The carousel conundrum

26th April 1996 at 01:00
Are pupils really applying what they learn in technology? Gerald Haigh reports on research into children's understanding of DT, graphics and electronics.

At Great Cornard Upper School, Sudbury, Graham Rudd's contribution to the Supporting Change in Teaching Technology project was to look at the organisation of the technology department. At Great Cornard, it was a matter of making a choice between integrated and single-subject technology courses.

When the school, for example, began to see the benefits of Technology Schools Initiative funding, the arrival of highly specialised equipment led the department to consider how far a teacher could be a general "technology" teacher as opposed to, say, a "textiles" teacher. There are obviously opposing views here, and these were apparent in the research. One teacher said: "It is vitally important that kids see each of us as a technologist."

It is also important, whatever form of organisation is used, that staff work together. Graham Rudd says: "What's come out of the national curriculum is that teamwork is the thing - sharing experiences and ideas. The sheer workload is such that you cannot do it on your own."

At the same time, there are clear benefits in continuity and efficiency of effort from having a group of pupils cover a two-year specialist course in, say, design and realization, or design and communication, working the whole time with the same teacher - and this is the planned pattern for 1996-97 at Great Cornard, After a lot of searching for an appropriate GCSE syllabus, the department settled on the WJEC (Welsh Joint Education Committee) syllabus which offers courses suited to Great Cornard's spread of staff specialities.

What became apparent from talking to Graham Rudd - and to some extent to the teachers in the other schools - was that the staffing of technology departments is of itself an intriguing issue. Technology is still a new subject, and there is as yet no settled professional profile for those who teach it. As a result, departments are considerably enriched by the presence of people with slightly unconventional CVs.

At Great Cornard, for example, Graham Rudd, head of department, is a former woodwork and metalwork teacher, trained in the Sixties. He is one of many experienced teachers who have not only seen their own jobs change beyond all recognition, but have piloted others through the same upheaval, doing it all with good humour and infinite patience.

Among others in his department are a woman who once worked for a sewing machine company running their training sessions for teachers, a man who had an earlier career as a technician in a university, and a newly qualified teacher whose degree is in architecture. This kind of pattern means that when any teacher leaves, recruiting someone who can walk into the gap is not going to be quite as easy as it is, say, in mathematics or history - and this in itself has implications for the way the subject is organised, and the options which a department can offer to its students. "You do need people to be flexible, " says Graham Rudd.

For this reason, among many others, all the teachers to whom I have spoken want more than anything for the subject to be left alone to settle down. Technology has had more change than most other subjects - I suspect that no technology teacher in England and Wales has yet taught the same thing for two years running - and even now the promised stability seems more illusory than real. "When does the five year standstill start?" asks Graham Rudd.

The report, Supporting Change in Teaching Technology, Pounds 3.50, is published by the Technology Enhancement Programme, The Engineering Council, 10 Maltravers Street, London. WC2R 3ER

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