Education: Technology / Not enough time or space: Revolt is brewing as favourite GCSE options are squeezed out

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The Independent Online
IF THE testing boycott represents an earthquake on the Richter scale of teacher revolt, refusing to deliver a national curriculum subject is comparable to a volcanic eruption.

Early warning signs suggest that technology for 14- to 16- year-olds, which becomes compulsory in state schools from September, could provoke such an explosion.

John O'Brien, the headteacher of Cardinal Allen Roman Catholic school, in Fleetwood, Lancashire, says he is unable to provide the subject for all his 14- to 16-year-olds. He has neither the extra resources, nor the workshops and staffing levels it demands.

Moreover, he believes that his pupils, many of whom find jobs in tourism, catering and leisure, are better served by taking discrete GCSE courses in business information and home economics. Many parents agree, but the Department for Education does not.

Mr O'Brien is not prepared to make room for a subject that he feels he cannot teach properly, was badly conceived and is under review. His problem is a symptom of the technology curriculum malaise. Other heads and teachers are equally angry at being made to deliver a discredited subject, the content of which will soon be superseded by new regulations.

Schools are adopting drastic solutions. Vicky Ewan, a 13-year- old at the opted-out Lancaster Girls' Grammar School, knows if she wants to take GCSE Spanish next year she will have to get up early one morning each week. Additional early morning lessons are the only way her school can accommodate pupils who want to study a second foreign language.

The obligation to teach technology to all pupils aged 14 to 16 has overcrowded the school's timetable next year. Pam Barker, head of Lancaster Girls' school, questions the virtue of compulsory technology in a school where pupils have high academic aspirations. 'Nobody seems to know what it is, and yet we are forcing these bright girls to do it. This school has a track record in turning out top-flight women engineers. Between three and 10 of our girls go on to study engineering at university every year, and that's without technology. Engineering departments want maths, further maths and physics.'

In other schools, heads are facing parents who are infuriated to find that their artistically gifted child cannot, for example, study art and music, because the national curriculum leaves too little time. For many - particularly in schools where only a minority have previously studied craft and design subjects beyond 14, technology is the prime culprit.

Many schools were hoping a short course in technology would fulfil the legal requirement. But the Government has made it clear that technology will have to team up with a combination subject to make a full GCSE course.

Around 27 technology combinations are on offer, including art, fashion, music and economics. But not all syllabuses for September have yet been approved - adding to the timetabling nightmare.

Keith Blackburn, head of St George's Church of England School, in Gravesend, Kent, has written to the Secretary of State for Education asking him to suspend compulsory technology next year. He said: 'Nobody knows what they are going to teach next year, nobody has had any training. I'm not objecting to the principle of technology for all, but this is a rushed piece of madness. We haven't got the calibre of teaching or the equipment to deliver this to bright kids. What about those who want to take a second language? Our pupils travel long distances. Why should we ask them to go into twilight time because of this ill-prepared stuff?'

John Dunford, head of Durham Johnston, a mixed comprehensive in Durham city, said pupils wanting to study for GCSE music were being forced to take lessons after school hours from September. 'Not all schools will be able to do that. Classics, art and German will be in similar danger in a year or two's time. There should be a moratorium now.'

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