In a recent speech, Diana Choulerton, the new D&T subject lead at Ofsted, is reported to have made a number of observations made about the current delivery of D&T in schools that make good sense in terms of the challenges that lie ahead for the subject. For example:
• Design [in D&T] isn’t really DESIGN’. There isn’t much TECHNOLOGY.
• D&T lacks challenge. Is there real problem-solving happening?
• The issues five years on remain the same.
• There is an over-focus on making [and] ‘taking something home’.
Well all good sense, except for just one or two things, that is. For example, apparently Ms Choulerton suggests there is too much ‘soft’ D&T, e.g., designing a logo, adding decoration or suggesting a colour. Now in a sense she may well be correct in that there is too much, but the real problem is that many teachers tend to deliver these activites at too low a level of challenge and content. But in highlighting the matter, she’s giving the impression that these things are of less importance – you can almost hear all those HoDs busily tappity-tap-tapping ‘Ofsted says that we mustn’t do the logo project anymore‘.
In reality these so-called ‘soft’ activities (which are by no means soft in their practice) provide excellent contexts in which to teach children about creativity, rapid iterative modelling, the nature and use of symbolic representation and the psychological aspects of design, and as such the very language of the subject – which is of fundamental importance to learners being able to progress. Effectively expressing the quality of a product or service in a simple, distinctive and memorable symbol of logo presents a considerable challenge, as does producing a final detailed specification that enables it to be accurately reproduced and applied – and these days this usually involves producing an animated version for use on digital platforms. Meanwhile such work provides an opportunity to start to discuss the impact and reality of the global impact of branding and marketing, without which design as we know it today would not exist in the market place. So-called ‘hard’ D&T (which for some reason presumably only occurs when ‘hard’ materials are used?) tends to ignore, or at best minimise, these important, highly transferable areas of knowledge and skill.
All Change Please! wonders just how extensive Ms Choulerton’s current awareness is of the level of technical skills are needed with programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator to create images? No, not very. Thought not. Meanwhile finalising the design of a logo is really just the start. Anyone who has ever prepared artwork or a digital file for a professional printer (which All Change Please! rather doubts Ms Choulerton ever has) will tell you that there are then a whole long list of things you never dreamt of that have to precisely specified if you want want your design to look anything like the way you intended – there’s just as much high-level knowledge of traditional and modern reprographic print technologies needed as for 3D manufacture. And if you’re still not convinced, then it’s perhaps worth mentioning that a good logo designer can earn a very decent wage, and there’s a much greater demand for graphic designers than there is for 3D product designers.
So surely what Ms Choulterton should have said was that too many so-called ‘soft’ D&T tasks provide excellent opportunities to learn valuable D&T skills, but are poorly taught?
Meanwhile Ms Choulterton is also reported to have provided a list of projects that shouldn’t be included as part of a 21st Century curriculum, such as ‘storage, clocks, 2D logos and moisture sensors‘ (for some reason 3D logos appear to be OK then?). Ah, there those HoDs go again – ‘Ofsted says we’re not allowed to do these popular and successful projects anymore‘. But as All Change Please! has always maintained: ‘It’s not what you design it’s the way you design it’. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of the projects she highlights, provided they are delivered in the right way – storage, telling the time, creating 2D logo identities and using sensors are just as much 21st century problems as any other, and indeed new technologies provide plenty of opportunity for them to be solved in new and exciting ways – though again the real problem is that teachers are delivering them that way.
Indeed it’s a shame that she then seems to have missed the opportunity to promote the approach of the digital maker movement, which is the one thing that could really save the subject and provide it with an exciting way forward into the 20th century. With the current severe shortage of teachers in the subject, somehow D&T needs a fresh start with a new breed of teachers who have not come from a 3D-obsessed, ‘handicraft’ background, but a wide range of more broadly-based design, marketing and service-related areas, including architecture and the environment, communication, IT and business.
And finally, while we’re D&T talking, the community is busy trying to convince the government that the subject is important because it will produce future generations of designers who will in turn produce higher-quality products for export. While that may indeed be the best strategy for helping ensure the subject survives in the current climate of El-Bãcco and forecasts of severe teacher shortage storms, it’s important to remember that D&T is primarily there for the majority who won’t ever become designers and technologists. What these children will gain by taking the subject is to become better and more creative problem-solvers with an increased understanding of and sense of empathy for the human needs and wants of others, and the ability to communicate their ideas and suggestions for the future – just the sort of so-called ’soft’ skills most employers are looking for it seems.
The Df-ingE has just announced the final specification and assessment structure for new GCSE Design & Technology courses. They can be downloaded here:
There are no obvious major changes, but some minor ones, particularly in the weightings of the assessment structure. Whatever, it’s too late to complain now and it’s up to the exam boards to make some sense out of them. At least there’s no more horticulture any more…
Milton Glaser/Tristram Shepard