The Really Big Issues


First a reminder that the House of Commons Select Committee on Education Consultation on the Purpose of Education closes on the 24th January. Well it’s great that they’ve finally admitted they have had absolutely no idea what they’ve been messing with for the past 30 or so years, but All Change Please! can’t help but think that education policy in future will be justified by the statement that the government is following the direction established by the full public consultation which has proved they were doing the right thing all along and intend to continue in the same way. ‘We’ve been listening‘ they’ll say, ‘It’s just that you didn’t say what we wanted you to so we completely ignored it‘ they won’t add.

Meanwhile All Change Please!’s completely robust, accurate and reliable poll made of straw is predicting that the responses will fall into one of two camps. The first – the type that will be ignored – runs something like this:

“Everyone is good at something. The purpose of education is to help children find out what they are good at and use the confidence and self-worth they derive from this to confront their weaknesses. Education nourishes the broad natural and individual cognitive, emotional, moral and spiritual development of children and young adults in ways which ultimately gives them a sense of fulfillment and a desire to go on learning, both within work environments and in their personal lives. In doing so they will survive more easily and comfortably and pass on such nourishment to their own children and to society, thus helping ensure the successful continuation of the community, the nation, and ultimately the species.”

And the second – which is what are expected to say:

“The purpose of education is to create a pliant, well-disciplined, hard-working and employable population that doesn’t ask questions and will be led by a small highly-capable elite who will run the country specifically in order to increase their own wealth. However, in the interests of social mobility this involves giving everyone the opportunity to join the elite, whether they want to or not, providing of course they prove themselves to be sufficiently academically able and attend a Russell Group University.”

This will in turn lead to the inevitable conclusion that in order to improve the quality of education good old-fashioned traditional knowledge-based teaching is best, even more testing is needed, and the EBacc is the best thing to come along since the invention of homogenous, completely tasteless sliced-white bread.

All of which is however pretty much beside the point, because there are some much bigger, important and far more disruptive mind-bending educational issues on the horizon that are what we really should be spending our time, effort and money on if we don’t want the country to go the way of dinosaurs, horse-drawn carts and Woolworths – which is the general direction we are currently heading. And they don’t centre around obsessively arguing about whether one style of teaching is better than another, which subjects should or should not be included in the curriculum, how to make it easier to memorise unnecessary information and how many times children need to be tested on their tables.

Indeed All Change Please! isn’t called All Change Please! because it wants Just A Little Bit of Change Now and Again Please! It’s because all things need to change. What we really should be discussing is our ideas about how all schools are going to need to change and evolve rapidly evolve in the very near future, and at the same time how to ensure the quality of the almost inevitable growth on online learning and assessment that will lead the change. To get an idea of the scale of the implications for the world of education, just ask someone in the music, publishing and retail industries if the way things work now are the same as they were in the year 2000, and how much time they spend debating whether or not we should be going back to using traditional methods of selling the same products and services from the 1950s. While everyone else prepares for the Fourth Industrial Revolution – that’s the one after the IT age – education is still way back in the second one.

Thus the first Really Big Issue, which the Df-ingE seems intent on denying and publishing misleading figures about, is the consequences of the forthcoming teacher shortage, due at least in part to their highly successful ‘Let’s Blame the Teacher’ campaign they have been running (together with the recently launched parallel ‘Let’s Also Blame the Parents’ campaign). That’s because there’s an easy solution to the shortage that the Df-ingE have doubtless had in mind all along, following the worrying lead of Brazil and Australia, which is to simply plug children into ‘Sit down, switch on and shut up’ computer-based teaching systems for several hours each day. This has the extra advantage of giving the large corporate preferred suppliers massive contracts to make loads of money while spending as little as possible on the actual teaching and learning content, which will be created by programmers rather than educationalists. The companies that create these teaching systems don’t really care what the purpose of education is – beyond making them a healthy profit – let alone how to achieve it, and so just churn out an endless stream of personalised big data generated knowledge-recall multiple choice questions and test scores. This isn’t education. It’s factory farming.

And the other Really Big Issue is the ingrained belief that we still live in a world of the individual expert who knows a lot about very little, and that by the time a child leaves school and university they have been told and remembered everything there is to know. We appear to be obsessed with the ability to remember things at the expense of problem-solving and management skills. Just saying “Because we don’t know exactly what knowledge will be needed in the future we will go on teaching them the same old stuff in the same old way” and implementing the EBacc isn’t an acceptable answer. And it’s starting to look like the only way to achieve this is going to be for headteachers to unilaterally agree not to play the numbers game anymore.

