School design and technology lessons are ‘out of date’

A new report states that secondary schools are failing to modernise their design and technology (D&T) curriculum, leaving students with a poor knowledge of modern materials, electronics and computer-aided design and manufacture (CAD/CAM).

The findings come from a report by Ofsted that suggests that a lack of specific training for teachers or a failure to expand on their initial training is undermining efforts to develop pupils’ knowledge and skills.

‘Most pupils in the schools visited enjoyed designing and making products and seeing their ideas take shape,’ said Ofsted chief inspector Christine Gilbert. ’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.’

In more than 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 CAD/CAM.

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.

According to the report, this is in stark contrast to other countries, such as China and France, which emphasise the study of electronics and robotics, for example.

Responsibility for addressing the shortfall lies primarily with schools, says the report, which must ensure that the D&T curriculum keeps up with technological developments and that resources are used effectively.

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.

Commenting on the the report, Andrew Renouf, talent resourcing manager at TATA, said: ‘The world faces a huge shortage of engineers with hands-on experience in designing, making and using modern tools such as CAD/CAM, electronics and control systems.

‘In terms of teaching and developing talent in our young people, we can’t always do what we have done and remain competitive. Exciting and imaginative D&T teaching in schools will be crucial for our future success.’

Professor Matthew Harrison of the Royal Academy of Engineering added: ’Now is the time to stop our children being channelled by a constraining curriculum into making weather vanes and CD racks, and to begin taking on projects that stimulate creativity, focusing on those borne out of product need, problem solving and sustainability.’