Technology throws GCSEs into chaos

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The Independent Online

Education Editor

GCSE technology courses are in chaos. Schools cannot afford to teach them or squeeze them into the timetable, headteachers said yesterday.

With many pupils about to choose their GCSE options, heads are warning that the introduction of compulsory technology from September will mean some pupils have to drop history and geography.

The National Association of Headteachers has written to Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, to say there are not enough qualified teachers, suitable rooms or equipment for the new requirements.

And a study to be published shortly by Alan Smithers, professor of policy research at Brunel University, shows the amount schools have to spend on technology varies from 40p per pupil per year to more than pounds 21. Peter Williams, head of Shavington High School, Crewe, said: "Next week I have two parents' evenings. I have never before been so uncertain about what to advise parents."

Technology has been in turmoil ever since the Government made it a national curriculum subject in 1988. There were five different versions of the technology curriculum before the current one was finally agreed.

It was introduced last year but some schools are still teaching the original version. From this September all pupils will have to take either a short or full GCSE technology course and at least a short modern languages course.

Heads are worried that the curriculum will become narrower and less balanced. Mr Williams said: "There are two categories of despair. Those schools which cannot deliver technology because they do not have the resources and those which will not because they don't like the new short courses or they don't want technology to squeeze out other subjects.

"At this school we have decided to offer full courses in technology and modern languages. That means that, for the first time, some pupils will have to drop history and geography. A lot of parents are asking why their children have to do technology."

Some heads tried to introduce "shot" technology courses this year and found they took longer than the 5 per cent of the timetable allocated for them. Pupils found them unfulfilling and are unlikely to be able to continue at A-level with a subject in which they have done a short course. Heads also fear employers will dismiss them.

Professor Smithers said his survey of 344 schools found the Government had targeted money for technology at its new technology schools but even some of these complained of a shortage of money. One grant-maintained school was having to rely on collecting items from industrial skips for technology materials.

But Dr Nick Tate, chief executive of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, said shortage of resources had not stopped 450,000 pupils taking GCSE technology last year. He said: "I find it hard to imagine how a national curriculum for a highly developed industrialised society such as ours cannot include at least an element of continuing study of technology, an area which is shaping all our lives for better or worse."