It's time to turn the promise of the curriculum into practice with focused funding for training and resources, says Andrew Breckon. The past eight years have been a challenging time for teachers of design and technology with many changes, significant confusion and a lack of coherence in the subject.
When the subject of technology was being developed in the Eighties, teachers were helped to make the transition and take it forward. But when the national curriculum was introduced in 1990, though there was some initial funding, much was wasted in trying to put in place Orders which could not be implemented with confidence by most teachers. And when the new, more realistic Order, was introduced in 1995, making substantial new challenges, it was not backed up with funding.
There is now a consensus in DT, which is a major step forward, but without support this potential could be lost. In the secondary field, we have three national projects which are providing resources to help, but two of them are completely and one partly funded by charities. These cannot be expected to provide the necessary training and capital resources. In primary, it is even more worrying as local support decreases by the month.
In June, the Design and Technology Association published its annual Survey of Design and Technology in Schools 19956, its first comprehensive survey since the new Order was introduced. It found that more than 90 per cent of primary schools teach three or more design and technological activities each year and 91 per cent of secondaries give 7.5 per cent or more of curriculum time at key stage 3. However, the outlook for teacher training and resources remains bleak. Training often depends more on where a teacher works rather than meeting his or her needs with a coherent programme for all schools. With DT being relatively new to the curriculum and having a new emphasis on control and systems, products and their application, food and textile technology, new resources and training are clearly needed.
In both phases of education, there has been a significant problem: many teachers are unsure of where their training should be focused. To help rectify this, DATA with the support of Esso, Unilever and the Teacher Training Agency, has defined competences for teachers. Research Paper 4 defined "the minimum competences for students to teach design and technology in secondary schools". Since their publication in October 1995, these have been accepted and implemented in initial teacher training courses, and some schools now use them to help their staff.
More recently, Bob Welch, senior curriculum and assessment adviser for Berkshire, carried out an investigation for DATA, funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, which sets out "a future framework for in-service training for teachers in DT in secondary education" and is published as DATA Research Paper 6. DATA has also just published Research Paper 7 "Guidance for Primary Phase Initial Teacher Training and Continuing Professional Development in Design and Technology", subtitled "Competences for newly qualified and practising teachers". In addition DATA, with the Department for Education and Employment and other bodies, is also developing a framework of all aspects of DT in primary schools.
The DT community, with the support of industry and charities, has shown it can create the frameworks and competences to help teachers to raise standards in the subject. But fundamental questions remain: how is this to be funded and, if the demise of specialist hands-on training continues, where will future training take place?
DATA's annual survey found that in primary there were tremendous training needs, especially in practical skills, but few opportunities to be released from school. Several teachers reported that the only way to get priority in the training budget was to have an unsatisfactory Office for Standards in Education report. Some courses were cancelled because of a lack of supply cover while on others training could only be undertaken out of school hours.
In secondary, the position was slightly better. On average, teachers had only one day's training a year in DT but with significant differences between schools based not on need but on finance. Most school-based training focuses on whole-school issues, leaving limited time for subject specific work, and external courses often fail to recruit adequately to justify their running.
The Grants for Education, Support and Training primary courses in DT have been of great benefit, but now they are at risk, with 40 per cent of this funding to be spent on mathematics in 19978. In secondary schools, the training of heads of technology departments is a major weakness, with little specific training for managing complex and expensive resources.
At the DATA conference in July, Graham Mackenzie, director general of Engineering Employers Federation and deputy chairman of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, highlighted the need for better initial teacher training and INSET. He said education should match the amount spent by industry on training its staff, that is, 3 to 5 per cent of turnover. Guy Walker, chairman of Van den Bergh Foods, said his firm provides eight days' training per employee a year. Schools need similar levels of commitment.
There are similar problems with resources and equipment. In primary, the DATA survey found the average figure of capitation was Pounds 1.75 per pupil. It is, therefore, little wonder that schools are criticised in OFSTED reports for the use of inappropriate materials. DATA found that 65 per cent of primary schools had to rely extensively on recycled materials.
In secondary schools, average capitation was Pounds 5.08 per pupil. A significant proportion of this was spent on photocopying due to a lack of funds for books. Seventy-five per cent of schools considered the lack of funds restricted or curtailed learning in DT and 81 per cent used scrap materials.
One-fifth of schools did not have their machines regularly serviced and many reported no new technology equipment. DATA believes there is a clear need for special funding for new equipment in all schools, not just for those qualifying for technology college status. All pupils are entitled to resourced teaching in DT, with adequately trained teachers who can take the subject forward.
DT now has a coherent framework with development plans to turn the promise of the new Order into practice for all pupils. The future is potentially bright, and as Mike Ive, OFSTED's adviser on technology, stated in a recent speech, "the best DT in the UK is the best in the world". If only schools could be given the resources and training they so sorely need, the UK could have the best for everyone.
All Research Papers are available from DATA at 16 Wellesbourne House, Walton Road, Wellesbourne, Warwickshire CV35 9JB
Andy Breckon is chief executive of the Design and Technology Association