Made to measure

12th March 2004 at 00:00
Carolyn O'Grady hears about a course which enables graduate trainees to acquire the right experience

Design and technology poses special problems for schools with trainees on the graduate training programme, because they often find they have to coach trainees in subject knowledge as well as teaching them to teach.

This is because, unlike the situation in, say, the history or French departments, Damp;T trainees have varied backgrounds with degrees ranging from mechanical engineering to graphic design. And there is the additional problem of having to provide health and safety training for work with potentially dangerous machinery.

The result is that schools either resist taking on Damp;T trainees or do not give them the training they deserve. Now, however, a new scheme in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire aims to do something about this.

Devised by Oxfordshire Damp;T consultant Colin Whitfield, Buckinghamshire Damp;T adviser Dr Val Pridmore and teacher Tony Lord, the programme enables trainees to supplement their school experience with practical training in resistant materials, basic electronics and computer-aided design and manufacture.

Once a week, nine graduate trainees from different schools in the two counties attend Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire, where Tony Lord, until recently head of the Damp;T faculty, directs a course which takes them through a series of design-and-make activities.

"Curriculum development is a major component of the new programme," says Tony Lord. "Students are trained in planning courses which meet national curriculum requirements and they produce teaching aids for their own use and design projects suitable for pupils."

Trainees are given schemes and worksheets to take with them and develop in their placement schools. Experts are brought in where needed to provide training in specialised subjects, such as using Pro Desktop - each trainee will be accredited in the use of this computer-aided-design software.

Health and safety training is given in five day-long sessions by a consultant and leads to full accreditation. The course lasts 30 weeks and is funded from money allocated by the Teacher Training Agency which supports the graduate trainees in school. It is extremely good value for the schools which would otherwise have to pay much larger amounts to send their trainees on courses.

Students on the course come from a variety of backgrounds and range in age from 24 to 50. Clive Arnold was an engineer in the RAF for 31 years before opting for teaching and a Damp;T graduate training programme.

He says: "In our subject it would be very difficult to complete the programme solely in school because there is such a wide range of technology projects you have to do. This programme has identified best practice and is introducing us to it."

After completing her degree course, Jaqqi Stewart moved to America for a time. "On my return I decided that I wanted to be a Damp;T teacher, but there is no PGCE in the subject at Oxford Brookes or Oxford University or anywhere within a 50-mile radius," she says.

Instead, she got a job as a Damp;T technician at an Oxford school and from there moved to the graduate training programme. "The course is fantastic.

It's great to have time to experience the sort of projects the students will do and it's also good to meet other trainees. When we've finished we'll probably be in schools round here, so we'll keep in touch and continue to share knowledge and expertise," she says.

Dawn Minards, also a former technology technician, says: "The practical training is very important. One advantage has been that we can produce a lot of models and products which we can show as examples in our classes."

The scheme is now recruiting its next group of students - 12 this time - and Tony Lord sees other possibilities. "This approach could possibly be used for retraining. For example, for a school which may have a surplus of teachers in a particular subject area, some might want to retrain in design and technology. The scheme could also be suitable for science or PE."

In the meantime, he is extremely satisfied with the way things are going.

Just two years ago, Lord Williams's School could not recruit suitably qualified Damp;T teachers in spite of having an excellent Ofsted report and very good facilities.

He says: "This is not a problem unique to our school. Recruitment is difficult not only because of the shortage of trained Damp;T teachers but also because of high house prices locally. Now there will be nine teachers available for employment next year in the two counties, who would not have been available before, and they will have all the right qualifications. And their qualifications will be bang up-to-date."

For more details, contact: Jane Hamer, Education Department, Oxfordshire County Council, MacclesfieldHouse, New Road, Oxford OX1 1THTel: 01865 815449

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