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Subject to change

Teachers talk to Bernard Adams about their fears that the subject is being downgraded

Increased flexibility" said the Department for Education and Skills when it made design and technology an "entitlement" rather than compulsory at key stage 4.

But for Damp;T teachers the changes bode ill for the subject. "We see the move as short-sighted," says Jenny Jupe, chief executive of the Design and Technology Association. "Compulsory Damp;T helped prepare pupils for the world of work and gave them a broad and balanced learning opportunity in technology," she says.

She believes the politicians and civil servants who created the new approach may not have experienced modern Damp;T in their own education.

"It was very different when they were at school," says Jenny. "But now it helps pupils to work collaboratively - to negotiate, compromise and be realistic.

"When the changes were first proposed I wrote to Estelle Morris when she was Secretary of State, saying how well technology teachers had responded to the government's desire for a modern and relevant curriculum. We now feel that the rug has been pulled from under our feet."

Donna Trebell teaches Damp;T at Wrotham High School, Kent. She is unhappy about the message the new plans are sending to her fellow teachers. "I'm afraid that some schools will take any chance they can to get rid of what is always the most expensive subject to teach. We've moved mountains to get Damp;T to fit into the curriculum and tried to overcome the problems of recruitment and now we get a kick in the teeth. Briefly it became an 'important' subject and now it's 'not important' again," she says.

Recruitment and retention problems are also a concern of Jenny Jupe. "Money for professional development is likely to go to teachers of core rather than 'entitlement' subjects," she says. "The effects of all this may be felt subtly and slowly, but they will be felt in the end. There's writing on the wall already: in 25 per cent of schools recently surveyed, Damp;T is optional. Schools are opting out."

Sandy Kendall, secretary of the National Association of Advisers and Inspectors in Design and Technology, is calling for Damp;T to fight back.

"After14 the pupils should be entitled to study one course in each of the three key areas: product design; food technology; and systems and control technology. If they were only able to study one of these it would be contrary to the government's expressed wish for 'a broad and balanced curriculum'.

"Our task is to ensure that Damp;T at KS3 is so exciting, challenging and motivating that students in the 14 to 19 age-group will want to continue with the subject. If we don't do that the numbers will drop."

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