play’ with the viewer to provoke thinking?How can you lead the viewer’s eye to the strongest work or ideas, yet still include the important developmental stages? There are lots of challenges here, and plenty of creative fun to be had; no glitter required.

About The Author

chris francis

Senior Leader Teacher of Art & Photography @DevNicely