Meanwhile what we do know is that our children will need to be creative and collaborative team workers and communicators, have excellent personnel management and communication skills and be able and willing to learn new knowledge and skills throughout their lives on an almost daily basis – all with no teacher there to inform and test them. More than ever before they will need to identify and maximise their particular individual capabilities and passions and be able to apply them alongside a sound, fundamental grasp of digital technologies, business, economics and psychology. And if we are to remain competitive as a nation and as a culture, these aren’t things that can be just bolted-on in the occasional off-timetable after-school club, but need to underpin the whole curriculum experience from Year 1 to Year 13 and on into further and life-long education. Make no mistake – if we don’t, then China will – or rather, already is.

It will also become increasingly important that today’s children realise that learning is not just something boring and tedious that happens under duress at school sitting at a computer answering endless multiple choice questions, but is something that is pleasurable, enriching and fulfilling and happens throughout life, and through the whole community. Importantly, as adults, they will then need to pass on the same positive values and aspirations to their own children.

The purpose of education is to prepare our children for the future. Not the past. 

Or perhaps it’s just really as All Change Please!’s Smith and Jones previously observed:

Jones: But I always thought the purpose of education was to learn useful things, get some qualifications and then a job serving coffee somewhere?

With thanks to Tony’s Mum and Alan.

Image credit: Flickr ozz13x

Big Issue Seller

Now We Are Six


Ever since All Change Please! celebrated its first birthday, it’s been waiting until it could fully reveal the extent of its intellectual middle-class up-bringing by using the title of the book of poems by AA Milne it was bought up on, and to point out that its alter-ego is not the only person to spell their surname that way. Anyway, finally, today’s the day…

As has become the tradition on this great annual celebration – in future doubtless to be recognised globally as All Change Please! day – it has become customary to review what’s been hot and what’s not over the past twelve months.

Rather than building the suspense way beyond the unbearable and then dragging out the final moment of truth for as long as possible by making you wait until the very end of the post to find out, All Change Please! will immediately reveal that and winner of The People’s Vote, i.e. the most read post of the last year, is…

Mark My Words…Please! which helps confirm All Change Please!’s assertion that examiners should be paid more for their services.

Meanwhile curiously the Number 2 spot is taken by Left, Right, Right, Right, Right… which was first released in July 2012, and and is followed onto the turntable by the Number 3 spot by another Golden Oldie, even more curiously also from July 2012 Are Janet and John now working at the DfES?.  For some unknown reason these somewhat dated posts just keep on giving, and All Change Please! can only assume that there must be some tag or keyword in there somewhere that keeps on coming up in searches. There must be a Ph.D. somewhere in there, as people keep saying these days.

Other posts that did better than others during the year included Fixated by Design, Virgin on the ridiculous, New A level D&T: Dull & Tedious and Goves and Dolls.

But now it’s time for All Change Please! to reveal its own favourites for the year in the pathetically vague hope of improving their stats a bit. As so often happens in life, what All Change Please! reckons to be its best works are generally ignored, while the ones it dashed off in a matter of minutes and that it didn’t think anyone would be particularly interested in them prove to be the best sellers – which makes it a bit of a shame seeing as they are given away for nothing.

So, if you kindly will, please take a moment to click again on some of these:

Goves and Dolls: All Change Please!’s 2014 Festive gangster satire, written in a Damon Runyon-esque stye

Way To Go: in which Nicky Morgan seems to think that the BBCs WIA spoof fly-on-the-wall comedy series is for real.

And the two Alas! Smith and Journos posts: Have you ever Bean Green and Beginners Please

Meanwhile, here are a few of All Change Please!’s favourite bits:

I expect all the schools requiring improvement will be given those special tape measures now?’ (Jones from Have you ever Bean Green)

Smith:“It’s a new play by Tom Stoppard – you know he did ‘Jumpers’ and ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’.”

