Keeping pace with technology
27 Jun 2012
During Design and Technology Week between 25 and 29 June, we highlight schools where a modernised design and technology (D&T) curriculum is helping to prepare students for future careers. We also explore the challenges that some schools face in keeping up with technological progress worldwide.
Our survey report Meeting technological challenges?, published in March 2011, confirms that although most pupils enjoy designing and making products, solving problems and seeing their ideas taking shape, many do not have enough opportunities to learn about the new and technologically demanding aspects of the subject. Nationally, take-up of GCSE courses in areas such as electronics, systems and control has been low.
Expert teaching and modern resources are key
The report found that to teach the technically demanding and modern parts of the curriculum, teachers need to continually refresh their subject knowledge and skills and to keep abreast of developments in research and innovation in modern materials through training. Schools also need up-to-date resources to give students more opportunities to work with electronics, to use information and communication technology (ICT) for computer-aided design and manufacture (CAD/CAM) and to learn practically about innovative new materials.
Below are some good practice case studies from Ofsted’s website of schools where pupils are using smart materials, making effective use of ICT and CAD/CAM and working directly with components to test and improve the products and systems. Crucially, these schools ensure that pupils also solve real problems and design and make products that are useful and meet people’s needs. Schools are also benefitting from links with local firms and involvement with parents.
Archbishop Holgate Church of England Academy
Teachers at Archbishop Holgate Church of England Academy in York, which caters for students aged 11 to 18, have built strong links with local employers. As part of the D&T curriculum, each year group from Year 7 to Year 13 is set a different real-life industrial challenge to develop students’ skills and build connections between what they learn in school and how it is applied to manufacturing and to employment in general. For example, Year 7 students worked on a brief set by York-based Nestlé, for new packaging and shapes for ‘Rowntrees’ Randoms’ sweets. They mastered computer-aided design and modelling skills very quickly and presented their ideas to representatives from the company.
Steve Parkinson, the school’s D&T subject leader, said, ‘We impress on students that they are living in a time when the pace of scientific and technological development is so fast that inventions and discoveries about materials and techniques are weekly occurrences.’
Committed and knowledgeable teachers at the school inspire students and explain well how the new technologies work. They also give parents a better understanding of the purpose and importance of D&T in equipping pupils for a variety of careers such as product designers, chefs, engineers or architects. Parents share the school’s vision for D&T and keep a close eye on progress through regular discussions with children about the products they make, which are often taken home.
Ripley St Thomas
The D&T department at Ripley St Thomas 11–18 Church of England Academy in Lancashire has been nationally recognised by the Design Council and has won the Audi ‘Young Designer of the Year’ award three times.
The school has invested in up-to-date equipment for D&T and offers GCSE courses in product design, textiles, resistant materials, systems and control, and food technology. The school also enlists university students to teach pupils alongside experienced D&T teachers and involves parents. The design challenges that pupils undertake and the way that they work are as close to professional design and manufacturing practice as the school can make it. For example, sixth form students’ ideas and prototypes for a new early learning toy are based on their interviews with parents and observations of babies at play. The mother of a six-month-old baby was part of the panel that provided feedback to students about their work and how the learning toys they made might be improved.
Students at Turnford Secondary School in Hertfordshire for 11 to 18-year-olds have developed technical knowledge and mastered a range of different manufacturing methods by working on increasingly challenging projects as they move through the school. Links with local partners, for example Middlesex University, have enabled Turnford to recruit and retain high-quality staff.
Stephen Hill, Head of D&T says, ‘Regular discussions with our partners act as ongoing training to help staff keep their knowledge and skills up to date. They also help us to trial, take risks and test ideas.’
The school has modernised its curriculum and pupils design and make their own fully functioning USB data pens, speakers and docking stations for mobile phones and iPods. They also make robots and learn how everyday products work.
One pupil said, ‘My parents were impressed that I had created a product like this; they said it looks professional and they didn’t do anything like this when they were at school.’
Sources for training
Gina White, Ofsted’s National Adviser for D&T said, ‘Not all schools are aware of the training or resources that are available. Headteachers and subject leaders in almost all the primary and around half of the secondary schools that we visited told us that sources of external D&T-specific training, advice and support were limited. As well as this, very few local authorities remain active in supporting and advising on D&T.
‘We have recently published professional development resources for D&T to help teachers in secondary schools improve teaching and learning.’
The support work of agencies such as the Design and Technology Association has helped those subject leaders who are members of these organisations to stay informed about developments in D&T. Nationally, professional engineering organisations and leading manufacturing companies also provide support materials and activities to help pupils to develop further awareness of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Ofsted’s report recommends that high-quality training provided by good schools, universities, charities, private organisations and consultants needs to be better coordinated so that all schools are aware of the training provision available.
The report, Meeting technological challenges?, the professional development materials for D&T and the good practice examples listed below are all available on the Ofsted website.