Constructive influence

28th April 1995 at 01:00
Bob Welch looks at the Nuffield design and technology key stage 3 course, which emphasises the importance of leadingstudents into design-and-make tasks while building up a firm foundation of knowledge and skills

When the Nuffield design and technology project was first announced many people welcomed the initiative and looked forward to the publication of the material. Dr David Barlex and his team of experienced writers and practitioners were given an ambitious brief and they have produced a set of resources for teachers which could influence the nature of the subject in schools for many years to come.

The "off-the-shelf, ready-to-wear" schemes in design and technology have a somewhat troubled history and many people would prefer teaching schemes tailor-made to the needs of a school and its students. This is where the Nuffield Project has an advantage; the interrelated and carefully structured material can be readily modified by teachers to meet individual requirements.

The basic message from the project is that students should design what they make and make what they have designed - a refreshingly simple message but one which may have become lost in some schools over the past few years. Gone are the days of serendipitous problem solving. Students' designing and making should be supported by a firm foundation of knowledge and skills.

The Nuffield Project approach reflects and no doubt influenced the range of activities found in the new Order. For design and make assignments read "capability tasks" and for focused practical tasks and disassembly activities read "resource tasks".

The publication of this material is by any standards a major event and many schools will wish to consider purchasing the photocopiable resource task file and capability task file. In addition, an excellent full colour students' book and study guide will meet the needs of many students in key stage 3 (and quite possibly some in key stage 2). The study guide includes valuable advice for students and numerous stimulating well-illustrated case studies. Publication could not have been timed better. The new Order has arrived in schools and revised schemes of work are now urgently required for September.

An approach to constructing a scheme of work is included in the teacher's guide, which gives useful advice on ensuring that each student gains a balanced design and technological experience. Care will still be needed, however, to ensure that each task builds on what has been previously achieved. As the guide states, a judicious mix of learning activities will be required to ensure that the curriculum offers breadth and balance and has sufficient depth to enable students to make progress.

Curriculum models include rotational courses which seek to match the material to teacher expertise. Continuity problems inherent in such approaches are well known and those in charge of timetabling the subject may wish to use the Nuffield Course material in a different way.

This, of course, is only as it should be. Inevitably teachers will discover which aspects of the scheme work particularly well and will modify the courses year on year. As with all good resource material, the Nuffield Project can be adapted by individual teachers to suit their own needs. There is no master scheme which all schools are expected to follow slavishly.

The teacher's guide also includes sections on using the resources and differentiation, progression and assessment. These are generally helpful but on the whole key stage planning would be welcome. In particular, additional guidance to ensure that all pupils receive their entitlement to a substantial design and technology experience would help ensure that all aspects of the subject are given sufficient attention.

The resource tasks are linked to the programmes of study, but not all statements are covered. Those missed will therefore need to be included in the capability tasks or taught through additional material produced by the school. Given the element of choice within the scheme careful mapping will be needed to ensure full coverage of statutory requirements in enough depth for all students.

The resource task file contains timed activities to support students' designing and making. These are clearly presented as instruction sheets telling pupils what to do and what they will need. In some cases these resource tasks are design and make assignments in miniature and teachers may prefer to teach aspects of the programmes of study in other, more focused ways.

Additionally, a wide range of capability tasks require students to draw on the skills, knowledge and understanding covered in the resource tasks. Although each task is defined in terms of possible outcomes and resource requirements, teachers can adjust the task to meet their own situation and requirements. They may also wish to add extension material for particularly able students.

Each capability task is presented with a possible teaching sequence of lessons. These vary in length. "Novelties Incorporated" has a suggested allocation of 16 80-minute lessons, while "Rainbow Radios" has 18. These timings are only suggestions and can be modified to suit schools, especially as an increasing number have adopted a lesson length of 60 minutes or less.

Another factor which will need careful consideration is the balance of time spent on designing and on making during each activity. For example, a Year 8 textiles or resistant-materials-based project is allocated 17 80-minute lessons, less than half of which are devoted to making and modifying a product and developing skills and technical understanding. In practice, designing and making are interwoven and teachers can, and no doubt will, modify these timings in the light of experience.

Some of the text-based resource tasks may become repetitive for pupils, particularly where they are asked to compile lists of items. Pupils need to understand the content of the task, record their ideas and develop their designs, but too much written work may reduce the motivation of some students and leave insufficient time to produce some high-quality work.

Inevitably in a scheme of this breadth, the odd error will occur. The sketch of a brace and bit is one rare example where an unsatisfactory illustration lets down an otherwise well presented, accessible pupil reader.

A useful feature is the inclusion of chooser charts to help students compare and select materials. Strangely, however, the chart for food wrappings such as deep-fried batter and various types of pastry omits any reference to nutritional values, surely a key factor in the selection of any food.

One final quibble: in an attempt perhaps to pacify school managers, the publicity material for this scheme states that the course does not require any special equipment. Why not? The course should demand the use of modern equipment and computer-aided processes. To imply that it can be done on a shoestring is both misleading and inappropriate.

This has to be rated as an impressive resource for schools, well presented, well thought-out and clearly focused on the needs and interests of students irrespective of the occupation or profession they enter. Buy the complete set for your school or order the sample pack, study it, try out some of the tasks, evaluate, adapt and modify and, finally, judge the value and effectiveness of scheme by the results it produces with your students.

Bob Welch is inspector for technology for Berkshire

Nuffield Design and Technology Key Stage 3 course

Project directors: David Barlex, Paul Black, Geoffrey Harrison Resource Task File Pounds 99.50 +VAT 0582 21267 7A Capability Task File Pounds 49.50 +VAT 0582 21268 5A Study Guide Pounds 8.99. 0582 21265 OA Student's Book Pounds 9.990582 21266 9A Teacher's Guide. Pounds 9.990582 21264 2A Sample Pack Pounds 16.99. 0582 21263 4 Lo

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