Research finds children's opportunities for making things are being undermined. Helen Hague looks at the debate over practical skills.
At Beauchamp College in Oadby, GNVQ students are giving the Faculty of Art, Design and Technology a corporate identity inspired by the painter Mondrian. Bold designs, worked up and executed by advanced art and design students, now festoon the main entrance and will be displayed throughout the faculty.
In-house commissions are nothing new at this 1,640-student technology college, outside Leicester; huge group designs celebrating the biology and science faculties are already in place. Beauchamp was awarded technology college status in 1996 - boosting the budget across the site by 10 per cent over the past two years.
The art and design faculty has benefited from this extra cash. Its glass-fronted staffroom is home to 12 teachers and five technicians.
It has, says Anne Constable, head of faculty, "the deliberate feel of a design studio". It looks out directly on to a "resource hub". Here, students can drop in, access the Web and use e-mail to further their studies.
In the faculties' enviably well-equipped suite of rooms, five A- levels, nine GCSEs - from both the design and technology and art and design syllabuses - and GNVQs in art and design at intermediate and advanced level, are taught. The atmosphere is both industrious and relaxed. It is more akin to an art college than a school.
Projects on textiles and food technology have been used as exemplars in the Department for Education and Employment's good practice material.
Many students use Computer Aided Design and Manufacture (CADCAM) technology to design and make artefacts - working to the sort of specifications found in industry. William Savage, a 16-year-old taking A-levels in maths, physics and design and an AS in electronics, has created an intricate developmental toy in 3mm yellow acrylic, using a CADCAM miller to get the fit needed for interlocking parts.
Ms Constable and faculty staff are passionate about the need for students to use a wide range of materials - and to have access to appropriate technology to execute their designs. "If you can teach people to harness their own creativity, I believe it will help them perform better in any field," she says. But an evident relish for the pleasure of making underscores the way the subjects are taught at Beauchamp.