Jones: Oh, the National Theatre, I thought you meant the Grand National and there was a horse called Stoppard who was a good jumper, and there were two other horses they’d had to put down.  (from Beginners Please! in which Smith and Jones are discussing the merits of Nick Glibbly’s suggestion that all children need to be able to understand plays performed at the London Doner Kebab Warehouse)

Swashbuckling Pirate Queen Captain Nicky Morgove has recently vowed to board so-called coasting schools, make the headteacher walk the plank, and academise the lot of them to within an inch of their worthless lives. With Nick Glibb, her faithful parrot, perched on her shoulder squawking ‘Progress 8, Progress 8…’”  (from Pirates of the DfE)

‘So the thing is like that with the DfE, in branding terms it’s really boring. It’s like politics and funding and pedagogy. I mean, who’s interested in all that stuff? So what we’re talking here is like major brand refresh surgery.’

‘They’re terribly excited about ‘Strictly Come Teaching’ in which B-list celebs are paired up with classroom teachers to see how really strict they can be in classrooms up and down the country. We love Strictly!’  (from Way To Go).

‘However, instead I am allowed to prescribe you a course of new scientifically unproven Govicol, but I should warn you it’s rather indigestible and you will have to be spoon-fed it. And what’s more it not only has a nasty taste but has a whole range of unpleasant educational side-effects. (from Nice work).

‘We were most interested to learn that Junk Modelling did not involve making scale replicas of boats’, a spokesperson for the Chinese government didn’t say. ‘The delegation offered to send us Michael Gove and Elizabeth Truss to advise us further on a long term basis, but we said No thanks – not for all the D&T in China’.  (from Chinese Takeaways)


And finally:

“Now We Are Six”

When I was one,
I had just begun.
When I was two,
I was nearly new.
When I was three,
I was hardly me.
When I was four,
I was not much more.
When I was five,
I was just alive.
But now I am six,
I’m as clever as clever.
So I think I’ll be six
now and forever.

Author: A.A. Milne

Image credit: Wikimedia

Design & Techknowledgy: revised GCSEs

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 11.13.20

So what does the new draft D&T GCSE content add up to?

While the new draft GCSE content for Cooking and Nutrition was extensively covered in Thursday’s press, you could be forgiven for having missed the fact that the new draft content for the Design and Technology GCSE was published on the DfE site as well (along with Drama and Citizenship).

It remains to be seen whether the final content for D&T does follow this draft structure, and most importantly the eventual breadth and depth developed and packaged by the examination boards, but in the meantime it’s worth highlighting some of the major proposed changes.

1. There will be just one subject called Design and Technology, i.e. there will be no separate courses for Resistant Materials, Textiles, Electronic Products, etc. Food Technology will no longer exist as such and will be replaced by a separate non-D&T option called ‘Cooking and Nutrition’.

2. Students can elect to design and make a product in a series of ‘areas of interest’, which include fashion, interiors and furnishings, advertising and promotion, consumer electronics, leisure and mechanical systems.

3. In addition to knowledge and understanding relating to their chosen ‘area of interest’, all students will be expected to cover pliable and resistant materials, textiles, mechanics, programmable components and new materials.

4. A clear distinction has been made between ‘products’ and ‘prototypes’, with both being acceptable, provided they are ‘high quality’.

And elsewhere it has been reported that coursework will be reduced to 50% of the final assessment instead of 60%.

There are many positive things about this proposal, though largely in the sense of ‘Well it could have been a lot worse’. There are encouraging references to ‘the iterative design process of exploring, creating and evaluating’ (or ‘having, growing and proving’ as the Goldsmiths e-scape project described it some years ago). And there’s even a remit for student-developed briefs, ‘a creative approach’, ‘taking design-risks’, ‘sustainability’ and ‘collaborative discourse’ (though sadly not collaborative working). But it’s a pity there are no prompts for work in spatial or built environment design, and nothing to promote a deeper understanding and practice of ‘modelling’, which lies at the very heart of design.

Some implications of the draft are issues as to how the course will come to be delivered. Ideally perhaps schools will develop a team-teaching approach with students accessing former subject-specialist teachers and teaching areas as and when appropriate. But others, and probably the majority, will doubtless adopt a materials-based ‘theory’ circus, and/or assign students to work in a chosen ‘area of interest’ right from the start of year 10. Let’s face it…

Fashion = Textiles Technology
Advertising and promotion = Graphic Products
Furnishings, Mechanical systems and Leisure = Resistant Materials
Consumer electronics = Electronic Products

Which just leaves the problem of how to deliver a more broadly-based theory course, unless textile teachers are going to be willing to cover mechanics, and electronics teachers are happy to deal with fibres and fabrics.

