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Standards rising at all levels

Analysis of OFSTED's findings shows rapid improvements have been made in design and technology, Andy Breckon says

As a relatively new subject in the compulsory curriculum, design and technology has received much criticism over the past few years for its performance, especially in standards of achievement. Some of this has been justified, although it mostly resulted from confusion caused by the original Order. However, the Design and Technology Association believed that the new Order would help redress some of the problems by raising teachers' understanding of the requirements, giving them confidence and an awareness of how to improve standards. The 1995 design and technology Order had the most radical changes of any subject and necessitated total rewriting of schemes of work.

DATA has been waiting to see how the new D T has been settling in. The first major evidence came in February when Her Majesty's Chief Inspector's annual report for 199596 was published, covering reports on approximately 25 per cent of all schools in England. This was a most encouraging report for D T with improvement in both primary and secondary phases, although in primary it was recognised that we were starting from a very low position.

DATA was surprised at the small coverage of subjects in the annual report and the lack of a detailed report as in previous years. However, in DATA's summer term newsletter Mike Ive, adviser for design and technology for the Office for Standards in Education, sets out the main findings with a commentary.

To illustrate the success that D T teachers have had, and to counter those senior management teams which constantly challenge the quality in D T, I thought it would be helpful to look at subject league tables. These are based on data produced in Annex 1 of HMCI's report, which shows inspectors' judgments on standards of achievement. The information is provided for two years, 199495 and 199596 and classified as "good", "a balance of strengths and weaknesses", and "poor". I have created a positive score by subtracting the poor from the good.

Primary D T remains next to bottom of the league table with only IT in a worse position. At key stage 2 work was good in about a third of schools but poor in one quarter. This is not surprising with so little support for teachers in terms of training and resources. However, it was very encouraging to see D T showing the second-best level of improvement from 199495, with only art doing better, and there is no doubt that with more support this can be improved.

In secondary education, where much criticism is levelled, the results show a tremendous performance in D T in the first year of the new Order. The view that D T standards are low is conclusively shown to be wrong, with OFSTED figures showing the subject in a very healthy position. At key stage 3 D T is third in the league table of 12 basic curriculum subjects, an unexpectedly outstanding performance. At key stage 4 design and technology is seventh overall, but is third of the eight compulsory subjects. Optional subjects, namely art, music, history and geography, did better.

Clearly, some analysis of these excellent results is necessary. First, there has been valuable support over the period from a number of sources. The three national projects, run by the Technology Enhancement Programme, the Royal College of Arts and Nuffield, have all contributed significantly, and many local education authorities have supported schools with quality advice and support. DATA - with good support from the Department for Education and Employment - has also produced some valuable materials. However, credit must go first and foremost to teachers who have shown skill and the determination to raise standards in their subject.

Much needs to be done but the new confidence in D T, and the development of new resources to support new GCSE courses, GNVQ engineering and manufacturing, is most encouraging. At primary level further improvement is required, but DATA's recent publication on good practice, and its in-service training manual, which is currently being developed, should help raise standards.

Andy Breckon is chief executive of the Design and Technology Association

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