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Now the battle's lost and won

Mick Walker anticipates the long-awaited new Order for technology, which should be clearer and less prescriptive, and foresees the implications for key stages 3 and 4. The revised Order for technology, due out next week, has been a long time coming. The review has had to synchronise with the Dearing review, which was announced in April of 1993, and the demise of the National Curriculum Council and the birth of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority in September of the same year.

As Dearing progressed, several developments have impinged on the teaching of technology. The requirement to assess it at key stage 4 was temporarily dropped and Section 16 of the 1988 Education Reform Act was evoked to allow schools to opt to teach the programmes of study for key stage 1 or 3 from the draft proposals of May 1994. Nearly 4,000 schools decided to take this option, which says something about how the proposals were viewed by practitioners.

So what about the conclusion to this scenario? Based on the May proposals and the extensive consultation process, the revision should be clearer, better presented and better thought through than any of its predecessors. The over-prescription of previous attempts should be cut to provide schools the scope to develop and offer courses at key stages 3 and 4 which are best suited to their pupils' needs while at the same time clearly defining the minimum requirements.

For a subject which is still in its infancy, some of the attempts to define progression have been somewhat bizarre, based on opinion rather than sound research. Simply put, we are only now moving to a consensus view of what school technology is, let alone to be in a position where we can define how pupils progress in this subject.

If it is clearer in content, more cohesive in structure and less prescriptive in detail, it will throw the responsibility - and opportunity - for the future development of the subject back to those who are charged with its execution.

This will offer a challenge to schools and those with a brief to support the development of the subject. There are those who argue that the Order should be prescriptive, but the current Order is prescriptive and detailed and still we have found difficulty. The inclusion of long lists of what to do when working with wood, for example, should be removed. This level of legislative detail is constrictive and not the function of a statutory instrument.

Clearly pupils should be working with a range of materials, including wood and many others. What is important, however, is that pupils experience the range of things that materials can do, how they can be worked and processed. These are the important generic considerations which lead to technological capability. The level of detail should be at the teacher's discretion, not enshrined as a legal requirement.

Consultation has supported the range of activities which provide a coherent structure for the processes of technology in action. All three activities are based on a common sense approach already found as standard practice in many schools. Through engaging in the range of activities pupils will become aware of the technology that surrounds them, learn related skills and develop technological capability through the application of their increasing repertoire of knowledge, skills and understanding.

The level descriptions, which have no doubt been refined as a result of consultation, give a more rounded view of how pupils progress and of how levels can be stratified in broad rather than atomistic terms. Teachers of GCSE syllabuses should find little difficulty with this concept. Many can spot a grade A from a mile away!

At key stage 4, another major development which technology has led is the recognition of who actually uses an Order at this level. The reality is that teachers work from syllabuses provided by examination groups, not from the subject Order. The programmes of study of the proposals were written with this in mind.

The new Order may not satisfy all criticisms levelled at previous drafts. For example, the differentiation between resistant and compliant materials as defined in the draft proposals, is not borne out in reality. These are more often the states of materials rather than pure distinctions. Second, will food still be singled out? All materials are fair game to the technologist: why single out one category? What can be said, though, is that as a result of recent debate we are now much clearer that it is food as a material which is the concern of technology, not its other features. These belong elsewhere in the curriculum.

The new Order should provide the basis and the scope to develop. We can no longer hide behind the perceived inadequacies of the current Order. We have five years of stability, and I hope the technology community will be dynamic in this period so that we develop the potential of technology education. This will require constructive support from all quarters. We do not need reports pointing to inadequacies within five minutes of starting the new Order. The new Order will be a great step forward. We as a profession need to recognise this and seize the initiative.

Mick Walker is advisor for technology at Calderdale LEA and was involved in drawing up the draft proposals for technology.

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