Too good to refuse;Subject of the week;Technology

29th October 1999 at 01:00
George Cole says everyone should jump at the offer of a computer-aided design package.

Imagine your school could receive a state-of-the-art cadcam (computer aided designcomputer aided manufacture) software package for free. What's more, you could load the software on to all your school's computers, and staff and students could even put it on their home PCs. Remarkable as it may seem, this is the offer being made by a ground-breaking scheme that aims to raise the profile of cadcam and design and technology in secondary schools.

The cadcam in Schools Initiative was launched last summer and is supported by organisations such as the Department for Education and Employment, the Confederation of British Industry and the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) at Warwick University.

The driving force behind the scheme is Professor Kumar Bhattacharyya, director of WMG, who persuaded the Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC) to provide all secondary schools (state and independent) with a free copy of its ProDesktop cadcam package. PTC is one of the world's largest software companies, and its products are widely used in industry, for example in aircraft design.

Andy Breckon, chief executive of the Design and Technology Association (Data), which is managing the cadcam in Schools Initiative, says:

"ProDesktop is extremely powerful, leading-edge software that is being used by British industry. But the good news for schools is that you don't need a super computer to run it."

ProDesktop's features include photo-rendering, which produces three-dimensional photo-realistic images. The package also enables objects to be animated, to illustrate the movement of a piston, for example.

Andy Breckon says Data had firm ideas about how the scheme should operate:

"The first thing was that we didn't want a cut-down version of ProDesktop for schools. This is the full version which normally costs around pound;2,000. Second, we wanted teachers to be properly trained in using the software."

British schools and colleges are littered with free hardware or software that has ended up forgotten in a school cupboard. So in order to qualify for the free ProDesktop software, a school must nominate a teacher to attend a short (about three days) training course run by an accredited trainer. Data says there should be about 50 such trainers by early next month.

The training not only involves learning how to use ProDesktop, but covers broader issues related to cadcam, such as curriculum implementation. When a teacher has been trained, he or she is initially given a three-month software licence for ProDesktop and is required to produce work schemes and set targets for using cadcam in school. These are checked by the accredited trainer, who then issues a full site licence. Teachers and pupils are also allowed to copy the software on to their home computer for educational activities.

Running alongside the cadcam in Schools Initiative is a pilot project involving 55 schools. Thirty have been given 10 laptop computers each, plus cadcam software and equipment, and 20 schools have received a single laptop, plus hardware and software. There are also plans to establish 15 schools as cadcam "hubs" by December, to act as training centres.

Each hub will aim to train at least 10 other schools, and the target is to have 150 accredited schools by next March. Each hub has been allocated pound;15,000 and can provide each school with up to pound;300 for supply cover while a teacher is being trained. Schools can receive up to pound;750 towards hardware costs, provided they match this sum.

Geoff Howard, chairman of the National Association of Advisers and Inspectors in Design and Technology, describes the cadcam initiative as:

"A fantastic deal for schools. It lets them do things in Damp;T that were previously unheard of in the classroom."

William Farr C of E school in Welton, near Lincoln, is one of the pilot schools with 10 laptops, and is also a cadcam hub. Mike Finney, head of Damp;T, says: "There is a sharp intake of breath when people see what this software can do. You can even do virtual reality designs - you can create a room on the computer screen and then 'walk' around it.

"Having the laptops has revolutionised the way we teach design and technology because you can take a computer up to a bench and plug it into a piece of equipment."

Another cadcam hub is Theale Green community school in Reading, where Simon Badcock, co-ordinator of technology education, says all his Year 12 A-level students have put ProDesktop on their home computers: "Some of the stuff they've produced is amazing."

He adds, "It's marvellous having an industry-standard package that is in use today; schools are normally 10 to 15 years behind."

Data: 01789 470007Website:

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