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Primary Education News
News New curriculum teaches 'more cookery and horticulture than technology'
BAE Systems chairman Dick Olver criticises inadequacy of DfE proposals, while unions deride uncreative 'pub-quiz primer'
The chairman of one of the UK's biggest companies has attacked a key plank of the new national curriculum for teaching children more about horticulture and cookery than technology.
Dick Olver, whose firm BAE Systems has shown strong support for the government's education reforms by being a partner in a new technical school, warned that "something had gone very wrong" in drafting the design and technology curriculum.
The Department for Education (DfE) has published draft curriculums for 10 secondary school subjects. Teachers have until the middle of next month to suggest changes. They will be expected to teach the new curriculums from September 2014.
Olver, who is also chair of E4E, an organisation of 36 engineering institutions, said the draft proposals for design and technology did "not meet the needs of a technologically literate society".
"Instead of introducing children to new design techniques , such as biomimicry (how we can emulate nature to solve human problems), we now have a focus on cookery. Instead of developing skills in computer-aided design, we have the introduction of horticulture. Instead of electronics and control, we have an emphasis on basic mechanical maintenance tasks," he told a conference of educators earlier this month. "In short, something has gone very wrong."
Olver said the UK was at "crisis point". "We have to double our output of engineers from the education system now. We have to increase engineering graduates from 20,000 to 40,000 each year … for the economy to stand still. This is just to keep the lights on and the infrastructure ticking over."
Engineers' advice to the DfE on the design and technology curriculum had been "completely ignored", he said.
Olver is the latest in a long line of critics of the new curriculum. Last month, Steven Mastin, who stood as a Tory candidate in the last general election and is a history teacher, said the proposed curriculumfails to offer children a broad and balanced education. Presidents of the Royal Historical Society, the Historical Association, the higher education group History UK and senior members of the British Academy have also criticised the draft.
Olver's remarks come as teaching unions labelled the curriculum "a pub-quiz primer" with an "exhaustive list of topics and age-inappropriate concepts". Andy Stone, a teacher from Wandsworth, told the National Union of Teachers' annual conference in Liverpool that it left no opportunity for teachers to respond when pupils asked questions about stories their grandmother had told them about the war or the news story they had read on Richard III's skeletal remains.
Delegates adopted a motion stating that the curriculum would reduce "creativity and enjoyment at school, alienate young people and lead to more school absence … and disaffection".
Anne Swift, from the NUT's executive committee, said she feared teachers would be forced to make children learn facts by rote, with inspectors turning up to test the children's knowledge of the continents, chronological order of history and times tables.
"It will be … a test every week to check that the empty vessels are filling up with facts, facts and more facts, ready for the tests, tests and more tests. Why does Mr Gove want to return to a curriculum more reminiscent of yesteryear?"
A DfE spokesman said the draft national curriculum was "challenging and ambitious" and would give every child "the broad and balanced education they need to fulfil their potential".
A Department for Education spokesman said the draft design and technology curriculum would give pupils the "skills and expertise to develop the innovative and creative designs and products of the future".
"We will consider views on how we can create a curriculum that will embody high expectations and give every child the broad and balanced education they need to fulfil their potential," he said, adding that the government had engaged with academics and experts and carefully analysed the world's most successful school systems before "building a curriculum which embodies high expectations".