It is one of those strange anomalies of life that while the GCSE textiles syllabus is about current industrial processes, teachers are classroom bound, most have no experience or knowledge of these processes and never get a chance to see them first hand. Lucky for teachers in Hertfordshire, then, that something called the SATIN Project has been working since 1998 to give them opportunities to visit a range of different workplaces in the textile industry to see for themselves what goes on and to take their observations and understanding back into the classroom.
Instigated three years ago by Menna Easton of Hertfordshire Education Business Partnership, SATIN works with 20 GCSE textile teachers from different schools throughout the county over a one-year period. She has carefully chosen the seven places they visit for their diversity, to reflect the various processes and skills the industry represents. In the past year, teachers have travelled to, among other places, a bra factory, a hat factory, a factory that makes coach seats and a fashion colour forecasting company.
In January they visited Gradeline, a small company in north London that does grading and pattern design. They were taken through the whole process of grading from start to finish by director Stavros Stravropoulos, who has been hosting SATIN, free, for three years. "This gives teachers a chance to see what skills are needed by the fashion industry, that it's not just about designing but about using numeracy and IT skills," says Menna Easton. "And it gives the people running these industries an idea of what young people are learning in the syllabus, about the emphasis being much more on technology and the manufacturing process. Companies are delighted to be asked to be involved." Gradeline's Stavros and Jack Stravropoulos are so chuffed to be doing this that they produce a pack of notes for each teacher to take away with them.
For their part, the teachers are pretty chuffed o be there, too. Vera Freeman of Chancellor's school in Hatfield says: "This gives us the experience of a working industry that you can't get out of books. So when you teach, you're drawing on this experience rather than just what you read. You can impart information with more enthusiasm and, because of it, it becomes more real to your students."
Another component to the SATIN project is giving teachers design briefs for their students to work on. Students have a choice of working on fashion, accessories, toys and games, interiors, or multi-purpose. But, whichever they choose, they must use recycled materials. Elizabeth Hawley of John F Kennedy school in Hemel Hempstead has been impressed with her students' creativity. "They made dresses out of J-cloths and there was a quilt that turned into a pillow. They were wonderfully imaginative and it gave them a great confidence boost to have their work displayed at a shopping centre along with other schools in the project."
Other students have made trousers out of teabags, a bubblewrap skirt and, definitely not something to be worn to the theatre, a top made from crisp packets.
The project has given her a confidence boost, too. "The visits have encouraged me. They've made my curriculum teaching more enthusiastic as well as more knowledgeable and that encourages the students in turn. I can relay information to them about the different techniques, about how quickly machinists work, what factories are like, what happens with faulty production, because I've seen it first hand."
Seeing things for herself allows her to inject colour into her descriptions, too. "I can tell them about the people I've seen sleeping under cutting tables during lunchtimes and about the hammering and bashing that goes on in a low-tech hat factory. It helps to make it more real for them. And for those of us who tend to get isolated as teachers, not getting much chance to mix with people in other professions, it's a lot better than being in a dusty classroom."
* SATIN, contact Menna Easton, tel: 01727 813569. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org