Meanwhile the increase in the knowledge-based ‘written paper’ to 50%, although not unexpected (and could have been even higher), continues to defeat the whole point of studying D&T. Every D&T teacher tells stories of students who are excellent designers but fail the examination because of the difficulties they find with the written papers, and similarly of students with minimal practical capability in D&T who get high grades simply as a result of being good a formal exam technique.

There remains the age-old problem of the statement that:

“The word ‘product’ is understood throughout to be a generic term for all 3D final outcomes of design practice including systems and objects. “

Beyond the fact that this understanding is somewhat out-dated in design these days, it presents issues in the advertising and promotion area for the production of promotional 2D graphic work, and in particular ‘digital promotion’, which presumably involves websites and video?

Although the distinction between ‘products’ and ‘prototypes’ is helpful, it still needs further consideration. It should perhaps read: ‘Final proposals should be presented in such a form as to effectively communicate your design ideas to a client, user, manufacturer or financial investor.’ Or even better still: ‘Final proposals for design ideas should be uploaded to Kickstarter in order to obtain feedback and potential funding for further development’.

But, to be realistic, the statement that students are required to ‘demonstrate the ability to:

• design and develop innovative, functional, aesthetic and marketable products that respond to needs and are fit for purpose’

is somewhat ambitious to say the least, because if they can succeed at doing so in their GCSEs they would be achieving what most teams of professional product designers fail to do in a lifetime! How about ‘demonstrate they have the potential capability to…’ instead?

And going back to the proposed ‘areas of interest’, this article suggests that opportunities have been missed to really drag the subject into the 21st Century by following the suggestions made for categories for future professional design disciplines, listed as:

• The Design Coder
• The Design Entrepreneur
• The Hybrid Design Researcher
• The Business Designer
• The Social Innovator

Or even:
Sustainable design pioneer

But there’s one statement that really can’t be forgiven, it’s:

“The types and properties of the following natural and man-made materials:“

Yes, you read that correctly: MAN-made materials. What is this, the 1970’s? Synthetic, manufactured or just made materials, please. Or, following the ‘less is more’ design principle, how about just ‘…the following materials’?

Whatever happened to Food Technology?

While the new GCSE in Cooking and Nutrition can only be welcomed, it must be regretted that Food Technology appears to have been dismissed from Office. Far from being toxic, overall it was the D&T GCSE that probably achieved the highest, most rigorous standards and the only one that really succeeded in delivering practical work in school alongside a real understanding of the issues of scaling up a ‘one-off’ into a batch or mass-produced product. And while the future demand for 3D product designers is at best modest, there will continue to be a substantial need for expertise in the extensive UK food industry. The proposed new course can only be described as ‘dumbed down’, a phrase an enthusiastic Nick Glibb strangely omitted to use. All Change Please! therefore hopes that some form of higher-level GCSE Food Technology course, either within or outside the D&T framework, will be re-considered.

And at the same time however, it seems only reasonable that similar courses in Woodwork, Metalwork and Needlework should be re-introduced to compliment Cooking. After all, the next generation of young men and women who fail their more academically-demanding GCSEs are going to need to be able to do something useful during their long hours of future unemployment, aren’t they?


Details of how to make your views known can be found on the DATA website.

Image credit: Flickr/Josef Stuefer

Thinking the Unthinkable


On All Change Please!’s list of set texts this week was an article by Lucy Mangan in The Guardian, reminding us that the real point of studying English Literature at school was to develop a love of reading. And for the majority of children that’s unlikely to involve umpteen Shakespeare plays and 19th Century British novels. She even dares to suggest that perhaps there should not be any examinations in the subject. Quite unthinkable, of course…!  Lucy Mangan: Don’t stop with Steinbeck – let’s can all of Eng Lit

But what’s emerging in the new GCSEs is an increasing emphasis on academic subject content – even in the more practical subjects – as a preparation for study at university, with the doubtless result that an equally increasing number of children will, after 11 long years of formal education, be quite incorrectly tagged as being failures in life. And then there are the new A levels to consider. Their narrow, academic-led requirements are entirely inappropriate for most 16-18 year olds. With Gove’s new specifications sounding more and more like old-fashioned A and O levels it seems increasingly likely that BTECs will become the new second-class equivalents of the old CSE, so there’s some major long-term re-thinking that needs to go on here too if we are going to create a credible more technical or vocationally-orientated alternative that will have the necessary status in life and future employment.

