Design and technology lessons must be modernised

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The curriculum for design and technology lessons in English schools needs to be modernised, according a report by Ofsted.

The report said that schools must face up to ensure teaching syllabuses keep pace with global technological developments. It added that teachers lack subject specific training and the development of pupils' knowledge and skills is being undermined.

Researchers behind the report, 'Meeting technological challenges? Design and technology in schools 2007-10', found that in over a quarter of primary schools and about half the secondary schools they visited there were insufficient opportunities for pupils to develop knowledge of modern materials, electronic systems and control, and computer aided design and manufacture (CAD/CAM).

In cases where pupils' achievement was no better than satisfactory, the report showed it was the result of weaknesses in teacher planning and assessment, work was pitched too low, it lacked relevance, or duplicated earlier learning.

The study found issues about gender in design and technology teaching in schools continued to need tackling, and looked at the need to improve boys' achievement, how schools are challenging gender stereotyping in pupils' choice of subject and what they design.

At Key Stage 4 level, choices of design and technology options and attainment at GCSE were found to be markedly different for male and female students. But the report found that some schools were starting to encourage more girls to take-up electronics, while others were having success enabling more boys to choose to study food technology and catering. Around a third of the secondary schools surveyed made little use of electronics, computer aided design and manufacture (CAD/CAM) and robotics.

The report said that the responsibility was primarily that of schools, but it recommended that the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills should explore how schools could access the latest technological advances in materials and processes.

Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector, said: "At a time of rapid technological advance, schools need new approaches to teaching design and technology. Teachers need subject specific training - in both knowledge and skills - to stay up to date with developments."

The report recommends that Primary schools should:

  • Ensure that teachers have regular high-quality training to teach pupils how to use ICT in D&T, particularly control systems, and to enable older pupils to use tools and equipment safely.
  • Improve the use of assessment of pupils’ progress in D&T, ensuring that pupils know how well they are doing and what they should do to move on to the next level.

Secondary schools should:

  • Ensure that teachers have access to high-quality subject professional development to enable them to teach students about modern and smart materials, electronics, and systems and control, make effective use of computer aided design and manufacture resources, and stay up to date with developments in research and innovation.
  • Provide a balanced D&T curriculum that is well pitched to build upon the primary curriculum and includes the technologically challenging and more modern parts of the subject so that students can apply their scientific understanding and develop greater technical rigour in designing and making.
  • Improve assessment so that learning activities, particularly in Years 7 to 9, are challenging and well matched to the needs of each student.
  • Improve the quality of teaching about design to enable students to critically evaluate and question what they see around them, to challenge stereotypical and poor design, and become better informed and discerning consumers.
  • Make sure that D&T resources are up to date to reflect 21st-century technology, are used effectively and represent good value for money.
School Leadership Today
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