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The design and technology curriculum needs modernising says Ofsted

31 March 2011

Ofsted has launched a report addressing the challenges schools must face up to if they are to modernise the design and technology (D&T) curriculum and help it keep pace with global technological developments. The report identifies a lack of subject-specific training for teachers that is undermining efforts to develop pupils’ knowledge and skills.

According to the regulator, too many teachers are failing to keep pace with technological developments or expand on their initial training sufficiently to enable them to teach the technically demanding aspects of the curriculum. This often results in an out-dated curriculum in the later years of primary schools and early years of secondary school.
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 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).

Ofsted chief inspector, Christine Gilbert, said that 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. Pupils need to learn about new materials and technologies and to investigate practically how and why products work. This is fundamental to the improvements that need to be made.
“Most pupils in the schools visited enjoyed designing and making products, solving real problems for people in their communities and further afield, and seeing their ideas taking shape. This was vitally important to them. Achievement and provision in D&T was best where up-to-date technologies were used and explained accurately. But the variation between the best and weakest provision is unacceptably wide.”
Where pupil achievement was no better than satisfactory, the report shows it was the result of weaknesses in teacher planning and assessment, and work that was pitched too low, lacked relevance, or duplicated earlier learning.
Key issues about gender in design and technology teaching in schools continue to need tackling. The report looks at the need to improve boys’ achievement and how schools are challenging gender stereotyping in pupils’ choice of subject and what they design. Best practice examples in the report can be used by teachers to help tackle this issue.
In Key Stage 4, choices of D&T options and attainment at GCSE were found to be markedly different for male and female students.  But the report found that some schools are starting to encourage more girls to take-up electronics, while others are having success enabling more boys to choose to study food technology and catering.
Other countries, such as China and France, emphasise the study of electronics, computer aided design and manufacture (CAD/CAM) and robotics. In around a third of the secondary schools in the survey, too little use was made of this technology in teaching D&T. As a result, the take-up of GCSE courses in electronics and in systems and control in the schools was low, reflecting the national picture.
The challenge for the D&T curriculum in England is to not be left behind and to contribute to preparing young people for future roles in the design, technological, engineering and scientific industries.
The report says that the responsibility for tackling the challenge of ensuring the D&T curriculum keeps up with technological developments, and making sure resources are used effectively and represent good value for money, is primarily that of schools.
But it recommends that the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills should explore how schools can access the latest technological advances in materials and processes.

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