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Designs on the curriculum;Technology

As teachers prepare for the next round of national curriculum changes, design and technology specialists must take stock of the past and consider the subject's future. Andrew Breckon kicks off the debate

A great benefit of Sir Ron Dearing's 1993-94 review of the national curriculum was the five-year moratorium he imposed on any changes. This has given design and technology teachers a period of stability and a chance to work out what is needed in the next review.

The Design and Technology Association (Data) believes the subject Order needs to be clarified, updated and improved, bearing in mind changing national priorities and the development of new technologies.

To stimulate debate, DATA has published a 20-page consultation paper which reviews the curriculum and examines the role of design and technology within it. It reveals big improvements in the subject's performance, and its popularity with students. The paper also looks at international trends; develops DATA's preferred model; and sets out some principles and suggestions for change.

DATA believes it finally has a model for design and technology that can be accepted by the profession and industry. Retention of the subject at all four key stages is crucial for sustaining its development; in Wales it should once again be compulsory at key stage 4.

England and Wales lack any qualitative research to challenge the way the subject is set up, and extensive research overseas shows that many countries are emulating the UK curriculum. So any fundamental changes would be illogical and would undermine teachers' confidence and commitment.

Data wants to develop the curriculum using the existing framework, with greater emphasis on the manufacture of quality products and the development of creativity and innovation. The subject should exploit information and communications technology (ICT), offering opportunities to design using personal computers and the Internet.

Work at key stages 3 and 4 should be linked to manufacturing, either school-based or through online services. Increased emphasis on electronics and control systems in secondary education is vital.

We should be reinforcing pupils' awareness of the products and systems-oriented society in which we live, and developing their ability to intervene in, contribute to, and make judgments about the role of design. The subject is not prin-cipally about grooming potential design engineers but about making our young citizens design-literate, capable as consumers of evaluating the real worth and cost, environmental or otherwise, of the things they buy and use, from vacuum cleaners to traffic flow systems.

DATA believes design and technology must continue to innovate and engage new technologies - such as smart cards and biotechnology - in a way that captivates young people.

The consultation document also raises a major question about assessment at key stage 4, where industry and government want to see teamwork skills developed. Design and technology is an ideal subject for developing these skills, although current assessment criteria at key stage 4 do not recognise this potential.

We acknowledge the pressure in the primary curriculum to raise standards of literacy and numeracy and welcome government initiatives in these areas. Design and technology provides excellent opportunities for application of number as well as meaningful contexts for the use of language. The introduction of vocabulary in the key stage 1 and 2 study programmes has been effective. The realistic contexts for learning that are a feature of design and technology motivate young children and should be fully exploited to support and enhance their literacy, numeracy and ICT skills.

One of the most controversial elements of the 1995 Order was to make food technology compulsory at key stages 1 and 2 but optional at key stage 3. Food is a basic human requirement, and food technology is an important area of manufacturing in the UK. The statutory curriculum should reflect this, so our young people are prepared for living a healthy life and have an understanding of the technology involved in food manufacture.

DATA agrees with headteachers and curriculum planners that key stage 4 should continue to be flexible. The association supports the broad range of technological courses on offer, including long and short GCSE courses. Once the rewriting of GNVQs is complete, Part 1s in engineering and manufacturing should be formally recognised as meeting the key stage 4 programmes of study in design and technology.

The full consultation document is available from DATA,16 Wellesbourne House, Walton Road, Wellesbourne, Warwickshire CV35 9JB pound;2.50. DATA welcomes responses from teachers. Andrew Breckon is chief executive of the Design and Technology Association

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