Notes from Lapta, Cyprus – “The Way Ahead?” by Ken Dunn

There must have been at least fifty members of staff, from all the schools in the area, all crammed together in a classroom, which was designed for no more than twenty five kids. And those bloody awful plastic seats were so damned uncomfortable. This was late July in 1986, London, and the new examination structure was about to descend on all of us at the beginning of the new academic year in September. Instead of G.C.E and C.S.E. (General Certificate of Education and Certificate of Secondary Education) it would be G.C.S.E., (General Certificate of Secondary Education). Oh, joy! The 1988 National Curriculum was yet to come but that’s quite another story of spectacular educational confusion.

Schools up and down the country had to endure what we were about to experience. Three full days of unadulterated bullshit from HMI’s, Her Majesties Inspectors, and Subject Advisors. It was to prove that not one of the buggers knew what they were talking about but were duty bound to tell us all what they ‘thought’ they knew about the new regime for teaching all subjects in secondary schools.

Every subject was individually organised so that the particular changes which would take place could be delivered by their respective HMI’s and Subject Advisors. Ours, Design and Technology, probably had the most quirky collection of individuals. There were newly trained kids from teacher training establishments, ex ‘chippies’ and blacksmiths, ardent DIY buffoons recently trained to teach but not a single practising designer, except me. Hardly what you might call a professional body for the subject even as it was then. Heaven only knew what they would make of the new hope for education, the ‘National Curriculum for 1988’.

After two hours of incomprehensible crap it was more than obvious that our so-called ‘advisors’ were no wiser about the changes than we were. Terms such as ‘the Design Loop’, ‘Context’, ‘Realisation’, ‘Evaluation’ and so on brought no clarity whatsoever. Several folk were trying desperately not to nod off, me included. The second day was no better and the chairs were still as uncomfortable as before. I began to feel sorry for the kids having to sit on the damned things day after day. Then we were all asked to go forth and prepare!

This meant we had to fill in and/or expand on two photocopied sheets full of the new terminology which had been thoroughly outlined over the last two days. Had they? The third day would involve merely arriving with these forms filled in together with anything else we could add, while the HMI and the Subject Advisor reviewed what we had done and that would be it. What we didn’t know was that arrangements had been made to photocopy everything from everybody and then copied to everyone so we could all share the collective ‘brilliance’ of our thoughts. Yawning widely we looked at the forms which had been handed out.

They were full of boxes with obscure headings as outlined previously. ‘Design Loop Context’, Resources’, ‘Situation’, ‘Research’, Evaluation’ and so on and on. Our Head of Department was positively effusive about these and the last two days. Well, he was a prick, but the rest of us from the department, three including me, were less than enthusiastic. I was particularly pissed off by the simple fact we were really no wiser than before we’d had to endure the crass spoutings of that idiot HMI and that twat of a Subject Advisor.

The problem now was what we were going to do with these bloody forms? I glibly volunteered to fill it in for our department and give some sort of project to illustrate what were doing and how we could face the ‘challenges’ ahead. Eyebrows lifted as I said that but not one of the buggers offered to help, especially our Head of Department. No surprise there, he was an incompetent arsehole anyway, but I had my own reasons for this. I wasn’t going to walk away from this without being able to offer something which would reflect my feelings about the two completely wasted days of my life.

That evening I ‘filed’ the forms in the waste paper basket and wrote out a scheme of work which attempted to cover all the gobbledegook crap we’d had to listen to. It was hand written, identifying the school and was, I think, a reasonable offering. It met all the points the form had requested and should keep those two silly sods, HMI and Subject Advisor, happy. But then I slid a sheet of paper into my typewriter (remember them) and produced something else, just a little different, without any identification on it at all.

Satisfied with that I brought both of them along the following morning for the final session. All the paperwork was collected from the assembled staff and the HMI with the Subject Advisor asked us to wait while they checked them all. I wondered what they’d make and how they’d react to my anonymous, typed, offering. We helped ourselves to coffee which had been brought in and sat there just wanting to leave as soon as possible. I showed my lot a carbon copy (remember them) of my typewritten version. My Head of Department was horrified and said he would deny everything. The others began to read it and then were helpless with laughter much to the chagrin of the Head of Department who moved to the other side of the room!

Half an hour later the two buffoons came back, beaming. They were impressed with such a wide variety of excellent schemes of work but they had one problem. The Advisor wanted to know who had produced the only typewritten specimen. It was, he said, ‘A very interesting piece,’ and still with a big smile on his face. I kept as straight a face as I could, shaking my head as if I didn’t know or it wasn’t me, while watching others across the room shake their heads. My two colleagues had stuffed their hankies in their mouths to stop, or at least control, their giggles.

