Are Bill and Ben now working at the DfE?


Was it Bill or was it Ben? And is Little Weed really Michael Gove?

The proposed new design and technology curriculum* is of course, a huge joke. It’s actually hilariously funny, until you realise that it isn’t. DATA have already made it clear that this was not in any way what they had submitted. The unconfirmed, but easy to believe, rumour is that Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men at the DfE drastically pruned the various submissions with a pair of secaturs, and re-potted them along with an old seed packet from the 1950s that they found in the shed at the bottom of the garden, while deciding to add ‘horticulture’ in just for a bit of fun, or perhaps out of some sort of self-interest. As a result it’s incoherent and inappropriately written, obviously by a wooden-headed puppet who has no knowledge of the subject whatsoever, and probably had a really bad experience with a CDT teacher while at public school. Who else could possibly have written:

Through working in fields selected from those listed in the introduction (materials (including textiles), horticulture, electricals and electronics, construction, and mechanics), pupils should be taught to…‘ ?

All Change Please! is surprised Mr Gove approved such a clumsy statement such as this. I wonder what he’s really up to? And perhaps even more worrying is the thought that Andy Pandy, Looby Loo and Big Spotty Dog might currently be in charge of the Departments of Health, the Treasury and Foreign Affairs.

Perhaps the most curious element is the sudden inclusion of ‘horticulture’ as a material to be studied and used. Where on earth has this come from? And then there are the strange references to pupils ‘working in the field’ – presumably the answer must lie in the soil..?  Essentially the proposals appear to signal a return to children being taught how to grow food and cook it, to knit, stitch, patch and mend, and to undertake motorcycle maintenance – albeit with missing Zen – just as they did in the 1950s. There is little emphasis on creativity or open-ended problem-solving, and design is largely relegated to ‘decoration‘ and making ‘things that work‘. Meanwhile: ‘Pupils should be given the opportunity to work in emerging areas of design and technology, such as food design, design for disability, and age-related design‘. That is to say, areas that actually emerged way back in the 1970s. I can’t imagine this is going to exactly impress Sir James and Sir Jonathan?

And does it really refer to the long-ago discredited and largely forgotten about ‘design cycle’. Yes, it does. Meanwhile I also look forward to some interesting conversations about how teachers should approach the challenge of the formal assessment of a pupil’s ‘love of cooking’.

All Change Please! has no problem with the introduction a slimmed-down specification of basic D&T concepts that define the basis of the subject. It’s just that this isn’t it as far as D&T is commonly taught in schools today. The question becomes what to do about it? The DfE are unlikely to admit to their incompetence and agree to re-conceive the whole document, and they currently seem even less likely to respond to the advice of subject associations or teachers.

But wait!  All Change Please! just wouldn’t be All Change Please! if it didn’t take an alternative, disruptive view of the situation. In fact it has come to the conclusion that the new D&T specification is actually a brilliant, forward-looking, post-modern, localised approach to 21st century convivial technology and sustainable self-sufficiency in the forthcoming age of austerity. And let’s be honest, in many schools a single well-taught woodwork or cookery lesson often provides a far better educational experience than a term’s worth of misapplied and misinformed, meaningless 1960s mass-production orientated D&T where all most pupils do is end up with a pile of sawdust and cake crumbs, supported by a dozen or so identical templated A3 development sheets.

Meanwhile, thinking back, some twenty or so years ago All Change Please! had an interesting discussion/argument/fight/bloody battle with some local authority advisors in which it unsuccessfully tried to persuade them that a project involving ‘designing with flowers’ for a large scale festival was every bit as much of a good D&T project as any other, if not more so in that it involved developing colour-coded graphic modelling systems, technical issues concerning how the seasonal flowers would be prepared, securely held in place and sustained, alongside the obvious aesthetic issues of combinations and contrasts of colour, texture and smell. Detailed planning and costing was essential. And back in the 1980s All Change Please! used to run ‘The Backdoor Project’ where students identified a small area of waste or derelict outdoor space and proposed how it should be re-planned, planted and landscaped. And there was the student who once did an excellent project on continuous-flow hydroponics, and the A level candidate who did a landscape architecture-based major project.  On these matters All Change Please! is of course speaking horticulturally, as Miss Prism once said, and therefore actually welcomes it as an area that perhaps should always have been included, particularly in terms of design for sustainability. As All Change Please! always used to say: ‘It’s not so much what you design that matters, it’s the way that you design it..

And in the future, when the oil runs low and gets prohibitively expensive, it’s going to be extremely useful to be able to maintain and repair everyday mechanical devices such as bicycles, sewing machines and wood burning stoves. For most people, tomorrow is not going to be about about innovating more and more sophisticated high-tech gizmos to be made by robots in China, but recycling, reusing and making things at a local level. Creative D&T teachers could really make this approach work, while perhaps the rest will actually be able to deliver the craft-based knowledge and skills they are actually good at.

It is of course important to remember that the proposed requirement is defining only the basics of what must be covered, and not what can’t be developed or included in addition. Does the document actually prevent good D&T teachers in any way from delivering good quality D&T? Perhaps the problem is not so much the intended content, but simply the way it has been written? Maybe the way forward is to confuse the DfE by congratulating it on its impressive vision, and politely offer help to improve the vocabulary and exemplification to make it more understandable to teachers? And that is exactly what All Change Please! is in the process of doing, as it will reveal in a further post in a few days’ time.

* The new proposed curriculum and consultation document can be downloaded here. The D&T section starts on page 156

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