FAQs about Art History in Schools

Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions relating to art history in schools

Q. Which boards offer History of Art A level or an equivalent qualification?

Q. Can I train to be an Art History A level teacher?

At present it can be challenging as PGCEs are taught in degree subjects, and Art History as a degree subject is not catered for. However increasingly schools are offering school-led training courses, e.g. Schools Direct and SCITT, on which it can be possible to gain a place with an Art History degree.

Recently it has also become possible to train to become a teacher in the independent sector through a two year training programme of recruitment, training and induction. Trainee teachers work in salaried posts in Head Masters Conference senior schools and gain a PGCE with QTS (qualified teacher status).

Teach First is a fast-track route into teaching and gaining a teaching qualification, recently seen on BBC3’s Tough Young Teachers.

Another option can be to study full or part-time for a Post-Compulsory PGCE, for those teaching in FE or sixth form colleges, and then apply to gain QTLS (Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills) through professional formation with the Society of Education and Training.

It is also is possible to do both a PGCE and a PGCE with QTS (Qualified Teacher Status which enables teachers to work throughout the maintained sector) through in-school employment and placement with Buckingham University. This requires the student to find placement schools willing to offer significant training and mentoring support, and to teach two consecutive key stages so, say, Art History A level and Art GCSE.

Find out more about Qualified Teacher Status.

Studying History of Art at University

Q. What are university art history courses like?

Courses usually last three years although Scottish universities offer four year courses. Some people will not have studied the subject before – and this is no bar or disadvantage when applying – often the first year is spent studying an historically wide syllabus. This is an excellent start, even for students who have done A Level as it allows a good deal of consolidation and develops new approaches to the subject. After the first year students often choose a number of options from a wide range of choices, depending largely on the expertise available in the department.

As at A Level you will be expected to write essays regularly, visit galleries as a matter of course and do a certain amount of fieldwork. The teaching is likely to take the form of lectures, seminars and tutorials and you will be expected to do a great deal of independent learning and to organise your time accordingly. Long essays may be set during vacations and there may well be some form of continuous assessment or a dissertation.

Q. What about related courses at university?

History of Art is offered as a degree course at over 30 universities and as a subject is increasingly interdisciplinary. Dual honours degrees with Art History are offered at an increasingly wide range of universities: it is possible to study History of Art with a Modern Language, History, Anthropology, Philosophy and many other combinations. At Edinburgh University, for example, the English Literature course runs parallel with History of Art so allows exploring the writers and the art, or sometimes artists who were poets or writers and experimented with the visual arts, for example William Blake. The subject is also very popular at American universities.

Q. What should I look for in a University prospectus?

Check the content of the course and the availability to specialise in areas which interest you. Check how big the department is and what the student/lecturer ratio is. Are you examined every year or is there any continuous assessment? Can you study film work or use computers for visual purposes? Are there any possibilities to study abroad? Think about what will suit you and your circumstances.

Q. What sort of job will I get with an Art History degree?

A History of Art degree can be training for a directly related career, such as teaching, or museum work such as curatorial work or exhibition planning. However many graduates use their degree as a springboard for a wide range of professional careers. Find out more from the AAH’s Careers in Art History, edited by Rosalind McKever.

Q. What can I do to support my university application?

Doing an extended essay or Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) on an Art History related topic during your A level studies can be excellent material for your personal statement as this demonstrates your research and independent learning skills, essential at university.

Please find more information about the EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) and its equivalents, depending on your A level exam board:

Likewise taking part in competitions such as ARTiculation, the art public speaking competition organised by The Roche Court Educational Trust in association with Cambridge University, or any of the other many excellent arts awards and courses available to Sixth Formers will be very beneficial to you individually, and very useful for you to be able to refer to in your personal statement and for your teachers as they write your UCAS reference in turn.

Aim to visit as many exhibitions and museums as possible, and to keep up to date with art news and issues: museum and gallery twitter feeds and specialist publications such as The Art Newspaper can be invaluable for this. Most museums and galleries provide excellent online resources for students. Likewise attend as many talks and lectures as you can, for example the AAH Schools Group's Ways of Seeing conference at the British Museum (audio recordings of conference speakers are available here).

The National Gallery in London offers excellent free tours of the collection several times a day, for example, but if you don't live in a big city, find out what museums and galleries exist near where you live. Most museums and galleries offer discounted tickets to a wide range of scheduled events, lectures and courses for students. Many are also freely available online. Work experience over the summer, in a related field if possible, even if only for a few days, is excellent for your application.

Many universities offer outreach and enrichment activities for sixth form students, and would love for you to contact them directly.