The first part of my teaching career was spent putting into practice what I learned at school and college and beginning to learn the techniques of teaching. Alongside, my efforts to keep up with developments were encouraged by the school and county adviser who supported local teachers meeting to work on new ideas and projects. Once a week after school, like-minded teachers met to explore electronics and systems and control resources provided by the advisor.
I missed the HMI summer schools which older colleagues still speak about with fondness but every year my school supported me by funding summer schools on modern technologies. I attended several week long courses at the National Centre for School Technology in Nottingham and NEMEC in Southampton.
At the start if my career computers were just becoming available so our group of teachers decided to develop projects around these. We built on work by the government funded Microelectronics Education Programme (MEP) and, supported by more experienced colleagues I began writing curriculum and training materials, leading after school sessions and summer schools for other teachers.
With the launch of the national curriculum in 1989 the government diverted funding from subject developments into generic professional development. A focus on generic teaching and learning was probably long overdue and there is evidence that classroom practice has improved but, with the exception of the KS3 strategy for D&T, central government funding for developments in non-core subjects like D&T disappeared leaving a void lasting over 25 years. The national centres of excellence like NCST, NEMEC and BST have disappeared and week-long intensive courses are a distant memory.
Imagine for a moment the guardians of compulsory schooling in the UK had an epiphany and found funding for professional development of D&T teachers. Who is there to nationally to lead on developments and organise the training? Who will support teachers locally when they are back in the classroom? The D&T teachers I speak to are lucky to have one day of professional development per year and most have to use this to attend health & safety courses or exam updates.
The D&T Association’s summer school is a big step in the right direction with intensive, hands on sessions and there are signs it is becoming a ‘must-attend’ annual event for teachers.
The regional meetings organised by the association are another positive development, supporting local networks of teachers. Having attended and led these, the value of the formal inputs is equalled by contributions from other teachers and opportunities to network.
The problem of teacher expertise is huge and to make any significant progress will require policy makers recognising the issue and funding. The aim should be a minimum of five days intensive PD every year for D&T teachers and access to local development group meetings. Subject leaders should get an additional one day meeting every term.