A long table of screw ups;Talkback;Opinion

16th July 1999 at 01:00
Dave Davison says today's pupils aren't cut out for Damp;T

Thank goodness the GCSE farce is over for another year. The only candidate who deserves a design and technology GCSE at our school is one lad who built a wall unit - and me.

I have realised why we use the term "resistant materials". Students resist doing any work with them. Most of our Year 11 students have great difficulty with scissors, never mind a tenon saw - making anything that requires cutting wood to length is largely beyond them.

Given the school's high expectations and the lack of motivation from Year 11 lads (the girls are slightly more industrious) the poor old Damp;T teacher is left in a dilemma. If he leaves the project unfinished he will be seen as a poor teacher. If he finishes it off himself (or even makes it from scratch in some instances) he is cheating and is again seen as a poor teacher. But the second option is the only realistic one open to the teacher.

But if he can get his technician to do the project work behind closed doors, he can pass the finished article off as the students' own work and salvage his reputation for another year. This is what I have done.

The unrealistic expectations of headteachers and the Office for Standards in Education are forcing Damp;T departments into dishonest practices. After all, few adult DIY enthusiasts would attempt to make furniture from scratch. So why expect young people, with no real interest in being creative, to make impressive artefacts such as football games or coffee tables? Why not send them down to IKEA and let them pick out some self-assembly kits? At least that would be honest OFSTED is out of touch with the cultural ambitions of the majority of the population. Most young lads have no interest in making anything except babies. The computer is king. Sawing, screwing, joining, varnishing - all these wonderful techniques are seen as "jurassic". If it can't be done on a computer, it's not worth the time.

Our students are growing up in a post-industrial society. Few will be asked to enter practical or creative professions. So let's stop pretending this is some kind of virtuous crusade. We have become a nation of service users, no longer great engineers or determined artisans. Some students enter our workshops looking for the computers to make their projects, and look askance at our hand tools. They rely on teacher and technician to cut out wood and plastic on electric bandsaws. Many children have a poor understanding of measurement and simple division, and possess hardly any problem-solving skills.

The line between helping students with their project work and doing it for them has always been a fine one. But when a Damp;T teacher hands over four lumps of wood and asks the student to build a shelf unit from scratch (four pieces of wood that the teacher has already selected and cut) then it's time to ask just what we are teaching students. How to get others to do all their work, perhaps?

Dave Davison is a technician in a northern comprehensive. He writes under a pseudonym

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