Curriculum - DT - Designs on the future

3rd July 2009 at 01:00
Don't dismiss corporate resources and visits. Links to the industry help pupils to think big, as Vicki Shiel discovers

Panicos Panayiotou likes to go the extra mile for his design and technology pupils - so much so that he arranged for the largest UK-built space rocket and the team behind a 1,000mph car designed to break the world land speed record to visit his school.

Pupils at Ash Manor School in Surrey were so inspired after a visit from the pioneers behind the Bloodhound SSC car that most said they wanted to work in a related field as adults. And through the Starchaser Foundation, the pupils will get to take part in the launch of the rocket in November.

Mr Panayiotou also actively seeks projects with local businesses. By approaching upmarket mobile phone manufacturer Vertu, his pupils got to visit the factory, come up with their own concept for a product, pitch it to the company's chief executive and receive feedback. "That's often the best way to benefit from links with business, rather than using the big corporate glossy packs that you sometimes get and end up leaving on your shelf. The kids got to do some blue sky design where there were no barriers to what they could come up with," he says.

As director of the specialism at the school, Mr Panayiotou - who won an award this year from the Design and Technology Association for outstanding teaching in the subject - also makes use of teaching resources produced by companies such as Dyson, Alessi, Oxo and Honda.

But while some teachers raise their eyebrows about the value of using corporate, sponsored materials in class or building relationships with commercial organisations for fear they may brainwash the pupils, seeking out this type of resource is invaluable for design and technology teachers. According to Mr Panayiotou, it's an essential means of plugging the gap between what he teaches in the classroom and how things are done in industry.

He says: "By taking the pupils out of the classroom physically andor digitally, their understanding and appreciation of technology is much improved. Why should we struggle to teach them about the excitement of product design when we could source local companies that, with a little persuasion, are often willing to let pupils visit and see for themselves how the subject can and does relate to the real world?

"If we can make the curriculum as real and as stimulating as possible, the teaching of the subject becomes less of a task and more of a journey, as it should be for all our subjects," he adds.

But if pupils are taking part in experiences such as this, how much added value can corporate resources add in the classroom?

Louise Davies, deputy chief executive at the Design and Technology Association believes that there is a real case to make use of the wealth of resources available in this area. "This is certainly true where resources are provided for free by industry. Good resources are available elsewhere, but education packs and programmes from companies such as Sainsbury's Active Kids Get Cooking (, Dyson and F1 in schools are invaluable to helping teachers deliver an up- to-date, inspiring and exciting curriculum," she says.

Although the national curriculum at primary and secondary level expects pupils to understand how designers and manufacturers develop new products, evaluate current products, know how they were developed and to emulate how they do this in the classroom, Mr Panayiotou says that syllabuses may vary from one school to the next and that few demand real-world experiences to underpin the subject.

Dominic Nolan - another award-winning Damp;T teacher at Coopers Technology College in Bromley - agrees that corporate resources and visits make some of the more intangible aspects of design easier to grasp by making them real.

"In Damp;T, few pupils have experience of going into factories and seeing how things are made. Similarly, staff won't have worked in all the industries they need to cover in their teaching. The great thing about corporate resources is that - as well as being free in most cases - they give pupils an insight into how things are done in industry.

"The best schools and the best teachers will provide their pupils the opportunity to learn in work related contexts or scenarios."

When inspecting schools, Ofsted looks for evidence to show that pupils are developing work-related skills, he adds.

As well as using resources such as the Patent Office's (, Mr Nolan uses websites such as Channel 4's Clipbank and YouTube, which feature videos taken in factories and in universities, demonstrating processes such as plastic bottle production.

But according to Ali Farrell - who is director of food education specialist Food Forum and has helped produce educational resources for Birds Eye, Cadbury's and Stork - there remains a concern that the information contained in some resources might be biased and promotional rather than educational.

"Some teachers do not use them on principle. They assume that if they are corporate they are not educational. But most corporate resources are free and schools are quite reliant on them to cover the industrial practices aspect of food technology," she says.

The teachers who make use of corporate resources tend to overcome such concern by picking and choosing elements of the resource and tailoring them to their lessons rather than using the material in full and in isolation.

Mr Nolan explains: "We use what we think is appropriate and never use these off-the-shelf resources completely. It's not really in the spirit of teaching to do that. As a Damp;T teacher you're a creative person anyway and we tend to like to take ownership of what and how we teach."

Corporate resources often provide pupils with opportunities to experience things they otherwise wouldn't, as Rose Sinclair, textiles lecturer at the University of London, points out. "Programmes such as the CADCAM In Schools initiative for computer-aided design, ( supply real software for teachers and pupils to use.

In textiles, the company Speedstep supplies software called ProPainter and Prosketch, which has allowed teachers to use industry software in a classroom setting. Pupils can see the benefits of using the software and its links to vocational skills and real situations."

Syreeta Collier, a Damp;T teacher at Gordano School in Bristol, says that the Print It resource - designed to demonstrate printing processes - has been particularly useful, even more so now that industrial visits are harder to secure as a result of the economic downturn.

"The school pack was useful because it came with a colour A4 work book for each pupil. They also provided a good supporting website and a collection of CD-Roms with videos and interactive tools to show pupils commercial print processes. Now that it is incredibly difficult to get pupils into industrial visits, this has been of great use."

Although teachers may have to invest time in finding the right resources for their pupils and forging links and special projects with companies may come at a cost (Mr Panayiotou pays a fee for the school to be involved in both the Starchaser and Bloodhound projects), he insists it's worth it.

"For us at Ash Manor School it is a simple equation. We are a technology status school, so although these extra curricular events and corporate resources are always going to challenge a timetable, the incentive is that these experiences provide real enjoyment to the pupils and help put into context the curriculum that they are following."

He adds: "We will always work with these corporate partners for the simple reason that this is what makes teaching meaningful and relevant and allows the school to become recognised for that. We need to think about how we inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers and mathematicians of the future."

Design and Technology Week runs from June 22-26



- www.jamesdysonfoundation.comeducation









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