Somehow we seem to have lost touch with the underlying essentials of learning. Also on All Change Please!‘s reading list was this worthy article in which the basis for GCSE assessment in Design & Technology is earnestly discussed:  Devising a learning journey for D&T

While it provides an enlightened exploration of the way in which potential 3D product designers of the future need to be educated, it fails to account for the fact that the vast majority of children who sit the examination are unlikely to end up working in this particular and highly specialised field.

The inherent value in D&T lies in the way in which it can help children learn how to develop the creative and analytic ability to propose worthwhile solutions to complex, open-ended problems, and to successfully communicate those ideas to others. At the heart of this is the highly transferable concept of modelling – representing ideas in different formats, materials and at different scales that make it easier, quicker and cheaper to explore and try ideas out. It also helps provide a rationale for a critical appraisal of the technological products, places and communications children will go on to encounter throughout life as consumers, citizens or specifiers.

The processes and products of professional design merely serve as a contextual reference point: D&T in schools shouldn’t be about overtly preparing children to become 3D professional product designers, which is what only a very small minority might become. Yet at GCSE the D&T debate seems to be centred around the assessment of a high level of knowledge of the application of mechanical and electronic control systems, the properties and working characteristics of a specified rage of materials, and associated tools and manufacturing processes, all based on an out-dated 1960s version of industrial design with a bit of added CAD-CAM. And it’s the same with the other GCSE subjects: they are far too specialised and wrapped up in their own inefficient, discrete, non-transferable academic bodies of knowledge.

Meanwhile All Change Please! recently heard of a school where a KS3 group were successfully undertaking extended cross-curricular project work. When challenged as to how this would meet the requirements of the various subject-based Programmes of Study, the response was that they were ignoring them and relying on their ability to demonstrate that they were effectively delivering the Importance Statements that come at the very start of each National Curriculum subject specification. In the rush to cross the t’s and dot the i’s of the PoS, the Importance Statements provide the rationale for what should really be happening in schools, yet in practice they are usually ignored and rendered impotent rather than important. Again, surely it’s time to start thinking different?

Finally, another article on All Change Please!‘s entirely global 21st century reading list, again from The Guardian, somewhat shatters the notion that undertaking an academic degree at a leading university will in itself provide a passport to a lifetime of well-paid work:  The ten skills students really need when they graduate

According to the author, there are some other things graduates looking for employment will need to be able to demonstrate as well their academic ability, such as a good business sense, a global mindset, a sound digital footprint, office etiquette, computer literacy, teamwork and people skills. Instead of more and more specialist academic subject knowledge, we should surely be paying more attention to these requirements in our school curriculum?

If we are going to develop a curriculum and delivery system fit for the 21st Century, then perhaps it’s time we started to think the unthinkable?


Image credit: Flickr gforsythe



“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So is a lot.”


A new initiative by traditional academics insists that very small children should first be taught a rigorous programme of structural theory and have a good knowledge of the scientific application of forces before being allowed to play with building blocks.

OK, this time just kidding, but admit it, for a moment there you were willing to believe it!

Meanwhile All Change Please! recently read an account of a prospective employee, who when asked a knowledge-based question in an interview, admitted he didn’t know the answer, but that when it became important to the work he could suggest various ways in which they would be able to find out. The employer was impressed, both with his honesty and resourcefulness, and he got the job.

Or as US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld so clearly put it in 2002: ‘Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.’

In contrast, reading much of Gove and Truss’s spin or the writings of traditional academics, one could easily believe that an abundant store of known knowledge is an essential and the only prerequisite for any future employment, and at the same time not a single child has been taught a single piece of knowledge since the 1960s. This is of course, all complete nonsense. The reality is that the majority of children in the majority of lessons have continued to be formally taught existing knowledge. Indeed there is current trend in the production of resources intended to support teachers who have never used a project-based learning approach before.

And if All Change Please! reads just once more the supposed myth-busting  revelation triumphantly proclaimed by traditional academics that ‘you can’t look everything up on the internet’ it will scream. Let it make something clear. NO ONE IS SUGGESTING THAT CHILDREN SHOULD NEVER BE TAUGHT ANY KNOWLEDGE.

All so-called ‘progressive’ teachers of any worth recognise the value and importance of knowledge. What they do however is to question the type and amount of knowledge needed and to try and relate it as much as possible to practical application rather than abstract theory. They are also keen to develop children’s abilities to independently discover and learn – and question the reliability and validity of – new knowledge.

