Inspection surveys show that many schools find it difficult to assess students' progress in design and technology, particularly at key stage 3. But staff at Walsall Academy decided to focus on this, as they believe that high-level skills are a crucial of making young people more employable.
All students study design and technology for half a day a week during their first two years at the school and most choose to continue into key stage 4. Product design in the sixth form is also a popular option, headteacher Vivienne Evans says.
Up to 10 modules for each year group set out what students are expected to learn. At the start of each module, they are given a detailed brief on how to set clear, measurable and realistic personal targets. They know what they are expected to learn, how they are expected to work as designers and the measures that staff will use to assess their work.
One student explains: "We have to ensure that the products we design, and make, meet the requirements of the design brief and are of acceptable quality. The teacher acts as the judge but it's important to use the skills you have been taught to make your product the best you can."
Deputy head Simon Rogers says: "Students work closely as a team and the design and technology staff know what each is studying and how this fits into the planned programme."
In the workshops and design areas students have the use of hand tools and machines, including some for computer-aided design and manufacture.
Teachers use products from Dyson, and other companies with which the academy has links, as a basis for discussions on how designers have developed their ideas and to show the high standards expected from students. "Teachers emphasise that we have to be original and develop a lot of ideas - five or six at least," says one student.
Students also gain experience and knowledge by doing work placements in manufacturing industries. Former students taking design or engineering at university talk to current students about their work through an alumni programme, helping them to "demystify the professions," Evans says.
Signs of success
The academy has a strong track record of above-average attainment and progress in the subject. One student designed an ambitious device that used energy created by people walking around the building to provide heating for a school. Another student, inspired by the shapes of deer antlers, developed a shoe display stand for the owner of a designer boutique.
What the inspectors said
"The assessment framework is well understood by students. Students from Year 7 to those in the sixth form know what they are expected to achieve. Students are clear about what helps them to make good progress. The work placements help them to become well informed about the next steps for their future, for example by experiencing different aspects of engineering."
Read the full Ofsted case study report at: bit.ly10HrWLS
Name: Walsall Academy
Location: Walsall, West Midlands
Age range: 11-18
Intake: Eighty per cent are from white British backgrounds; the rest are mostly of Indian and Pakistani heritage. An average proportion of students is eligible for free school meals.