Designed to help make it up
Technology teachers have some reason to be disgruntled. More than most, their subject suffered from the confusion of orders and revised orders that marked the early years of the national curriculum.
More than most, too, it suffers from the squeeze on school funding. A forthcoming report from the Engineering Council shows that in comparison with the Pounds 9.60 minimum that the Design and Technology Association recommends per pupil in secondary schools, the spending runs at less than Pounds 6 per year per pupil. Half of all departments, it says, are in need of adequate technician support and appropriate in-service training.
It is not surprising, then, that Office for Standards in Education reports often criticise the quality of work in the subject and that 14 per cent of secondary schools, according to a survey by the Secondary Heads Association, are in breach of national curriculum regulations by not requiring all pupils to take technology at key stage 4.
Moreover there are fresh concerns that technology will once again be down-graded in the curriculum review ordered by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority.
There remains a significant minority of headteachers, though, who would still fight hard for compulsory technology. Like Margaret Edwards, head of Wallington High School for Girls, they see the subject as directly relevant to the country's needs. "Technology integrates the creative and analytical aspects of the curriculum and adds communication, teamwork and negotiation," she says.
Schools taking this view often make good use of initiatives such as Neighbourhood Engineers, CREST (Creative Science and Technology), the Engineering Education Scheme and Young Engineers for Britain, and a minority of them have benefited from matched governmentindustry funding via the Technology Schools Initiative or the Technology Colleges trust.
The two factors that are most consistently quoted by confident technology departments, however, tend to be, first, the quality of the senior management team's commitment to the subject - "absolutely crucial," says Andy Hulley head of Design Technology at Bulmershe School in Reading; and second, the calibre of the teaching materials and back-up that comes to them through the Technology Enhancement Programme.
This is, in the words of Mr Hulley, "a fabulous resource". TEP, funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, grew out of a conviction that a culture of excellence in technology education is central to this country's economic survival. Piloted from 1991 to 1994, it aimed to build on the skills of teachers by providing schools with affordable and user-friendly resources.
Initially the project focused on key stage 4 but by the time it went national in 1994 it was producing components and project suggestions - and a range of photocopiable textbooks - that were applicable all the way from key stage 3 to GNVQ and A-level. the emphasis was deliberately on the materials, processes and control aspects of design and technology - often the areas, according to TEP director John Williams, where traditionally trained teachers are least confident. Within this framework, the objective was to achieve what John Williams calls a one-stop shop for technology support.
In practice TEP is more club than shop. There is an application form for example, and schools pay a "partnership fee" of Pounds 375 to join. The benefits, though, soon outweigh this cost: initial textbooks or multimedia publications to the value of Pounds 50 and vouchers for Pounds 200 towards induction and Inset courses, the highly popular TEP summer schools or additional resources come with the package. Subject to matching industrial sponsorship in cash or kind, a further voucher for Pounds 200 is also offered. There is a team of supportive regional advisers, a strong emphasis on professional development, and a growing network of partnership schools - increasingly important as LEA support diminishes.
Beyond this entitlement, member schools (more than 900 of them now) buy at discounted prices from the full TEP range of textbooks (35 in total) and resources. Except for those targeted specifically at post-16 courses, these are technically "stand-alone" materials - but like the design and make projects and tasks that they support, all of them can be used with existing programmes of study and examination syllabuses.
For Andy Hulley, this flexibility is a key advantage. He finds that 14-16 projects like the hi-tec pen and the automatic paper feeder are ideal for the batch manufacture requirement of the GNVQ (manufacturing) courses that Bulmershe offers. "We take the materials and develop them to suit our own house style. It puts real engineering skills into the hands of pupils, and gives them results that look good - and work."
Tessa O'Shea, head of technology at Wallington High School, also identifies quality and finish too as key factors in the programme. As a recent recruit (she attended an Inset course and signed up on the spot) she was struck by the way that TEP ideas and materials speeded up the design and making process and gave her pupils the sort of feedback that comes from an attractive and workable solution.
Over half term, she said, there were at least 25 girls in the workshops every day. "TEP projects work," she said, "and that's important."
Across the spectrum of member schools, that is a typical endorsement. TEP - now looking to expand into further and higher education, as well as into the new technologies communication - is beginning to have an impact on what has been for far too long an under-regarded subject.
TEP can be contacted at Gatsby Technical Education Project, 5 Old Mitre Court, London EC4Y 7BP