Bringing out the best
"Traditionally, we've thought gifted and talented children were interested in subjects such as languages or science. However, we need to be bold and broaden the spectrum - we have that kind of child in Damp;T, and in all walks of life. It's important they should be allowed to flourish."
Mike Gibbon, headteacher of Sandfields comprehensive in Port Talbot, south Wales, explains how five of his Year 9 students have been entered for a full GCSE in Damp;T, two years ahead of schedule. He credits Geoff Eyears, who leads the school's Damp;T department, for making it happen. Geoff Eyears came to school from a similar position in Builth Wells and teaches resistant materials, as well as graphic products.
He arrived at Sandfields in 1999, with a brief to improve technology results. Less than 25 per cent of the school's Damp;T GCSE entrants were getting A-C grades, and graphics was not taught at all. By 2002, 73 per cent of students were getting A-C grades, and this year a group of very committed pupils are taking advantage of the school's new emphasis on Damp;T excellence to take the graphics products GCSE after two terms' work.
In January this year, it had been planned that eight Year 9 pupils would be entered for the short-course "half GCSE" in graphics. But by Easter, five of them - four girls and one boy - had done such good work that Geoff Eyears decided to enter them for a full GCSE. He says that when an examiner from the WJEC, the Welsh examinations board, visited the school before half term, he commented that the quality and standard of their work was "amazing".
He says the students were entered for the exams: "First, to give those children who weren't going to choose a technology subject at KS4 the chance to do an extra GCSE. Second, to give the ones that are really keen on technology subjects the chance to go on to the higher tier and go for the 'A' stars, or to gain an additional GCSE in a different area of technology.
And the third reason was to boost the subject within the school."
So what is the secret of his success? "I'm very enthusiastic about technology and I put in an awful lot of hours," he says. "I really want the children to do the best they can and felt they were being failed by the system and teachers."
But he admits that simple enthusiasm is not enough. Good results won't happen without the right financial support.
In this respect, he was fortunate that during his first three years at Sandfields the school's governors were very supportive. The then head, Paul Russell, asked: "What do you want and what difference is it going to make?"
Geoff Eyears decided that upgrading the ICT equipment was essential to enable children to produce good quality work. He was also keen to emphasise the importance of "little things", such as classroom furniture. When he started at Sandfields there were old rickety chairs and tables. The improved learning environment convinced students to take the subject more seriously.
The five "fast-track" Year 9 students have certainly benefited. For their GCSE work, Geoff Eyears says they were given a brief for a graphic designer. "They selected a company or band and then had to make a suite of promotional products - business cards, letterheads, logos etc. Some have done CD covers or signage as well."
The only drawback, in his view, was the lack of time to get through all of the theory. "We've been staying after school to put in the time and we've been missing other lessons to put the finishing touches to our folders," admits one high-flyer, 14-year-old Christy Doyle, who intends to continue with the subject. Some of this work is now on display to give a confidence boost to the school.