From glue to glitz

18th November 1994 at 00:00

John Eggleston visits the annual Design and Technology Exhibition at a time when the subject has just been diminished by the new Orders. The annual Design and Technology Exhibition rolled again at the National Exhibition Centre from November 10 to 12 and its opening day coincided with the confirmation of the new Design and Technology Orders. Amazingly, this further reduction of the subject made virtually no impact on the teachers present; most just shrugged their shoulders and felt it would make little difference. If the organisers were concerned, they certainly did not let it dim the hype and glitz that are now essential features of any self-respecting international trade fair.

Yet despite all the efforts of the show's spin doctors, it was very clear that design and technology is no longer the growth area of recent years. Teachers visiting the exhibition provided interesting clues for this. The squirrel-like tendencies which many heads and deputies have developed since local management for schools seemed a particularly potent reason. "The old man's saving all the cash for a rainy day and won't spend a penny least of all on design and technology" was a characteristic comment. It was difficult to find a single teacher who was involved in re-equipping any part of a design and technology area.

This must have been of particular concern to many companies offering extensive new ranges of furniture designed to satisfy the latest safety and health regulations. These included ESAMcIntosh offering sophisticated suites that looked more at home in the boardroom than the classroom. A free planner stencil and room guide were on offer to help sales along.

Lervad, the most traditional of all design and technology furniture makers had new and very beautiful beech Junior Work Centres, while Nortek was offering a "Special Needs Work Station" which was totally mobile.

EFM, with the biggest and most prominent stand, was offering its School Services Network to generate capital bid applications, curriculum need analyses and project management. The implicit message seemed to be to buy EFM and save consultancy fees.

Yet another reason for lack of growth seemed to be that the high-flying IT material has moved on to other exhibitions. Only a few remain loyal to the Design and Technology show. These included Techsoft, specialising in software for computer-aided design and manufacture (CADCAM). Techsoft was offering Design Tools, a design and drafting program for Windows, which combines these features and CADCAM into one package suitable for all ages. Despite the characteristic opacity of the technical prose that surrounded their sales pitch, there certainly seemed to be a useful software package available. Techsoft was also offering, for teachers of an earlier generation, its Roland Plotters to replace dead or dying Plotmates, supplied by the now-defunct Linear Graphics company.

The changed gender balance of the exhibition was unmistakable. All school displays this year were by girls and BP was proudly displaying a hovercraft, the design for which won the 1994 Schools' Competition for Skipton Girls' Grammar School. This led many visitors to the BP Education Stand which had useful resources on display, such as the key stage 4 Enterprise Technology, with new sections on Business Planning and Business Awareness.

Close by, the Shell Education Service was offering a similarly extensive collection of resources including its new key stage 2 and 3 Journey to Enterprise pack. Alas, both packs had been ambitiously prepared before the newly-diminished emphasis on enterprise in the new Orders.

There was much professional interest in the Engineering Council's Technology Enhancement Project work, sponsored by the Gatsby Foundation and now being taken forward by a team from Middlesex University. Many schools were signing up as partners. The Shadow Robot project with its Air Muscles (hi-tech and low-tech versions) and the Control Technology Video forecast important new directions in the subject curriculum as did the work of the Nuffield project, whose first pupils' books are to be published by Longman early in 1995.

There was also great interest in the National Council for Vocational Qualifications' stand and the interest of schools in GNVQs was obvious. This was strongly confirmed by the spate of publishers planning to publish GNVQ pupil books and also the interest in the stand of the City and Guilds and RSA Examination Boards who plan a range of GNVQs as well as linked GCSE qualifications.

Professional interest was also strong at the Design and Technology Association stand, which is now established itself, with its associates, as the definitive subject organisation, with a wide range of support material and services on offer.

But it was the small, one-shot innovations that captured the imagination of many teachers who saw them as being not only helpful but also inspiring for their students. Typical was the Commotion stand with its Tactronics System with Cooper Track silicone chip holders, which includes the Spider (8 pin chip holder) and the Beetle (14 pin chip holder). Both of these can be permanently applied to an existing circuit, simply by fixing like an old-fashioned transfer, and then soldered.

Commotion was also displaying Forma foam, a plastic foam which forms a convenient and simple modelling material which can be cut and shaped with scissors even by young children. It can also be glued with conventional glues and painted with acrylic paints.

For the traditionalists, there were still the Draper hand tools to fondle and the natural wood of the Lervad furniture to admire. But alas no more were there the Record, Marple or Stanley hand tools, still less the Fitchett and Woollacott timbers on display. And perhaps the most dramatic change of all was in the gender balance of visitors; the virtually all-male attendance of 10 years ago was, at times during the exhibition, all but reversed, as was the old dominance of secondary school teachers. Even with school design and technology, times are changing almost regardless of the gyrations of the national curriculum.

BP Educational Service, PO Box 934, Poole, Dorset BH17 7AG. Tel: 01202 669940 City and Guilds of London Institute, 326 City Road, London EC1V 2PT. Tel: 0171-278 2468

Commotion Solutions for Education, Unit 11, Tannery Road, Tunbridge TN9 1RF. Tel: 01732 773399 Design and Technology Association, 16 Wellesbourne House, Walton Road, Wellesbourne CV35 9JB. Tel: 01789 470007 Draper Tools, Hursley Road, Chandlers Ford, Eastleigh, Hants SO53 1YF. Tel: 01703 266355.

EFM Flamefast, Labtex Street, Manchester M27 8SE. Tel: 0161-793 9333 ESA McIntosh, Freepost, Kirkcaldy KY1 3BR. Tel: 01592 652551 Lervad (UK), 4 Denham Parade, Denham, Uxbridge UB9 4DZ. Tel: 01895 833690 National Council for Vocational Qualifications, 222 Euston Road, London NW1 2BZ. Tel: 0171-728 1958.

Nortek Educational Furniture and Equipment, Vale Works, Priesty Fields, Congleton, Cheshire. Tel: 01260 298321 RSA Examinations, Westwood Way, Coventry CV4 8HS. Tel: 01203 470033 Shell Education Service, Shell UK, Shell-Mex House, Strand, London WC2R 0DZ. Tel: 0171-257 1774.

Technology Enhancement Project, The Engineering Council, Essex House, 12-13 Essex Street, London WC2. Tel: 0171-240 7891 Techsoft UK, The Grange, Eryrys, Mold, Clwyd CH7 4DB. Tel: 01824 780318.

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