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.

5 comments on “All The Latest D&T Spiel

  1. Tristram I completely agree! Not so eloquently but I’ve been saying and writing the same for some time. It’s part of the conversation that lays the blame for where the subject is now, not just on a succession of politicians, but also on the shoulders of a D&T community. A community that for what ever reason, neither ‘got it’ (I’m referring g to the broader educational value) or had the desire to move beyond pursuing their own particular craft propped up by a knowledge base in need of updating.
    The example I always refer to is the inclusion of the term programmable components in the KS3 programmes of study. So the state has set out that all young people by the age of 14 should learn how to use these when ‘designing and making’. The reality is, the vast majority of D&T teachers can’t – nor do they appear to believe that’s a problem. In other words, their charges are expected to learn (somehow) D&T subject knowledge that they are not willing to get their heads around themselves: “But I’m a graphics specialist” or “No I teach textiles and fashion D&T teacher!”

    For sure the opportunity provided by National Curriculum status all those years ago has not been grasped and we have to accept now as a longer term entity, it needs radical change.

    That said, although there are many things wrong with the revised GCSE, it is at least better and as we are finding, does provide increased freedom for both teacher and student. But I do agree, the weight of the over burdensome assessment model in many ways counteracts the benefits it has provided.

  2. Like many, I stumbled across D&T teaching by accident looking for a regular wage. 2 critical things made me fall in love with it. First and most important to me it was about “people”, observing, interacting, understanding, and caring, in order to respond and try to make things better. Second, as no one had a bloomin’ clue what it was about, we were in complete control. We could do anything we liked and it was up to us to imagine and make exciting things happen. I fell out of love with D&T in direct proportion to the clumsy attempts to codify and standardise it.

    As we tip over the precipice of climate chaos, understanding people and being practiced in agile and effective responses to the unexpected are surely the most critical qualities we need.

    So you wont be surprised that I agree with All Change Please and propose we ditch D&T completely and grab a bit of all the other subjects too, and re-imagine this as a democratic, open, unscripted, interdisciplinary, resourced day a week, for all young people and teachers and senior managers (and local community) to collaborate and develop their strategies and capabilities to cope with the catastrophic social breakdown that is the real and most dangerous threat we have ever faced.

    We could start by inviting Climate Friday strikers to the next governors meeting as equal participants to explore what this might look like.

  3. Some very interesting points in your piece entitled ‘All the latest D&T Spiel’. I note that you suggest the D&T curriculum is in need of updating and staff experience likewise. Whilst I might agree with the latter, I do not share your views about the former. The D&T curriculum was in fact completely revised by D&T specialists themselves, along with GCSE specifications in 2014 and this may in fact be part of the issue, with the new expectations for knowledge substantially raised. I would suggest, quite appropriately so, in order to address just those concerns you raise. However, the timing has been difficult for D&T and teachers needing serious CPD to enable them to learn and teach the new content, but who have not been able to access this.

    These issues have coincided with the EBacc and resulted in something of a perfect storm. schools seeking to reduce staffing and curriculum costs, whilst raising EBacc numbers, have been cutting D&T or seeking some form of merger with art & design. This is not based on any curriculum philosophy or intention to improve provision, but rather financial expediency that is harming both subjects and the life chances of young people wishing to pursue careers pathways into the very different industries, that both subject serve.

    Such actions by schools should be identified as crass and ignorant. Your article should have called out this action and the fact that the new Ofsted Framework will finally return to examining some of these issues as part of the revamped curriculum focus in the new Framework. Schools must be challenged by parents and inspectors on the reasoning that deprives young people of career pathways into all areas of manufacturing design, engineering and food in D&T, or alternatively into design and the wide ranging creative industries through art and design. I would urge you instead to encourage our Chief Inspector to reject the need for Ofsted to report on EBacc numbers, as this is the measure at the root of the problem.

    It is this measure which also persuades schools to find ways to increase their EBacc numbers by distorting or narrowing their curriculum offer. We should all be focused on the business of ensuring curriculum breadth and depth. The naive amalgamation of art and design with D&T serves no one and leaves a handful of teachers in most secondary schools with the impossible task of cutting content. You might also point out to our Chief Inspector that the reason D&T GCSE numbers have fallen dramatically, is in some cases because some D&T teachers have started to use art and design GCSE specifications. This is in part, to avoid the challenging D&T GCSE written exam. From this we now appear to be seeing a growing impact on art and design departments and a lack of clarity about what career path these D&T students might be following. This situation must be challenged.

    • Many thanks for your comment. I entirely agree that a lot of the problem has, for whatever reason, been inadequate CPD for D&T teachers to meet the requirements of the new GCSE. This needs to extend to senior management too! I trust NSEAD and DATA will bring the matters you raise to the attention of the Chief Inspector.

      My main concern is that, having identified the problem, the A&D and D&T communities now need to generate effective and long-term ways forward that will re-establish and strengthen the position of both areas in our schools in the future. Ofsted has a role to play in this, but it will also involve many other organisations and agencies working closely together.

      • Completely agree and both Professional Associations are seeking dialogue just as you suggest. Discussions though will be complicated by the actions of those D&T departments, where this is causing damaging impact to staffing and curriculum integrity of one or both subjects.

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