The curriculum for design and technology lessons in schools needs to be modernised, according to the education regulator.
A report by Ofsted has found that England's schools must “face up” to ensure teaching syllabuses keep pace with global technological developments.
Its report found teachers lack subject-specific training and the development of pupils’ knowledge and skills is being undermined.
Researchers for ‘Meeting technological challenges? Design and technology in schools 2007-10’, found that in over a quarter of primary schools and about half the secondary schools they visited, there were insufficient opportunities for pupils to develop knowledge of modern materials, electronic systems and control, and computer aided design and manufacture (CAD/CAM).
In cases where pupils’ achievement was no better than satisfactory, the report showed it was the result of weaknesses in teacher planning and assessment, work was pitched too low, it lacked relevance, or duplicated earlier learning.
The study found issues about gender in design and technology teaching in schools continued to need tackling, and looked at the need to improve boys’ achievement, how schools are challenging gender stereotyping in pupils’ choice of subject and what they design.
At Key Stage 4 level, choices of design and technology options and attainment at GCSE were found to be markedly different for male and female students.
But the report found that some schools were starting to encourage more girls to take-up electronics, while others were having success enabling more boys to choose to study food technology and catering.
Around a third of the secondary schools surveyed made little use of electronics, computer aided design and manufacture (CAD/CAM) and robotics.
The report said other countries, such as China and France, emphasised teaching the skills.
As a result, the take-up of GCSE courses in electronics and in systems and control in the schools was low, reflecting the national picture.
The report said that the responsibility was primarily that of schools, but it recommended that the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills should explore how schools could access the latest technological advances in materials and processes.
Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector, said: “At a time of rapid technological advance, schools need new approaches to teaching design and technology.
“Teachers need subject specific training - in both knowledge and skills - to stay up to date with developments.
“Pupils need to learn about new materials and technologies and to investigate practically how and why products work.
“This is fundamental to the improvements that need to be made.”
She added: “Most pupils in the schools visited enjoyed designing and making products, solving real problems for people in their communities and further afield, and seeing their ideas taking shape. This was vitally important to them.
“Achievement and provision in D&T was best where up-to-date technologies were used and explained accurately. But the variation between the best and weakest provision is unacceptably wide.”
Commenting on the report Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: “We need to keep pace with employers' demands for high quality, up-to-date technical education - so businesses can thrive at home and we can compete abroad.
“It is a concern that Ofsted finds stereotyping in the courses students choose - no area of the curriculum should be off-limits to one gender or the other.
“We are strengthening recruitment and training to attract the brightest and best into the profession and increase the number of specialist teachers.
“The budget set out a big expansion of technical colleges - to provide high quality vocational education alongside academic classes, to thousands more pupils.
“We are overhauling the approach to vocational education and qualifications, following the Wolf Report, to raise standards and ensure students are taking qualifications that are valued by employers.
“We are carrying out a root-and-branch review of the National Curriculum, including design technology - to set out the essential knowledge that children need, while increasing schools' freedom about how to teach.”