Design & Techknowledgy: revised GCSEs

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 11.13.20

So what does the new draft D&T GCSE content add up to?

While the new draft GCSE content for Cooking and Nutrition was extensively covered in Thursday’s press, you could be forgiven for having missed the fact that the new draft content for the Design and Technology GCSE was published on the DfE site as well (along with Drama and Citizenship).

It remains to be seen whether the final content for D&T does follow this draft structure, and most importantly the eventual breadth and depth developed and packaged by the examination boards, but in the meantime it’s worth highlighting some of the major proposed changes.

1. There will be just one subject called Design and Technology, i.e. there will be no separate courses for Resistant Materials, Textiles, Electronic Products, etc. Food Technology will no longer exist as such and will be replaced by a separate non-D&T option called ‘Cooking and Nutrition’.

2. Students can elect to design and make a product in a series of ‘areas of interest’, which include fashion, interiors and furnishings, advertising and promotion, consumer electronics, leisure and mechanical systems.

3. In addition to knowledge and understanding relating to their chosen ‘area of interest’, all students will be expected to cover pliable and resistant materials, textiles, mechanics, programmable components and new materials.

4. A clear distinction has been made between ‘products’ and ‘prototypes’, with both being acceptable, provided they are ‘high quality’.

And elsewhere it has been reported that coursework will be reduced to 50% of the final assessment instead of 60%.

There are many positive things about this proposal, though largely in the sense of ‘Well it could have been a lot worse’. There are encouraging references to ‘the iterative design process of exploring, creating and evaluating’ (or ‘having, growing and proving’ as the Goldsmiths e-scape project described it some years ago). And there’s even a remit for student-developed briefs, ‘a creative approach’, ‘taking design-risks’, ‘sustainability’ and ‘collaborative discourse’ (though sadly not collaborative working). But it’s a pity there are no prompts for work in spatial or built environment design, and nothing to promote a deeper understanding and practice of ‘modelling’, which lies at the very heart of design.

Some implications of the draft are issues as to how the course will come to be delivered. Ideally perhaps schools will develop a team-teaching approach with students accessing former subject-specialist teachers and teaching areas as and when appropriate. But others, and probably the majority, will doubtless adopt a materials-based ‘theory’ circus, and/or assign students to work in a chosen ‘area of interest’ right from the start of year 10. Let’s face it…

Fashion = Textiles Technology
Advertising and promotion = Graphic Products
Furnishings, Mechanical systems and Leisure = Resistant Materials
Consumer electronics = Electronic Products

Which just leaves the problem of how to deliver a more broadly-based theory course, unless textile teachers are going to be willing to cover mechanics, and electronics teachers are happy to deal with fibres and fabrics.

Meanwhile the increase in the knowledge-based ‘written paper’ to 50%, although not unexpected (and could have been even higher), continues to defeat the whole point of studying D&T. Every D&T teacher tells stories of students who are excellent designers but fail the examination because of the difficulties they find with the written papers, and similarly of students with minimal practical capability in D&T who get high grades simply as a result of being good a formal exam technique.

There remains the age-old problem of the statement that:

“The word ‘product’ is understood throughout to be a generic term for all 3D final outcomes of design practice including systems and objects. “

Beyond the fact that this understanding is somewhat out-dated in design these days, it presents issues in the advertising and promotion area for the production of promotional 2D graphic work, and in particular ‘digital promotion’, which presumably involves websites and video?

Although the distinction between ‘products’ and ‘prototypes’ is helpful, it still needs further consideration. It should perhaps read: ‘Final proposals should be presented in such a form as to effectively communicate your design ideas to a client, user, manufacturer or financial investor.’ Or even better still: ‘Final proposals for design ideas should be uploaded to Kickstarter in order to obtain feedback and potential funding for further development’.

But, to be realistic, the statement that students are required to ‘demonstrate the ability to:

• design and develop innovative, functional, aesthetic and marketable products that respond to needs and are fit for purpose’

is somewhat ambitious to say the least, because if they can succeed at doing so in their GCSEs they would be achieving what most teams of professional product designers fail to do in a lifetime! How about ‘demonstrate they have the potential capability to…’ instead?

And going back to the proposed ‘areas of interest’, this article suggests that opportunities have been missed to really drag the subject into the 21st Century by following the suggestions made for categories for future professional design disciplines, listed as:

• The Design Coder
• The Design Entrepreneur
• The Hybrid Design Researcher
• The Business Designer
• The Social Innovator

Or even:
Sustainable design pioneer

But there’s one statement that really can’t be forgiven, it’s:

“The types and properties of the following natural and man-made materials:“

Yes, you read that correctly: MAN-made materials. What is this, the 1970’s? Synthetic, manufactured or just made materials, please. Or, following the ‘less is more’ design principle, how about just ‘…the following materials’?

Whatever happened to Food Technology?

While the new GCSE in Cooking and Nutrition can only be welcomed, it must be regretted that Food Technology appears to have been dismissed from Office. Far from being toxic, overall it was the D&T GCSE that probably achieved the highest, most rigorous standards and the only one that really succeeded in delivering practical work in school alongside a real understanding of the issues of scaling up a ‘one-off’ into a batch or mass-produced product. And while the future demand for 3D product designers is at best modest, there will continue to be a substantial need for expertise in the extensive UK food industry. The proposed new course can only be described as ‘dumbed down’, a phrase an enthusiastic Nick Glibb strangely omitted to use. All Change Please! therefore hopes that some form of higher-level GCSE Food Technology course, either within or outside the D&T framework, will be re-considered.

And at the same time however, it seems only reasonable that similar courses in Woodwork, Metalwork and Needlework should be re-introduced to compliment Cooking. After all, the next generation of young men and women who fail their more academically-demanding GCSEs are going to need to be able to do something useful during their long hours of future unemployment, aren’t they?

Consultation

Details of how to make your views known can be found on the DATA website.

Image credit: Flickr/Josef Stuefer

One comment on “Design & Techknowledgy: revised GCSEs

  1. Yes, it does seem like a backward step to turn DT Food into Cooking and Nutrition. Industrial scale cooking is a huge business in this country, and you only have to look at Bake Off’s Martha to see how a knowledge of food science and technology is crucial to producing food professionally.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s