New curriculum brings 3D printers to technology lessons

More schoolchildren are to use 3D printers and laser cutters in technology lessons in an attempt to improve skills needed by the manufacturing industry.

The changes to design and technology (D&T) lessons are part of the government’s new national curriculum for English schools published today, which also includes proposals for children to learn computer programming from their first year at school.

The Department for Education (DfE) hopes the new curriculum will better equip more children for jobs in engineering, design and manufacturing by giving them greater experience of the process of creating products.

However, the curriculum only applies to English schools that are under local authority control, which in the case of secondary education is a minority of establishments due to the spread of free schools and academies.

Other changes see the first explicit requirements that five-to-seven-year-olds learn how to build and improve structures, and that 11-to-14-year-olds use advanced design techniques such as 3D and mathematical modelling.

Education secretary Michael Gove said in a statement that the new design and technology curriculum would ‘sufficiently reflect our aspirations that it should be a rigorous and forward-looking subject that will set children on a path to be the next generation of designers and engineers’.

The changes to the curriculum were devised with input from the Design and Technology Association (DTA) and Royal Academy of Engineering, as well as other industry representatives.

DTA chief executive Richard Green said, ‘This is a curriculum that challenges young people to design and innovate – essential skills for them to participate in an increasingly technological world.’

The Royal Academy’s director of engineering and education, Prof Matthew Harrison, said, ‘It is great to see D&T strengthened as a subject with real purpose and substance in the new national curriculum.

‘The partnership between the design community, the engineering profession and government has produced something that will help young people interact more knowledgably with the world around them.’

Tim Thomas, head of employment and skills policy at manufacturing trade body EEF, welcomed the changes but called for greater contact between schools and engineering firms.

‘Exposing young people to a variety of new manufacturing concepts will also help inspire the next generation to consider a career in industry,’ he said.

‘We now want to see employers playing a bigger role – teaching D&T in schools on a part-time basis and bringing teachers into their company to help them bring the practical application of D&T back to the classroom.’

The changes were further welcomed by the inventor Sir James Dyson, who said, ‘The revised curriculum will give young people a practical understanding of science and mathematics, where they design, make and test their own product ideas – real problem solving.’