What’s really missing in the education system though is a structured programme of the development of thinking and learning skills, properly coordiated, monitored and rewarded across the whole school, instead of the current very patchy, haphazard exposure children might or might not encounter, depending on which teachers they just happen to have that year. When that finally happens then perhaps we will really be able for the first time to assess how effective or not it is.

OK, quiz question for budding traditional academics. Who is supposed to have said “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So is a lot.”? No cheating now…

In case you were away from school the day that was covered, the answer is Albert Einstein. All Change Please! is happy to admit it didn’t previously know that. Indeed it was only after searching online to discover the source of the earlier saying “A little learning is a dangerous thing” that it discovered Einstein’s version. Sounds like a little searching might be a good thing.

Of course, a little knowledge can, as it is said, be a dangerous thing (as Gove has demonstrated through his lack of knowledge of teaching and learning). but so is too much. As well as more specialists we need more generalists who are able to see and work with the bigger picture. And as All Change Please! might just have mentioned once or twice before, what we’re currently completely failing to do is engage in any sort of debate about exactly how much formal ‘just in case’ knowledge of a given subject is now appropriate, and what that knowledge can best be delivered’ as it now can be, ‘just in time’.

Instead of nervously looking over our shoulder at the future while grasping to keep hold of an ever receding past, we should be striding positively towards tomorrow, learning from the mistakes of yesterday. Or as someone else once sang:

There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow

Shinin’ at the end of ev’ry day

There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow

And tomorrow’s just a dream away.

Now I wonder who wrote that? Well, this time it certainly wasn’t Einstein. But there’s a clue in All Change Please!‘s last post.

Pass Notes: Design & Technology


Above: from Apple Store talk by Jason Schwartz of Bright Bright Great [BBG] on the love story between design and technology in the real world

So, what do you make of the new version of the requirements for Design & Technology in the National Curriculum now they are just about set in stone – well wood, metal and plastics anyway?

Well, robotics, electronics and 3D printing all sounds very exciting and good for the future of British engineering and manufacturing? Everyone seems to be very pleased about the new D&T curriculum, and it has been backed by the design industry. And none of that horticultural nonsense? Surely you’re not going to be the only one to say it’s not good news?

I’m afraid I am – it’s not good news. It continues to offer a very narrow view of design and designing based on 3D industrial design and engineering. While it is true that a minority of children might, as a result of their school experience, end up working in these fields, the vast majority won’t, especially girls, and for that matter many boys. As with most subjects, it’s a ‘just in case’ approach should you end up wanting to be an engineer. As such it fails to offer the majority a broader educational experience that in the future can be transferred into other areas of life.

Although the latest version is in some respects better than the one published in February, it’s not really much of a change from the existing one, except for the inclusion of robotics and 3D printing. Meanwhile the ‘design industry’ have absolutely no idea of what actually goes on in schools, and seem to think that simply changing the curriculum a bit is going to suddenly improve the quality of teaching and learning. Perhaps if they actually got more directly involved it might start to make more of a difference.

I thought somehow you might say something like that. Now I believe in these circumstances it’s traditional to begin by endlessly discussing what design and technology actually is all about. You first…

Well, everything, apart from nature itself, has at some point been consciously designed by someone. So that includes 3D industrial and domestic products, but also spaces and places, such as interiors and buildings, and information, such as sales brochures, signs, computer user-interfaces, etc. So Design and Technology is about creating products, environments, information and systems that work well, and are easy and satisfying to use. And when you do that, as for example Apple does, you can make a real profit, so it’s central to business success too. These days sustainability has become really important too. Meanwhile to design something you need to find out what people need and want and the materials and technologies available to satisfy them. And you need some design skills too.

So what exactly are these design skills of which you speak?

Designing involves complex high-level, creative, open-ended, real-world problem-solving, collaborative team work, developing instructions and specifications, matching objective and subjective data, communication and thinking about and planning the future. Not to mention understanding how business and marketing work.

OK, so that’s what professional designers do. What happens in primary and secondary education?

Well, it’s not just professional designers, but really anyone trying to solve a difficult practical problem that works and people value needs design skills. So it’s something everyone will find useful, throughout life, and therefore worth learning about when you are young. And it’s also good to be able to identify examples of good and bad design when making choices about which products, places and communications to commission or select.

So what’s, err, the problem?

