Dearing targets computer skills: The rewritten curriculum is expected to give a higher status to information technology by making it a separate subject

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The Independent Online
INFORMATION technology may become a separate subject in the national curriculum as part of a drive to improve pupils' computer skills.

Advisers who are rewriting the schools' technology curriculum for the third time in as many years will also call for computing to be brought into every classroom subject as part of a forthcoming review aimed at slimming down the curriculum.

A report to be released next month will suggest substantial changes to the latest proposals on how technology, which encompasses home economics, textiles, craft, design and information techology, should be taught. The move by Sir Ron Dearing, chairman of the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority, is bound to provoke new controversy in an area that has proved one of the most contentious in the national curriculum.

Sir Ron's plans, which require secondary school pupils to learn certain core topics, will please industrialists but upset some teachers. All secondary school pupils will have to acquire a central body of technological knowledge, but beyond that can choose from a range of options, depending on what their school can provide.

Information technology is likely to be taken out of the subject altogether, and turned into a separate strand with a small amount of time devoted to it. In addition, it will be incorporated into all the other subjects as they are rewritten during Sir Ron's review of the national curriculum as a whole.

In primary schools, where most teachers are not technology specialists, the curriculum will be made more straightforward and easier to understand, though there will be controversy over plans to let pupils between 14 and 16 take technology as only half a subject option. The Engineering Council has already written to Sir Ron to protest at this suggestion, made last week in a report on the future of the curriculum and testing.

The council argues that technology should be given the same status as English, maths and science, and should remain compulsory as a full subject up to the age of 16. It also wants students to do more practical work, and to learn about construction, mechanics and electronics.

The plans to rewrite the subject will please those teachers who favour this type of 'hard' technology, but will anger those who prefer a more human approach in which pupils identify technological problems and seek solutions to them.

The original technology curriculum was produced in 1990. The Engineering Council dismissed it as 'Mickey Mouse technology', and teachers said they found it difficult to understand. Schools inspectors produced a report which said only a quarter of design and technology teaching was of a consistently high standard.

Last December, John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, produced a new set of proposals for teaching technology, but they have been overtaken by Sir Ron's review of the entire curriculum.

John Williams, senior education executive at the Engineering Council, welcomed the news that the subject was to cover specific areas, but said it should not be reduced for pupils aged 14 to 16.

'Technology is vitally important to the country, to young people, to the economy and to its industrial base. To offer it as half a subject would be a step backwards,' he said.