New scope for individual ideas
Sir Ron Dearing, in his final report of December 1993, highlighted the importance of building on what has been achieved so far rather than seeking to start all over again. I hope that primary teachers will recognise this guiding principle in the new Order for technology and be encouraged to review and develop the experience offered to children. Schools which have worked hard to develop the subject should find there is little to change and those who have yet to take on this challenge will appreciate the simpler framework.
The draft proposals were considerably slimmer than the current Order and comprise a single programme of study for each key stage. At consultation conferences, primary teachers agreed that this was a helpful development. I therefore believe that the final format will organise the programmes of study in sections, including designing skills, making skills and knowledge and understanding. This will provide teachers with useful headings to consider and talk about, an important next stage for schools in the development of design and technology. It does not mean that the subject has become fragmented. The document supports the development of design and technological capability and treats skills and understanding as resources for children to use in designing and making.
The range of activities is one of the important differences from the original Order. Designing and making activities are still central but the contribution of focused activities to develop specific skills and aspects of knowledge and understanding are also recognised. Learning about the made environment has a higher profile and teachers will need to create opportunities for children to investigate, disassemble and evaluate simple products. This will be a new approach for many teachers and development work will be needed to explore ways in which children can use products as a resource for learning in design and technology as they already do in art and history.
The two attainment targets, designing and making, incorporate all aspects of the process including investigating needs, planning and evaluating. Many primary teachers have already welcomed the new level descriptions which will support teachers in developing overall judgments in designing and making.
As a member of the advisory group that drew up the draft proposals, it took me a while to become accustomed to the notion that the Order should define a minimum statutory entitlement for all children. It is not its purpose to define good or best practice or to set a detailed syllabus. This may prove to be a disappointment to design and technology enthusiasts or to beleaguered teachers who cry, "Just tell us what to teach!". However, there is nothing in this approach that will stand in the way of inspired teachers and there is much to commend it to people who found the original green folder difficult to follow. There will be new non-statutory guidance which, with other published material, will offer teachers support in the detail of design and technology.
Julie Mantell works both as a freelance consultant and for Somerset Education Consultants.