As students look at their sixth form options, many may wish to continue studying design and technology. At first glance, this is possible, by following the current range of A-level courses, or by opting for GNVQ manufacturing.
However, what if the student wishes to focus on "food" or "textiles"? Their options become narrower. The student could follow a resistant material biased course for textiles, or opt for home economics if they wish to study food. Neither offers a clear route in food or textiles technology, preventing progression from key stage 3 through to GCSE and beyond.
Early last year examination boards started to put together proposals for new A-level syllabuses in design and technology to meet this need. The syllabuses were structured so that each would have its own focus area, for example "food" or "systems and control".
The courses were planned to start this September. However, the Government imposed a moratorium on post-16 courses for one year, so all examination boards that wish to offer the new suite of A-level Damp;T courses are now scheduled to begin in September 1999.
This time is being used to develop the new examinations through consultation and collaboration. One examination board, Edexcel, will be piloting these new A-level courses from this September.
The proposed courses are: food technology; textiles technology; resistant materials; graphic products; and systems and control.
The A-level food technology course is described by Edexcel as: "covering the social, scientific, economic and technological facts in food production and the impact of market forces. Reference should be made to technological developments, including computerisation."
But why should students, embarking on their sixth form careers, consider these new exams? Clearly not all students are going to become industrial designers or food technologists. They may opt for these new courses to develop other skills, such as team working, marketing, designing, making or problem solving.
For some it may provide an opportunity to apply other areas of study, for example chemistry, in a practical context. However, some students will want to follow the new courses as they offer clear routes to develop their careers. Both higher education and industry require high calibre recruits who have had relevant practical experience.
The introduction of new courses also raises a number of other questions: Will teachers need additional training? Will classroom resources be available? Will universities recognise them? One thing is for sure, the new A-level courses will offer students a progressive framework to develop specialist areas of study from GCSE.
Roy Ballam is education liaison officer for the British Nutrition Foundation. Details for any of the Edexcel design and technology syllabuses are available from John Lawry on 0171 393 4566