Practical solution;Technology

8th January 1999 at 00:00
In next year's national curriculum review, design and technology is likely to be dropped from the compulsory timetable for 14 to 16-year-olds. Reva Klein reports on a Crafts Council report that says the time is right for a rethink on the way the subject is taught If Tony Blair is right that in the next century "creativity and knowledge will be the key tools", we need to overhaul the way design and technology is taught. This is the driving force behind the Crafts Council's report "Learning through Making: a national inquiry into the value of creative practical education in Britain", researched by teams from Loughborough and Sheffield Hallam universities.

Part of the research involved talking to pupils and teachers about their perceptions of Damp;T. The 239 secondary students interviewed said they enjoyed realistic "practical making" that fitted in with their own motivation and aspirations. But they didn't like what they perceived as the irrelevant theory and paperwork built into the technology curriculum.

As Crafts Council education officer Stephen Burroughs says: "The researchers point out that Damp;T often lacks a context. Assignments are often set in isolation - the making of automatons and toys, for instance - without reference to pupils' cult-ure or age. Young people are motivated when they're shown how to make things and then given projects that relate to their own stage of development."

The report refers to Suzi Leather, a member of the Royal Society of Arts Focus on Food Campaign, who says that "while 85 per cent of primary schoolchildren can use a keyboard, only half that number can chop carrots or peel potatoes".

As for the 126 Damp;T and art teachers interviewed, most claim poor resourcing - typified by the much-criticised cardboard technology - demotivates pupils and leads to poor quality learning and outcomes. But this isn't universal. Teachers who have had good specialist training and who receive support from their managers say they are satisfied at getting the materials they want. Sadly, they are the exception.

But resourcing can't take all the blame. As the report points out, Damp;T and art teachers are inadequately trained. It calls for a coherent approach to provision and professional development - nationally, locally and in schools. One way of doing this, it suggests, is a national scheme of in-service training that could be developed through partnerships between schools and bodies such as education authorities, regional arts boards and the Teacher Training Agency.

The Crafts Council supports this idea. Stephen Burroughs says: "The report reveals teachers' belief that their practical competence has diminished, and they need to enhance their skills. Given the paucity of local authority advisers and inspect-ors to co-ordinate staff training days, we'd like to see a national scheme for practical INSET in Damp;T. Every local authority should also carry out an audit of teachers' skills."

Just as important as training is finding a way to tackle the recruitment crisis in secondary Damp;T. The subject's low status is undoubtedly a factor. The researchers note that while all educators value this component of the curriculum, they acknowledge its low priority in schools. They emphasise the need to raise the status of learning through making and say this should be achieved by changing the national curriculum and the examination and accreditation system and beyond, all the way through to university admissions procedures.

The "making gap", or divide between art and design and design and technology after age 16 (and sometimes 14), is another problem. Stephen Burroughs says: "Bridges need to be built between the two, so there's an understanding of what is possible." As the report notes, many skills are often not developed or maintained before entry into the job market as a result. "It is particularly worrying as this is the time young people develop physical control and co-ordination."

With the imminent publication of the consultative report of the National Advisory Committee for Creative and Cultural Education chaired by Professor Ken Robinson, followed by the national curriculum review, the Crafts Council hopes its recommendations will be taken up. One thing is certain: with the roles that intelligent making and craft-based activity have to play in the labour market and in lifelong learning, it makes consummate sense to ensure children and young people are being given the skills they need, delivered in ways relevant to themselves and the outside world.

As Stephen Burroughs says: "There's more to life than literacy and numeracy. Children need creative practical skills if they're to improve the world of the future."


The report says:

"Making (or intelligent making) is not sufficiently well expressed in the national curriculum key stages 1 and 2 subject documents to represent its educational significance; nor is it expressed in a way that is entirely appropriate to KS1 and 2 education. At KS3 and 4, the nature of making - for practical learning - is biased towards designing and making (artefacts) for industrial production and insufficiently engages pupils in meaningful making. There are limited opportunities for "real life" projects and aesthetic development at key stages 3 and 4. Craft activity is poorly supported in the school curriculum."


* A review of the provision and practice of craft-based education should include all recognisedqualifications, initial and in-service teacher education and collaborative work with nationaland regional development organisations.

* Intelligent making activities should be enhanced and made regularly available to all pupils - at least until the end of full-time schooling - so they maydevelop practical skills and imagination.

* Information and communications technology (ICT)alone should not be seen as a substitute for the whole experience of making.

* Concentration on literacy and numeracy should not detract from a balanced, integrated and reinforcing scheme of making activities which develops not only ideas, spatial perception and dexterity but also problem-solving and related analytical, language and numeracy skills.

The council then recommends that schools should:l ensure they have an adequate and appropriate resource base for a wide and appropriate range of realistic making activities; * make every opportunity to increase the practical making competence of their teachers; * run makers- in-residence schemes in the same way they do writers and artists-in-residence; * ensure close links between design and technology and art and craft departments; * require that school-leaving examinations give full recognition to making capabilities.

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