By designating design and technology as a separate subject, the national curriculum effectively divorced design from art. Many Damp;T teachers did not go to art school, and as a result they focus more on the technical aspects of the subject.
Over the past 18 months, I and a small number of teachers and design experts have used the concept of design to put art back into technology and increase the relevance of Damp;T to the real world. We have developed a new key stage 3 programme, -which is currently used in two Creative Education Academies schools and is about to be expanded to five.
One of the major changes has been to make activities less -prescriptive. This involves moving away from classroom tasks that imitate commercial briefs: point-of-sale display units for cosmetics and "contemporary" bird feeders are typical. It is hard to complete such projects to a manufactured standard. And they are so conceptually confined that they do not give pupils transferable skills.
We make a connection between our projects and the real world in a different way: by showing a vast array of links -between class activities and the worlds of design, architecture, construction, manufacture, digital media, communications and advertising, fashion and so on.
For example, the Year 7 animation project asks pupils to build a "motion machine" (an electronically controlled -wobbling platform) and then make an articulated character that is set in motion (that is, animated) by the machine when you put it on the platform. Pupils make the character out of toy parts, random
objects, rubber bands, Blu Tack, springs, wires and paper clips.
The project relates to the industrial uses of vibration for -sorting, conveying and stress-testing, and the first part of the challenge is to find a use for it, which might be anything from churning liquids or sorting grains to a spectacular means of -displaying jelly. There is a wealth of examples of this sort of application on YouTube and we are looking for a local facility where pupils can see vibration sorters in action. The project also relates to the world of commercial animation - to Pixar films, Pac-Man and all their low-tech animation antecedents.
To equip teachers to teach the design part of Damp;T, we have rewritten the key concepts of the subject as these six: structure, pattern, meaning, fabrication, performance and human interaction. You do not make a bag in our Year 7 programme simply for the -technical exercise; you do it as part of a sequence of activities underpinned by the concept of meaning. That is, we show pupils that a bag is as useful as a bearer of -messages as it is as a bearer of groceries. The programme is designed so that it progresses at the same rate as their practical skills - cutting and sewing, for example.
The key concepts also create opportunities to link design with other subjects in the curriculum. Maths, music, geography and physics are full of pattern and require a sense of it, just like design. Science teaches you about the performance of matter and materials. English is the study of meaning. Structure is -everywhere: the structure of atoms in physics and of -revolutions in history; the structure of grammar and argument. In design, you learn about structure by building things.
Emily Campbell is director of programmes at the Creative Education Academies Trust, a national academy sponsor with a focus on design and practical creativity