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Exchange and merit;Technology

Harvey McGavin finds out how London schools are swapping ideas.

Teacher supply agency Catalyst is reviving the disappearing tradition of local authority-wide exhibitions by bringing together schools in every corner of London.

In Wandsworth, for instance, one of London's most opted-out boroughs, eight schools have showcased their children's best design and technology work in an exhibition held at Burntwood School, Tooting.

"D amp; T is one of the subjects that tends to get overlooked - pupils do a lot of work and then it gets left in school," says Debra Jones-Poulimenou, of Catalyst, who organised the exhibition.

The models, textiles, graphics and electronics on display demonstrate a wide variety of practical and creative abilities. Pupils at Elliott School in Putney showed a strong visual sense and use of materials - skills that won three of them prestigious Arkwright scholarships and made their school one of only two in the country to achieve that many.

They turned out a range of clocks inspired by animals, wooden folding chairs built with materials costing less than pound;20 and a number of Art Deco-inspired radios - all striking and aesthetically pleasing.

Their head of department, Bill Nicholl, is as enthusiastic about their work as he is about the opportunity to show it off.

"For me it's a chance to get together with other schools, to have a chat," he says. "We are all in the same borough and most of us know one another, but a lot of the schools here are grant-maintained and events like this are one of the good things that was lost."

The work of Southfields Community College, home to another Arkwright scholarship winner, showed an altogether more technical approach on a much bigger scale. Models of an arched metal structure intended for the school playground stood alongside an A-level project on stadium gantry design.

As head of department Allen Embley admits: "Our great strength is in structures." His pupils' endeavours were recognised when they became the first secondary school to have their work exhibited at the Royal Institute of British Architects last year.

All the teachers at the exhibition agreed that while each has their own specialisation, some cross-fertilisation of skills can only be a good thing and one-off get-togethers of this kind provide a forum for exchanging ideas.

Plenty of creative work is taking place in design and technology workshops, but local management of schools has meant that few people outside those schools ever see it, says Corin Harper, head of design and technology at Burntwood School. She believes lines of communication need to be re-established between the D amp; T departments of opted-out schools.

"There isn't an inspector for design and technology in Wandsworth and meetings of heads of department just don't happen any more," she says. "Everyone's been going round looking at examples of good practice and saying 'that's a good idea'. Things like this are really valuable."

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