New look for GCSEs

Anne Waldon

Anne Waldon previews the formats and emphases of the new courses.

From next September, all Year 10 pupils will be required to study the revised national curriculum programme of study for design and technology.

The new courses will give pupils insight into how the objects and systems around us are put together, and how to make sensible choices between alternatives. They will also deal with how decisions are made when priorities conflict and resources are limited.

The national curriculum for DT was revised last year with these needs in mind. The fundamental elements consist of a repertoire of skills and knowledge, combined with the development of the capability to use these to design and make products of good quality. Key areas of knowledge, such as materials, systems and control, understanding of products, quality, and health and safety are identified.

The examining bodies have been working on a range of new GCSE syllabuses to meet these requirements. Unlike the current courses, with their core and extension structure, and compulsory study of construction materials, the "focus areas" in the new requirements allow for the beginnings of specialisation in an aspect of technology. For example, pupils can study the technology of food, textiles, resistant materials, systems and control, or graphic products. A few syllabuses provide for the study of more than one focus area.

The new courses come in three types - short-course, full and combined-subject GCSEs. Full GCSEs are likely to take up roughly 10 per cent of curriculum time. Short-course GCSEs are generally sub-sets of the equivalent full syllabuses, and are designed to take approximately 5 per cent of curriculum time over two years. The grade range, A* to G, is the same for the all courses, but the content will be tailored to the amount of time available. There will be fewer combined-subject courses than there are currently, but it will certainly be possible to combine DT courses with art, business studies and IT.

The introduction of focus areas and short courses has increased the flexibility available to schools and the potential choice for pupils. There will be quite a range of syllabuses to choose from, so teachers will want to select courses carefully, keeping in mind potential choices post-16. The new range of separately certificated short-course GCSEs also means that schools could offer, for example, DT and art either as a combined-subject course or as two short courses, not necessarily from the same examining bodies.

Decisions might depend on staffing and timetabling, the assessment schemes, or simply on which syllabuses a teaching team prefers. Additional flexibility is offered by the option of choosing between short courses taking 10 per cent of curriculum time over one year and others taking 5 per cent of curriculum time spread over two. The examining bodies intend to make first examinations available in 1997.

All the new courses will differ in some ways from the current ones. For example, in all focus areas there will be more emphasis on industrial practices and systems and control, including some requirements as part of coursework. Not all teachers will be used to handling these matters, but understanding in these areas will be needed as technology develops. Another important area is the evaluation of products and applications. For some teachers this has always been a part of practice, for others it will be relatively new.

Assessment schemes will be simpler than those devised during the last round of syllabus development, and will focus on the two new attainment targets of Designing and Making. These simplified systems should make it easier for marking to reflect the overall capability of each pupil. There will be two tiers of entry for the terminal examinations, covering A*-D and C-G.

The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority's syllabus approval process is now coming towards its end. The examining bodies have been amending their proposed syllabuses in the light of the authority's comments to them in July, and revised versions have arrived for evaluation.

Knowing that teachers need a full picture of each syllabus, this year SCAA has looked at the whole package together - syllabus, specimen paper and specimen mark scheme - and syllabuses will be approved when all the pieces are of the necessary quality.

Bringing control and systems alive, V How to motivate pupils at GCSE, VI A pupil's view of the old GCSE, VII Ann Waldon is professional officer for design and technology with the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority.

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