Scant relief for seven-year itch

20th September 1996 at 01:00
Not even the best technology departments can breathe easy yet, reports Daniel Rosenthal. As he prepared for the autumn term at grant-maintained Audenshaw High School in Manchester, Garth Tighe had less reason than many teachers to fear the start of the post-Dearing era of design and technology.

The subject has been compulsory for all boys at Audenshaw since before the introduction of the national curriculum, and successive headteachers have maintained the school's commitment to it throughout the upheavals of the past seven years.

Mr Tighe and his four design and technology colleagues have an impressive track record at GCSE, leading Audenshaw's A to C pass rate table in four of the past five years. They were returning to a well-equipped department that has just expanded from four rooms to six to meet basic need provision.

There has also been substantial investment in new tools and machinery. The Year 10 roll of 165 pupils compares to 160 in 1995, a manageable increase.

"Dearing has not been a dramatic change for us," said Mr Tighe, Audenshaw's head of technology since 1981.

"We were hoping for it, because what we are now expected to deliver in three periods a week is more realistic."

That endorsement should not create the impression that Mr Tighe enjoyed a totally relaxing summer. "Introducing three of the six new syllabuses [systems and control, resistant materials and graphic products] has involved a huge amount of logistical work," he says. "We virtually had to throw out all of our lesson plans from last year.

"We had got used to an even split in the marking for coursework, with 30 per cent for what pupils make and 30 per cent for what they design. Now it's 40 per cent for making and 20 for design, which has teaching and resourcing implications.

"We're still waiting for exemplar materials from the Northern Examinations and Assessment Board to flesh out the new industrial aspects of the curriculum. The boards work extremely hard, but those materials should have been available a long time ago."

"It's been such a tortuous path getting to this point that I'm wary of hoping for the best. We won't really know if this curriculum works until the 1998 GCSE results."

Audenshaw, situated on the eastern outskirts of Manchester, has 882 boys on roll and is on the point of major expansion, with a sixth form opening next year. In 1989, it became only the second school in the country to opt out of local authority control when Tameside Council's re-organisation plans earmarked the school for closure.

Mr Tighe, currently teaching a half-timetable while acting as deputy head, says grant-maintained status brought financial benefits which, allied to "extremely hard work" by the staff, have helped maintain standards through such a difficult period.

Audenshaw featured in a Department for Education booklet on Design and Technology good practice in May 1995 and its coursework support materials have been included in one of the NEAB's guides for teachers.

Six months ago, the Office for Standards in Education found that the department's staff "work as a team ... [leading] to very good planning and preparation ... and a clear sense of direction."

But though Mr Tighe says such evidence shows "we must be doing something right", he still has concerns over funding. Audenshaw's recent attempt to become a technology college failed because it could not attract sufficient investment from local businesses and with a 1996-97 design and technology budget allowing for about Pounds 5.50 per boy it is, like the vast majority of schools, some way below the Government's recommended benchmark of Pounds 9.30 per pupil.

"We make the most of what we have and the financial constraints don't adversely affect the grades at GCSE. But there is not as much freedom of expression in the pupils' projects as we would like."

The first two weeks of term had gone extremely well, a positive beginning which turned Mr Tighe's thoughts to those schools less well prepared for the changes.

"There will be a lot of schools who are suddenly having to use a room for technology which has just two power points and no proper workbenches or clean areas for designing.

"If they lost a technology teacher when the subjects were optional, where does the money come from for a new one and for the necessary equipment and materials?

"I don't know how those schools are going to cope."

As for the Government's overall strategy for the subject he has been teaching for 20 years, he believes there is more sound and fury than substance in its pronouncements.

"Technology seems to be used as part of the general rhetoric whenever the Government says, 'Britain must get back up there and compete with the rest of the world'. But I'm not sure they really know what they want technology to achieve."


Technology curriculum countdown

April 1988 Lady Parkes's working group Nov 1988 Interim report June 1989 Final report Nov 1989 NCC consultation report March 1990 First statutory Order Dec 1992 HMI revision Sept 1993 NCC revision May 1994 SCAA revision Nov 1994 Second statutory Order Aug 1995 Implementation KS1, 2 and 3 Aug 1996 Implementation KS4

How little money does technology get?

Graph is NOT available on this database

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