Art education in the UK

Art education in these islands has its roots in the work of itinerant drawing tutors.  The first attempts to formalise training have been traced to mid-16th century Florence, but they did not result in a fully-fledged academy until the establishment of the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture, in 1648, (later to become the Académie des beaux-arts).  In Britain private initiatives included a private academy established in St. Martin’s Lane by the painter William Hogarth which, in 1768, moved to Pall Mall with royal patronage to become the Royal Academy of Arts.

Britain was thus a latecomer, but its achievements on the world stage have been and remain outstanding.  While in some European countries art and design practice were slow to gain legitimacy as subjects leading to formal qualifications, in Britain their status has risen and the amount of provision has continued to expand over much of the last 150 years.  A parliamentary commission led to the establishment, in 1837, of the Government School of Design.  The principle of training teachers of drawing and design seeded the establishment of art schools around the country, while the metropolitan hub mounted the Great Exhibition and established the museums in South Kensington.  Those developments were the genesis of the Royal College of Art.  Alongside all this and during the latter part of the 19th century, a handful of universities began to award degrees in art practice.

After the Second World War certificates and diplomas in art and design were awarded under the auspices of the Ministry of Education.  Then, in 1960, a National Council for Diplomas in Art and Design (NCDAD) was established as a body responsible for validating the bulk of the art and design courses at degree-equivalent level in the UK.  

In 1965 a Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA) was established whose strategic objective was to validate technical colleges and their vocational studiews into degree courses, and the next logical step for the art schools was to digest them into the CNAA.  It was therefore decided that NCDAD should pass responsibility for the validation of higher education in art and design to CNAA in 1974, at which time successful candidates were able to gain an honours or Masters degree in art and design subjects.  That process - of recognising fine art's valid place within the higher education system - culminated in the award by the CNAA of the first PhD in Fine Art in 1978 [1]


[1] Revised to text appearing on <>, 2003.