D&T: Design & Transparency?

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Your country needs you to do D&T

Last week the Df-ingE issued one of their spin-ridden press releases about the new D&T GCSE. Let’s take it apart and see what, if anything, is holding it all together.

‘A new, gold-standard design and technology (D&T) GCSE to help produce the next generation of James Dysons and Tim Berners-Lees has been unveiled by Schools Minister Nick Gibb.

So, gold-standard, eh? All Change Please! always assumed that accolade was reserved for real, hard, academic subjects of no practical benefit? And while a couple of Dysons and Berners-Lees might be useful in the future, the thought of an entire cloned generation of them is actually a bit alarming.

‘The new design and technology GCSE will give students the chance to develop their own design briefs and projects and could lead them to producing anything from furniture for disabled people to computer-controlled robots.

‘The chance to develop their own briefs and projects maybe, but in reality most teachers will find a way of narrowing things down somewhat in order to make things more manageable. Meanwhile given the breadth of the design industry, the distance between furniture and robots is not actually that great, and pupils will quickly come up with a much wider range of possibilities that may prove difficult to shoe-horn into the assessment criteria. Oh, and could someone kindly let the Df-ngE know that Tim Berners Lee is not and has never been an industrial designer.

‘Industry experts, including those from the James Dyson Foundation, have been closely involved in developing the new GCSE content, ensuring it meets the future needs of employers.

All Change Please! isn’t entirely convinced that the James Dyson Foundation – or indeed many industry experts – was exactly ‘closely involved’. It knows for a fact that most of the content came from a small working party who put a great deal of effort into challenging the Df-ingE’s original horticulturalist nonsense. It might help meet some of the needs of some employers, but the high percentage of academic content will put most students off, and anyway it’s not part of the EBaccwards, so that will put the rest off too.

‘This is a rigorous qualification which will require students to have a sound grasp of maths and science, and which will undoubtedly stretch them to further develop the kind of knowledge and skills so sought after by employers and universities.

Ah yes, the maths and science content. Design is neither an Arts or a Science subject but a subtle mixture of the two, which just goes to show how much the Df-ingE understand about what they’re messing with. In reality designers get on with the designing and consult specialist mathematicians and scientists, and indeed a wide range of other specialists, as and when appropriate to the requirements of the work they are doing.

‘Internationally-renowned designer James Dyson said: Design and technology is a subject of fundamental importance. Logical, creative and practical – it’s the only opportunity that school students have to apply what they learn in maths and science – directly preparing them for a career in engineering. But until now, this subject’s tremendous potential has not been met.

Ah, so let’s admit it then, this isn’t really a course in design and technology at all – it’s really just a fancy new name for Engineering. And it’s also the only opportunity that school students have to apply what they learn in all their school subjects, not just Maths and Science.

‘The James Dyson Foundation has spent 4 years advising the Department for Education on every level of D&T education – and today we can finally unveil a GCSE qualification to be proud of.

That’s just four mentions of James Dyson so far. And it’s just a pity that the Dyson Foundation didn’t spend those 4 years suggesting creative ways of making the 1960s maths and science content more interesting, relevant and accessible to a wider range of children, or perhaps advising that 21st century digital making now ought to be at the centre of the content.

‘One that will inspire invention from students and teachers alike. That will nurture a creative mind-set and passion for problem solving. That will appeal to more youngsters than ever before.

Oh no it won’t, because the written paper will serve to exclude more youngsters (‘youngsters’???  N.B. All Change Please! strongly advises not calling them that in class) than ever before. Hmm. Just one other problem here, and that’s the teachers. Forgetting the current severe shortage of D&T teachers at present, most of the rest are well past their make-by date CDT teachers, formerly known as woodworkers and metalworkers, usually recognisable by their particular lack of inspirational invention, let alone creative mind-set and passion for problem-solving.

So in the interests of transparency, let’s just do a bit of re-wording, and what we end up with is this rather more honest press-release:

‘Design and Technology is a terribly important subject because in about 20 years’ time a successful designer or engineer might emerge as a result of having taken the subject at school, even though most successful designers and engineers tend to study completely different subjects, or leave school at 16 and do something practical instead. And when we say terribly important, of course we mean not as important as academic subjects, which is why we’re not including it in the EBacc.

Because the specification we have developed is terribly, er., quite important and will effect the lives of hundreds of thousands of children over the next five to ten years, we first asked a junior minister to write it up over the weekend, based on her own experience of CDT in the 1970s. We then got James Dyson – yes that James Dyson – and Tim Berners Lee to agree to say we had consulted them, but despite this, the D&T subject association insisted on trying to improve it, so we let them alter one or two bits to keep them happy. Oh and did I mention James Dyson? We did try to get Isambard Brunel to contribute, but he wasn’t available.

A lot of people in the consultation said that they thought the written paper was a bad idea, but we couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about, probably because we don’t really understand what design is all about in the first place. As a result we’re still insisting on making half the exam based on a written paper even though it’s a highly unreliable indicator of design and technological capability. Of course a written paper in Art & Design might not be so appropriate, because that’s a different sort of design which is just about making things look nice, isn’t it? I mean you wouldn’t want to end up being someone non-PC like Jonny Ive of Apple and going to Art School now would you? Apple’s motto is ‘Think Different’, and we certainly don’t want that.

Meanwhile the reality of course is that not a lot has changed in D&T. Pupils can choose their own problems to solve which, between you and me, I think will be a bit of a disaster, because many of them will not involve a great deal of the maths and science they have to somehow include.  Then we’ve removed the requirement to specialise in one material, except of course that most D&T teachers are still specialists in one material. Then there’s the addition of the word ‘iterative’ which sounds rather trendy and up-to-date, and the phrase ‘exploring, creating and evaluating’. Most teachers never understood the design process anyway, so this will really confuse them. So the chances are we’ll still end up with a load of projects in which children make furniture for their bedroom, a new outfit for themselves or an automatic goldfish feeder.

Which is a good thing, because of course the last thing we want to do is to really change anything – our motto is ‘Moving forwards by going backwards and all thinking exactly the same’.

Nick ‘Dyson’ Glibbly

And here is Teacher Toolkit’s ‘It’s So Rigorous; We Don’t Want You To Do It! response… http://teachertoolkit.me/2015/11/17/designtechnology/

Image credit: Flickr / Eva Renaldi

 

 

One comment on “D&T: Design & Transparency?

  1. Although I disagree with the almost vomit-inducing over-use of name dropping here (couldn’t sound less credible and feeble if it tried), I do see the value in having the basic maths and science content involved, as I would also expect basic art, history, philosophy, geography/environmental studies to also be involved. To be a good designer (or anything for that matter) you need to have a good understanding of all the constraints involved within your field. Understanding across the board which trade-offs can be made is vital to innovation and you will not be successful in designing new products if you try to outsource all this thinking to specialists in others fields. The basics need to be in one brain so that when an opportunity does arise that brain can successfully go and assimilate the specialist knowledge it needs and use it to push the boundaries.

    For me the main error here is that we have a national curriculum and education system that turns classrooms into subject silos. Instead of having separate subject sections for the national curriculum, why not have topics, for example, learning about Dyson’s vacuum involves maths theory, materials/chemistry theory, physics, artistic fashion and product aesthetics, design, history of vacuums and cleaning, geography/environmental studies, cultural studies and religious attitudes to cleaning, anthropomorphic theory – you can even throw physical education in there and the health benefits of cleaning as exercise.

    Tying all these subjects together into one cohesive topic and ridding ourselves of these artificial silos called subjects is the only way to make any progress with the national curriculum and the state of British education.

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