School Inspectors' Comments Relating to Teaching Methods in Design and Technology in Primary School Inspection Reports

Article excerpt

Design and Technology is the most recent subject introduced to primary schooling in England (DES, 1989). There has been and remains very little research on primary Design and Technology and in particular associated teaching methods (Kimbell et al., 1996). It was hoped that an analysis of school inspection reports would give some indications about the present position of the teaching of primary Design and Technology and of the potential of this evaluation to inform teachers. This article reviews findings from an analysis of school inspection reports published between 2000 and 2004 and compares this with a similar analysis in 1996 (Cross, 1996). Changes are identified, including an increased number of comments relating more directly to the teaching of Design and Technology.

School inspection in England is administered by the government-funded Office for Standards in Education (OfStEd). Under this system schools have been subject to periodic inspection and public report every four to six years. In each school visiting inspectors made an evaluation of both pupil attainment and achievement in all subjects, including Design and Technology, as well as the school's overall provision for Design and Technology. Much of what is referred to as provision is directly (e.g. quality of lessons observed) or indirectly (e.g. lesson planning) linked with teaching. In addition to these individual school reports an annual national subject summary, based on that year's school inspection data, is published (HMI, 2004, 2005).

When considering these school and national reports it should be remembered that they are part of a national scheme of accountability (Curtis, 2003). This means that they cannot be viewed as wholly objective or uninterested. That, however, does not mean that inspectors' judgements are without value. The system has impressive coverage. It has, since the early 1990s, with its remit, made at least two evaluations of every primary school in England.

The past fifteen years have seen the creation of Design and Technology as a subject and in that period three versions of it in a much amended National Curriculum (DES/WO, 1989, 1995; DfEE/QCA, 1999). During this period Design and Technology in primary schools in England has been somewhat marginalised (Ward, 2002). This has resulted from the changes above and other pressures such as the continued emphasis by government on 'standards' in English and mathematics (Ward, 2002), shortcomings in teacher knowledge in Design and Technology (HMI, 2005, p. 4; DATA, 2003) and lack of curricular time for Design and Technology (Ward, 2002). A more favourable picture is, however, presented by HMI/OfStEd, who suggest that during this period there has been an improvement in the teaching of primary Design and Technology (HMI, 2004, p. 3).

Teaching methods in primary education have been a focus of continual though limited debate in England. Limited interest in the study of teaching led Simon (1981) to ask, 'Why no pedagogy in England?' The most recent shifts in the use of teaching methods in English primary schooling have been in the areas of teaching English and numeracy as a result of national strategies (DfEE, 1999, 2000). These strategies have been produced by expert groups rather than resulting directly from research into the efficacy of different teaching. The relative employment and success of different teaching methods in Design and Technology remain a somewhat unexplored area.

Method

A sample of thirty-two inspection reports were selected from schools inspected between 2000 and 2004. As with the sample of reports examined in 1996, they were selected from three local education authorities, one urban, one containing many rural schools and a third mixed authority. From each LEA 60 per cent of the sample included schools of average size (200-350 pupils), 15 per cent larger (over 350) and 15 per cent smaller schools (under 100 pupils) (OfStEd, 1999). All the schools were primary schools (5-11 years), apart from three junior (7-11years) schools and one infant (5-7 years) school. …