D&T: pushing up the daisies?


‘I come to bury D&T, not to praise it’

There have been recent reports that the draft Design & Technology National Curriculum is in fact to be seriously reviewed by the DfE. It would however be unwise to expect that what will be eventually published will be substantially different from what is there already. For example, given the weight of the pressure group that got it there in the first place, horticulture is likely to remain. Meanwhile the extent of the document is unlikely to occupy much more than its current length, providing little opportunity for all the detail that die-hard D&T-ers would perhaps like to see included. It’s almost as if, having spent the past 20 years complaining about the extent of the requirements in the specification, D&T teachers somehow can’t seem to live without them.

At best the given examples might be changed to be somewhat more rigorous and ‘hi-tech’, and the relationship between problem-solving and growing food and learning how to cook it made more clearly separated. While this will doubtless please many within the D&T community, the danger is that it heralds a future in which D&T continues on pretty much as before. It remains to be seen whether D&T can fully recover from its currently proposed portrayal as a hi-tech subject reduced to planting, growing and flower-arranging, but at the same time it has been disappointing to see the outright rejection of horticulture and the potential of repair and maintenance activities as possible worthwhile content. Maybe now is actually the time to bury D&T and see what might emerge from the soil instead?

While there are a number of schools that have succeeded in developing show-case D&T departments that demonstrate what could have been, there remain too many that still provide an incoherent, meaningless learning experience that fails to deliver successful designing or making. The reality in too many D&T departments is that the teaching of high-level craft skills has been replaced by the teaching of low-level design skills. And even where it is currently delivered well, is it still appropriate education for the 21st century – or will it just become an initial training ground for those interested in working in hi-tech engineering-based industries? All Change Please! somehow rather doubts D&T will suddenly start to embrace and emphasise collaborative, sustainable design and a DIY approach centred around localised production using 3D printing, not to mention the discussion of the development of the broader skills of analytic and creative thought and action along with the understanding of the relationship between people and technology that everyone is going to need to survive during their coming lifetimes.

Which is why it was initially refreshing to read the Design Council’s Bel Read presenting a new, more balanced agenda for Design Education. To summarise, essentially what is proposed is a programme involving design awareness, the application of user-centred design methods, a multidisciplinary approach, the development of technical skills and an industrial, academic and cultural framework.

All Change Please! has no problems with this of course – indeed it’s not that different from what was being proposed and pioneered in the late 1960s and 1970s. However, on reflection, it’s not nearly as simple as it seems (though, to be fair, the article is intended as a starting point for discussing rather than as a final specification). First, there’s a notable infrequence of the use of the word ‘creativity’, which is an essential component of design activity, and one that desperately needs to be more evident in our schools. Secondly there’s a complete absence of the word ‘sustainability’. And finally no reference to collaboration. So as such it continues to reflect an extension of 20th century professional industrial design practice, rather than something that might prepare all children for the future. And of course it entirely ignores the central issue of exactly who is going to deliver this enlightened approach. Not to mention what the DfE’s response might be.

Design Education has an essential contribution to make in the preparation of all today’s children to live and work in tomorrow’s post-industrial society. Its future lies out beyond Planet D&T as currently charted, engulfing the spiral arm of the galaxy located in regions known as art & design, business education and computing, and indeed all of the existing curriculum clusters.

Meanwhile, in other news, DATA have just published their draft response to the D&T proposals. It can be downloaded from their site here.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Sue Murray