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Spirit of a new age

Design and technology can thrive in rural primary schools just as well as in a city technology college, the conference heard.

But these contrasting settings have at least one thing in common - an enthusiastic headteacher who is a strong advocate of the subject.

When DT became a teaching requirement, Trevor Thompson, who has been head of Fleet Wood Lane County Primary, Lincolnshire, since 1969, asked which staff could teach it. None put up their hand.

But despite the demands of teaching 11 subjects, he and his staff of five have devoted much time and energy to DT. "This is where technology begins," he says. "These are the foundation stones."

DT has a central role in the school, which has increased its complement of computers so that every classroom has at least one terminal and printer.

"We are moving from a modern age into a technological one. I think it's so important that children are surrounded by IT - only if they are surrounded by it will they be comfortable."

The transformation of a school corridor into a rainforest with sound effects and moving models had illustrated the cross-curricular applications of the subject, and given children opportunities for teamwork and achievement. But he believes more money is needed to pay for teacher training courses.

"Children have an abundance of ideas and they could be developed much further if we were skilled in the teaching of it. What we have realised is that DT offers so much to the individual development of children. It encourages and gives meaning to co-operation between children. There isn't a book you can open and say 'follow that'."

The John Cabot City Technology College in Bristol, the latest of the country's 15 CTCs, has only been in existence for three years, yet it has a rich reputation for DT.

The college is named after one of the city's most famous naval explorers and principal Keith McCorkindale is keen to propagate the spirit of innovation in this high-tech academic hothouse. "We like to consider that we are on a voyage of discovery and new developments," he says.

The school buildings, winner of an architectural award for educational fitness for purpose, are a great teaching resource. Gauges and dials around the site show the workings of its heating system and are used in projects.

Links with the college's sponsors, Cable and Wireless, have proved a vital source of industry experience and Mr McCorkindale has set business-like standards for the students' work. "The products they produce should have some kind of market value. They should stand comparison with commercial goods and services. We like to work with real clients to specifications."

The variable attitudes of teachers to the subject were typified by the remark of a girl who described DT as "junk modelling". "It said a lot about the attitudes engendered at her last school. If we want DT to have a high profile then management must recognise that and not just pay lip service."

The college boasts resources that many schools can only dream of. An annual race of buggies built by DT students is a highlight of the college calendar.

"We expect a lot from DT. As a subject it cannot deliver everything, but it can contribute and the better the contribution the better our chances in the longer run in the struggle for economic survival."

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