All The Latest D&T Spiel

High noise, low output and sticking with the normal position won’t save D&T in its present format.

Regular readers might, but probably haven’t, realised that it’s been a long time since All Change Please!’s last post. There have been two main reasons for this: the first is that it has been very busy with other projects – one of which involves irritating things like failing to meet impossible deadlines and earning breadcrumbs in return – and the second reason is that there just has not been much happening in education to write about recently – somewhat inexplicably, the affairs of a certain bumbling Boris de Pif Paf Pfeffel Wiffle Waffle Johnson seem to be dominating everything at present.

Until the other day that is when Little Ms Spiel, Head of F-OFSTED broke cover and spoke forth at some length about the substantial drop in the number of children taking Design & Technology to GCSE over the past twenty years. She identified a number of contributing reasons, such as:

  • Lack of status
  • End of compulsory D&T at KS4
  • Parity of BTTECs
  • Lack of teacher expertise and training
  • School Budget restrictions
  • Teaching to the test
  • Teacher retention

All of which had apparently seemed to have been happening before 2011, so the decline couldn’t possibly be blamed on the current government, the EBacc or Progress 8 measures, could it?

Although Little Ms Spiel seems to realise that there is more to D&T than is dreamt of in most D&T lessons, she sill insists on perciving it as to do with the training of future designers rather than for its more general educational content in terms of teaching open-ended problem-solving and its appeal and value to the less academic amongst us. And, like so many who have never worked in a creative field, she perpetuates the currently popular ill-informed nonsense that ‘Creativity is rooted in learning a craft or skill and in having knowledge’. Perhaps if our future politicians and leaders understood more about design and creativity they might find themselves better equipped to solve some of our nation’s seemingly unsolvable problems?

Little Ms Spiel’s comments have at least been helpful in identifying and raising the profile of the issues but her understanding of what to do about it appears limited, and so we seem set for yet another patch and mend approach. Sadly she has not really got to the heart of the matter, which is that D&T, like most of its teachers and the form in which it is currently examined, has become hopelessly out of date. Design and Technology in the real world has moved forward a lot in the past 30 years. D&T in schools hasn’t, and as a result children are voting with their, err., smart phones.

With a small number of notable exceptions, D&T is still mainly the domain of woodwork and metalwork teachers, determined to prolong the active life of bird-boxes, key fobs, and pizza cutters at KS3. The new GCSE D&T specification has come as somewhat as a shock to them as students are now expected to identify their own design opportunities, which of course they have been completely unprepared for. And as consequence traditional CDT teachers have been forced into complaining about the resulting lack of quality in the final ‘making’ instead of an increasing quality of their students’ designing.

Not that the new GCSE is by any means well-matched to good D&T practice, given that the so-called ‘non-examined’ project work is still micro-marked, and that 50% of the marks are earned from an academic, knowledge-based written paper that reveals nothing about teenagers actual Design and technological capability.

The reality is that Design & Technology in the majority of schools is long past its sell-by date. Originally introduced in the 1970s as a then much needed development of traditional craftwork lessons, if it had been a product in the shops it would have been sold off at half-price before being discontinued years ago, and be replaced by a completely re-conceived, brand new digital version: think the difference between a tethered dial-up phone and a smart phone of today, or of a pre-Walkman cassette player and a streamed mp3 file. Indeed the newly revised course is still largely modelled on the 1960s notion of an Industrial designer – except with a bit of CAD and 3D printing thrown in for good measure – a job that as such hardly exists anymore.

D&T needs to be reconfigured as an entirely new learning experience, led and delivered by a completely new breed of teachers who are not primarily driven by a desire to revive traditional craft DIY skills, but to embrace design and systems thinking and the digital maker movement through collaborative open-ended research, modelling and communication, critical analysis and creative problem solving that ultimately produces satisfying user experiences that explore the brave new interfaces between the digital and the real world. These teachers will need to come from a variety of vocational and academic disciplines, including the Sciences, Humanities and the Arts.

But this is not, of course, to say that All Change Please! wants to see the traditional crafts disappear from the curriculum. Indeed it’s essential they are retained. Our children need to continue to learn through the direct manipulation of real materials such as woods, metals, plastics, ceramics, fibre and glass with the intention of producing quality items of beauty, functionality and great accuracy, and to be taught to do so by highly skilled, experienced and passionate makers. But let’s call, appreciate and assess the crafts for what they actually are, and not some muddled mash-up of so-called design, making and sometimes using a computer to help do it.

Until then, All Change Please’s A to Z of Educashun will return soon after its short commercial break.