The forgotten joys of making and doing

1st November 2002 at 00:00
Emphasis on the literacy and numeracy strategies has led to practical subjects such as design and technology taking a back seat. Helen Ward reports on the TES national poll of primary teachers.

DESIGN and technology is being squeezed out of primary schools by maths, English and science, say teachers.

A TES poll of Year 6 teachers reveals many staff believe that pupils should get more time to do practical subjects such as design and technology, arts and music More than a quarter of the 500 teachers polled believed practical subjects did not get enough time.

Asked which subjects had the right amount of time, maths and science came top. English though was felt to be taking up too much time by 12 per cent of Year 6 teachers polled - echoing warnings from the Office for Standards in Education which found half the schools it surveyed last year allocated between a quarter and a third of taught time to English.

Inventor James Dyson said: "I am not surprised that teachers want more class time spent on design and technology. They can see at first hand the value of this inspirational subject.

"I believe that design and technology is as essential a part of education as the ability to read and do arithmetic. All pupils need to become informed users of technology and to understand the technological society in which we live.

"Damp;T is not a 'vocational' activity but should be a key part of every child's education - male or female - from the least able to the most gifted and talented. Without it our economy and our society will suffer."

Jenny Jupe, chief executive of the Design and Technology Association, said she feared Damp;T had been seen as less important by schools since the introduction of the literacy and numeracy strategies. To make room for their launch, schools were allowed to devise their own design and technology curriculum for two years. Since 2000, primaries have been expected to cover the subject in full.

Ms Jupe said: "We are concerned about the lack of teaching of Damp;T and also about the timetabling of it.

"For children to develop design and technology capabilities they do need regular doses of teaching. It worries us that sometimes Damp;T is taught in one day a term and not picked up again until the next term. That is very alarming."

A study by Professors Maurice Galton and John MacBeath for the National Union of Teachers earlier this year revealed that, in some primaries, only 30 minutes a week were spent on music and in some art was dropped in Year 6.

Since 1997, the year before the literacy strategy was introduced, the allocation for science and technology had declined from five to three hours.

Last month Ofsted called for headteachers to experiment more with the curriculum by looking for themes that could link across subjects. They also wanted to see more outside experts brought in to pass on experience of the world beyond the school gates.

Those in the design industry firmly believe that pupils should start the subject young. Fashion designer Jasper Conran said: "Children at primary age are far more receptive to ideas of design than later. Design is as important as maths or geography because it encourages you to look at things and to evaluate them. You cannot start too early."

STRATEGIES STIFLE ORIGINAL THOUGHT

TEACHERS may have confidence in their ability to teach maths and English, but many say it is hard to inject their own ideas into lessons since the national literacy and numeracy strategies were introduced.

Almost half of the Year 6 teachers questioned say it has become harder to be creative since the introduction of the strategies.

Older teachers were more likely to agree with this with 49 per cent saying it had become harder. Among teachers under 30, 36 per cent of teachers thought it had become harder to be creative.

The strategies were brought in following reports that too many children were leaving primary school without the three Rs.

But unlike previous instructions, they gave guidelines on not just what teachers should teach - but how to teach it.

Although the strategies have never been compulsory, most headteachers implement the literacy hour and daily maths lesson. In the past year, the Government's standards unit has issued even more detailed guidance, including step-by-step lesson plans for maths.

Much of it has been welcomed by teachers as a way of cutting down on planning. But academics fear teachers could become over-reliant on state-sponsored publications.

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