Warm-up sessions

27th April 2001 at 01:00
A Damp;T summer can school help smooth KS23 transition, say Liz Nicholls and Ivan Catlow.

Key stage 23 transition has posed a problem for our design and technology department at The Hollins school in Accrington for some years. Pupils arrive from 20 feeder primaries with excellent data on their performance in maths, English and science that provide us with benchmarks for the majority of subjects. Our Damp;T department, on the other hand, has no relevant data.

Pupils come with varied experience of tools, machinery and materials and virtually none of working within the design process in order to solve real problems. A significant proportion of Year 7 has been spent equipping pupils with the requisite skills to make real progress within Damp;T at KS3, leaving teachers unable to assess pupils' strengths and weaknesses and therefore set targets for improvement until well into the year.

Initiatives such as primary taster technology days and joint projects with feeder schools had been tried in previous years with limited effect. In spring 2000, the department felt the way forward was to run a week-long summer school to introduce our new intake to the basics of Damp;T, and in particular to safe use of resources during the completion of design and make tasks. Staff felt that such a week would not only give pupils a head start in September but would also enable staff to assess pupils' skill levels and build on areas of weakness. Schemes of work could then be tailored to take children forward within Damp;T from day one, with the result, we hoped, of raising attainment at the end of KS3.

The plan was that pupils would rotate through five areas of technology, spending a day each in resistant materials, graphics, textiles technology, systems and control, and food technology. Each day pupils would design and make a simple product, each with its individual challenges to take home. Staff chose simple projects where solutions could be designed and made relatively quickly and would introduce and build on a range of designing and making skills, challenging children to use production techniques in a wide range of materials.

Flyers were sent out to all prospective pupils inviting them to apply for a place. The response was excellent, with around 75 replies received almost immediately (about half of our new intake). Those attending represented the whole ability spectrum, including statemented pupils. They were divided into mixed-ability and mixed-gender groups by the department before they arrived.

The week proved an overwhelming success and great fun. Pupils made a musical baked beans tin in systems and control (Heinz provided the tins), a cartoon clock in graphics, an acylic desk tidy in resistant materials, a beanbag in textiles technology and pizza and bread in food technology. Staff commented that the progress had been obvious throughout the week, with pupils developing transferable skills as they worked in the different areas.

Completed products of high quality were proudly shown to parents at the end of each day and all those attending were presented with a certificate of achievement by the vice chair of the governors at the end of the week. Comments from the pupils included: "I liked making the musical baked beans tin; I learned how to wire up a circuit board for the first time" (Stacey); "I think it has made me more confident in technology" (Leona); "I feel confident in technology rooms with all the tools and machines" (Cheryl); "It helped me settle down and know my way around technology" (James).

Being able to design and make a range of products within just one week gave pupils a feeling of success even before they began secondary school. They arrived already armed with a good basic standard of making skills and understanding on which more complex tasks could be based. Frequent comments along the lines of "I remember this from summer school" point to the obvious benefits of the week.

In addition to the clear advantages to the Damp;T department, many friendships were made and this helped pupils from smaller feeder schools in particular to feel they had a social network within secondary school from the first day. It is, we believe, no coincidence that in the year that we ran this, and one smaller summer school for pupils with special needs, our Year 7 has settled in much more easily than ever before and there have been very few incidences of pupils experiencing anxiety in coming up to the "big school".

The summer school has already impacted on our KS3 provision. Schemes of work have been made more challenging and now include higher level tasks with emphasis on the area of making, which was identified during the summer school as being particularly weak.

Plans are underway to run a second Damp;T summer school; this is a must if we are to maintain the present level of work. We are also considering offering summer enrichment courses for all our KS3 pupils and a course for gifted and talented pupils within Damp;T. We hope these strategies will contribute to raising the national curriculum levels achieved by pupils at the end of KS3 and, hopefully, will have a positive impact on achievement at KS4.

Liz Nicholls is deputy headteacher and Ivan Catlow is design and technology summer school co-ordinator at The Hollins high school, Accrington, Lancs. The school has recently been designated as a technology college

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