Introducing the Valuing Visual Literacy Project

Katie Leonard, Head of Learning, Art UK and Dr Di Swift, Chair of SSTEC

The Valuing Visual Literacy Project will involve the Stoke and Staffordshire Teacher Education Collective (SSTEC) working with trainee teachers and experienced colleagues to use Art UK’s Superpower of Looking® innovative and inclusive programme to enrich their support for both beginning teachers and their mentors. The project participants will develop both their own visual literacy capabilities and consider how best to enable children to become visually literate in the image-dominated worlds that they are part of. Art UK believe visual literacy is as important as reading, writing and numeracy. The Superpower of Looking is  generously funded by the Freelands Foundation (

Visual literacy was, according to the International Visual Literacy Association, thought to have been initially used as a scientific term in 1969 by John Debes at the first national conference on visual literacy (Rochester, USA).  At that time, the phrase was used to refer to ‘a group of vision-competencies a human being can develop by seeing and at the same time having and integrating other sensory experiences. The development of these competencies is fundamental to normal human learning. When developed they enable a visually literate person to discriminate and interpret the visible actions, objects, symbols, natural or man-made that [they] encounter in [their] environment. Through the creative use of these competencies [they] are able to communicate and [they] are able to comprehend and enjoy masterworks of visual communication’ (Valachová, 2023: 9-10). As a concept, visual literacy continues to develop, particularly in educative contexts. The Valuing Visual Literacy project will enable teachers to contribute further to this development through a focus on Art UK’s Superpower of Looking materials. The project teachers will consider how to design curriculum opportunities that will enable children to develop their visual literacy capabilities so that they notice more. Through noticing more, children will become empowered, they will be able to communicate their insights in a more informed way. Consequently the project is ambitious to be both socially transformative, and interdisciplinary. We are therefore very grateful for support from both Keele’s Institute for Social Inclusion (KISI) and Keele’s Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences (ILAS).

The project will help to realise ILAS’s ambition to enable open and collaborative  interdisciplinary enquiries in challenging areas of research. As the influence of images increase in society, the means to engage with such materials critically and carefully in a range of educative contexts is arguable more significant than ever. With globalisation and inter-connectivity the need to develop the ability to look deeply into visual images of different cultures also expands. The development of such capabilities is often inequitable, dependent on access to materials and resources. KISI is ambitious to support research that tackles inequalities, supports communities and sustains democracies. Art UK, through its digitising of collections is able to provide teachers and learners with access to an increased range of materials, increasing learners’ cultural capital by supporting education communities in tackling inequalities and empowering children to participate in society, aiding democracy.

The careful development of visual literacy involves enabling a range of abilities, including identifying and naming through to complex and sometimes philosophical interpretations of that which has been noticed. In this sense, visual literacy develops objectivity, subjectivity and affective aspects of knowledge, and enables each to be valued for the differences that they bring. Pedagogically, therefore visual literacy is fundamental to a range of curriculum subjects, not only Art and Design, in this way visual literacy is not isolated to a particular field, but rather enables a richer engagement with the worlds around us at a variety of inter-connected scales.

Whilst the Valuing Visual Literacy project will be based in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire, through the SSTEC partnership, the resources developed will have national, international and global connections.  The project will have four key outcomes:

  •  The creation of a short advocacy  film showcasing trainees and mentors using the Superpower of Looking in initial teacher education 
  •  The development of subject specific visual literacy resources for mentors to use when supporting beginning or novice teachers.
  • A focus on increasing access to the Superpower of Looking for children with English as an additional language.
  • Contributions to conference sessions will share the project ethos and approach.

This work will help contribute to Art UK’s ambition to transform the visual literacy and visual intelligence skills of primary school children by sharing the resource with up to 2,540 trainee teachers, engaging with a minimum of 2,000 teachers, 5,488 classes and 146,518 children.  We are excited to be launching this project at Keele Hall on 11th October 2023 and we look forward to sharing updates as to how our work progresses.


Valachová, D. (2023) , Integrovanie vizuálnej gramotnosti vo výtvarnom vzdelávaní Integrating Visual Literacy in Art Education. STUDIA SCIENTIFICA FACULTATIS PAEDAGOGICAE, pp.9-13,