Fortunately a few staff from other schools hadn’t bothered to turn up, an indication of what they thought about the last two days no doubt, so with lower numbers the Advisor assumed it must have been one of them.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘whoever has written this is to be congratulated. A fine scheme of work!’

That told me one thing. The silly sod had only read the first two paragraphs of what I’d written. If he’d continued…. But then we were rewarded with a complete set of photocopied schemes of work which all staff had submitted. My typewritten version sat right in the middle of a fifty page document! So, after that I gloried in the fact that my anonymous scheme would now be in every school in the authority and might even be taken seriously by some of the more bone-headed chippies, blacksmiths, et al! My Head of Department barely spoke a word to me for weeks after that but he didn’t dare tell either the HMI or the Advisor in case they thought he’d written it! Vengeance really is sweet!

What now follows is a copy of the actual typewritten scheme of work I’d provided anonymously for a ‘Resource Activity Outline’.

Suggested addition to Curriculum Package.

Based on a hospital visit to consider specialist product design.

After a whole afternoon in the Whittington Hospital, Highgate, a group of third year pupils were asked to complete a written report on the visit, including a list of devices and appliances which had been demonstrated, observed in use by nursing staff or recognised by the pupils themselves as being worthy of development.

From this the following 6 lessons in school were devoted to group activity, usually 4 in each group, where a collective list of suitable products was drawn up. Each group chose one of these to develop further and improve their use.

Examples for areas of Design work.

a) Feeding Mechanisms.
b) Cleaning Mechanisms.
c) Ward Layouts.
d) Types of Restraining Devices.
e) Automatic Medicine Dispenser.
f) Methane Powered Devices.

Two particular groups illustrate the success of the whole venture.

1. Automatic Medicine Dispenser.
2. Methane Powered Devices.

In both cases the Design Brief was written by the pupils. The Automatic Medicine Dispenser was fully outlined and described for a particularly useful function – the insertion of a suppository, without discrimination regarding male, female or Design and Technology Subject Advisors.

The Methane Powered Device sprang from an original and novel idea using incontinent and bedridden educational administrators for the value they have to offer the hospital if not to the community as a ‘hole’.

After a brief but hectic discussion had developed, certain individuals in the class were quickly intimidated into volunteering themselves as human test rigs. The Design Loop process then swung into action. Three pupils, however, became seriously entangled, suffering almost total strangulation and near castration. They were, after a brief resuscitation attempt, allowed home for the rest of the week,

Great attention was given to initial models and prototypes. After further experimentation and exploration, including testing out of theories, Vaseline was applied generously to the remaining volunteer’s nether regions and the workshop was eventually cleaned up. Only two pupils were lost through the omission of hand washing and subsequent thumb sucking.

Nevertheless modification and refinement of the basic designs produced a successful, spring loaded, cam-action suppository loader, which did not require the use of the human hand. This will be going into mass production quite soon for all those HMI’s and Subject Advisors as well all MP’s not forgetting all the members of the House of Lords.

Less successful, but a nonetheless viable, working unit was produced to collect ‘after lunch effects’. The principle employed a semi-rigid plug in system for every bed in Ward 6, that of the male obese. It had a tendency to tear in the prototype stage, rendering some gentlemen’s private parts rather raw, but this was primarily due to the unexpected enthusiasm from the volunteers in the Ward trying to ‘outblast’ each other. Running repairs with the Headmaster’s cycle repair kit achieved 100% efficiency.

Once collected the methane was used most effectively to maintain a highly useful spin off from the whole venture, an Automatic Graffiti Machine, which the pupils had designed and constructed to provide an almost infinite number of typefaces and obscene symbols. This unfortunately ran amok, demolishing several staff vehicles in the car park and squashing a group of visiting parents. Contracts for removing the red stain in the foyer should be agreed shortly.

In all a gratifying ‘end’ result has been achieved with the additional bonus of experience over several areas. These range from a clearer understanding of how the human evacuation system works in relation to the position of the elbow. Most important of all is the recognition of what to with and where to file similar problems.

We hope that this will serve as a basis for further intuitive, theoretical and hypothetical discussions in the future.

I have never heard anything since then about that ‘scheme of work’ from our esteemed HMI or Subject Advisor. There’s a surprise!

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