Sarah Farley reports from a primary school in Bradford where technology lies at the heart of the curriculum, and where teachers' high expectations of their young pupils have produced amazing results.
Design and Shine is an apt slogan for the technology work produced by Frizinghall First School, Bradford. The logo of a candle, star and crescent, celebrating the three religious festivals of Diwali, Christmas and Ede, twinkles and glows from decorative greetings cards and a vibrant tee-shirt.
The high standard expected and gained from children usually considered too young to deal with the sophisticated requirements of design and technology is also a shining example. The reputation of this inner city school, with its 250 mainly bilingual children, housed in Victorian buildings and Terrapin huts, is such that visitors come from schools, colleges and universities to see how the children have become so accomplished.
The display of work that the school is showing at the Design and Technology Education Exhibition at the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham, this month demonstrates the quality achieved. Greetings cards - produced after researching printing techniques, visiting a manufacturing company, and conducting market research, and costing exercises - are displayed on a specially designed frame. Lights flash, decorations shimmer, as the cards representing the three faiths embraced by the school's pupils move backwards and forwards, controlled by a computer program written by two of the older children.
Ray Watson, the local education authority inspector for design and technology, believes that the reason why Frizinghall reaches a standard of work not seen at other first schools is "all to do with the high expectations the teachers have for the children. Each year they raise the standard higher and every year we see an improvement".
When Beverley Ledra was appointed headteacher at the school in 1990, the teaching took a formal, narrow approach with few practical activities. The emphasis was on the use of work sheets and commercial schemes which, although academically they were considered of a high standard, had brought little depth of understanding when the children's learning was analysed.
Beverley Ledra says: "The children could not apply what they had learned. They could tell you that three fours are 12 but if you took them into a shop and showed them three groups of four apples, they could not say how many there were.
"I wanted to bring in some carefully planned activities which would provide opportunities for them to learn, understand, practise skills and use knowledge from other curriculum areas, particularly maths, science, art and English. "
With the support of Ray Watson, a long-term strategy was developed, making technology a central part of the school development plan. This brought in staff training as a key feature, as it soon emerged that teachers had little experience, confidence and expertise in teaching technology. An action plan identified targets, time frames, costs, resources and in-service training implications. A teacher was appointed to co-ordinate the subject, and the classrooms looked at to see how technology could work effectively.
An untidy cloakroom was picked as the first place to develop as a resources area. Set between, and observable from two Year 1 classrooms, it was refitted with shelves and workplaces, and stocked with tools, equipment and materials. Beverley Ledra says: "We display and label all the items and boxes, using the proper technical names as this helps staff and children learn the specialist vocabulary." Worksheets back this up through pictures of tools and equipment, and space for planning and assessment, the text and content gradually becoming harder from class to class.
Beverley Ledra says: "At first teachers were a little reluctant to allow the children to have access to all the tools and materials but we have taught them to use everything correctly and now the children have the run of it all, using equipment safely and responsibly. After all, we let them use pencils and scissors without direct supervision, and they are potentially as dangerous as saws or hammers."
This resources area became a means of showing other teachers how children learned through technology. There has been an emphasis throughout of staff learning from each others' experience and sharing knowledge gained through courses and projects. Jean Newsam, who teaches Year 1 children, acted as the guinea pig for introducing technology and is now an enthusiastic exponent.
She says: "I feel it provides more of a real learning process, that it is more meaningful for the children. The work we have been doing this term in designing and making sweets and containers for the religious festivals has covered language, writing, mathematics, science and art, as well as other areas such as history and religion. We work within a curriculum framework so that we do not have gaps. If our technology project does not include the history or science necessary for the national curriculum, we teach that discretely, we don't just try to link it tenuously."
The language difficulties at Frizinghall led to the first major technology project, concentrating on improving the language skills of the children, who mainly have their cultural and linguistic roots in South Asia. Technology co-ordinator Carolyn Taylor worked with Year 2 pupils to create characters which they wove into a fantasy tale reflecting the cultural diversity in the school. The story became the focus for all activities through the school after the children explained their story to other year groups. A carefully planned project involving all class teachers identified the areas of learning in technology and other curriculum areas, which provided a clear framework to work within, and created an incentive to take part in a much larger project.
Children designed and made puppets to tell the story of Rosser the Robber, and with the support of the advisory service, used information technology and video equipment to produce a book. Children in Years 2, 3 and 4 performed the story on stage at the Bradford Mela, a cultural festival. The whole school became involved in designing and making sets, costumes and props, and producing music tapes. Reception children helped paint the scenery flats, following designs they had created with older children and a visiting artist in residence. Pupils from a local upper school worked with children to develop the visual images of the characters into the costumes.
Beverley Ledra's philosophy requires the balancing of direct teaching of technology with the pupil's opportunity to experiment and discover for themselves. "Teachers find where the balance is through training and their own experience. We find that we are growing more confident and effective. Teachers are feeling so much more relaxed about children's ability to work constructively on their own that they can devote more time to individual children, uninterrupted by requests for directions or help with finding things."
Ray Watson says: "You can see the impact throughout the curriculum. Children now have a lot to say because in technology they are expected to join in. Their language and confidence has improved amazingly and the way in which young children can achieve such high standards has raised the expectations of staff, governors and parents."
John Angerson Towering achievement: Frizinghall First School has shown what can be done in design and technology lessons for children often regarded as too young to benefit Visitors come from colleges and universities to see how the children have become so accomplished.