For mainly historical reasons, the very narrow view of design that schools have taken and applied mainly to engineering and 3d industrial design has meant that they teach very little about understanding and meeting people’s physical and psychological needs and wants, and even lower levels of skills of designing and creativity. It’s actually much easier to teach and develop design skills through communication and spatial design activities, mainly because ideas can be generated, explored and developed much more quickly when you are not trying to work with expensive and highly resistant materials.

And then there’s the other important issue that no-one seems to be mentioning which is that most existing D&T teachers – not to mention Primary teachers – don’t come from an engineering design background, so there’s going to need to be an awful lot of professional development work needed, not to mention a considerable investment in hardware in schools.

Then there is the stated NC Purpose of Study and Aims, which are themselves quite acceptable – it’s just a pity that the Key Stage specifications that follow do not match up and deliver them. As such the document has simply become yet another example of spinning a classic ‘technological fix’ to what is the real and more difficult problem of recruiting, training and retaining creative, enlightened, inspiring teachers. Like this one:

So what’s to be done?

Hmm. Sadly not a lot. Unless we start to pay proper attention to the development of design skills, all localised 3d manufacturing will do is enable us to produce a load of novelty electronic gizmos that no-one really needs and that are frustrating to use. Rather than persisting with the glorified DIY approach of most D&T departments, it might be better to focus on developing a Design Thinking approach across other areas of the curriculum, such as Art and Design, Drama, English, Business and Enterprise and IT, where open-ended creative problem-solving and extended project work is accepted as part of the learning experience.

But I would have thought that after more than 20 years of D&T being in the National Curriculum and the chance to improve things even further in the latest revised orders, all this would have been sorted out by now?

Yes, you might indeed think that, but it’s not. Oh, and by the way, horticulture hasn’t gone away – it’s still there, but just at the end.

Do say: “Design and technology is an inspiring, rigorous and practical subject. Using creativity and imagination, pupils design and make products that solve real and relevant problems within a variety of contexts, considering their own and others’ needs, wants and values.”  (from the D&T Purpose statement)

Don’t say:  “Pupils will use mechanisms such as levers, sliders, wheels and axles in their products. From the age of seven, pupils will use mechanical and electrical systems, such as series circuits incorporating switches, bulbs and motors. At secondary school, pupils will use advanced design techniques such as mathematical modelling and biomimicry. They will learn to use specialist tools, such as 3-D printers, laser cutters and robotics. Pupils will be taught to incorporate and program microprocessor chips into products they have designed and made.  (from the D&T Programmes of Study).

And finally:

with the days of the book-end, the pipe rack and the key fob well and truly behind us, All Change Please! is proud to announce the next generation of classic Year 7 D&T projects to deliver the new requirements for the National Curriculum, soon to be appearing in a school near you…

The Brief: A cereal manufacturer want to include a free gift inside every box of cereal it sells. They have asked you to come up with ideas for an imaginative toy or gift.

The toy or gift can be made in any size, material and colour you like provided it is no bigger than 8 cms in any direction (the maximum size our 3D printer can manage) and is made of bright green plastic (which is the only type of ‘ink’ we can afford to obtain).

© Tristram Shepard/Ruth Wright 2013

Image credit: Alexis Finch


21st Century Schizoid Learning

I first encountered the world of education (as a prospective teacher as opposed to a student) some 37 years ago, in 1975, which by chance marked the dawn of the final quarter of the 20th century. It was a time when design and processed-based education was being pioneered. The phrase ‘throw-away society’ had already be coined, and we all knew about the hidden persuasive power of the media and advertising. And because of the oil crisis in the early 1970s there was much talk of the need for conservation and alternative energy, and public collaboration and for greater participation in new design processes. Quite clearly the end was in sight for the then current approach to the industrial society, mass-production and established design-by-drawing methodologies. By the end of the 1970s the impending impact of the computer on our lives was becoming evident too.

So when I come across the phrases ‘21st Century Learning‘ and ‘21st Century Skills‘, I can’t help thinking that what is actually being discussed is ‘late 20th Century Learning and Skills‘. The need for critical evaluation and problem-solving, creativity and innovation, communication and collaboration was clearly identified way back in the last century, but it has taken 37 years for them to start to become more widely identified and accepted (except of course by the present UK government).

Let’s project forward another 37 years then, to 2049. What are the educational needs of someone actually born in the 21st Century? The oldest will be turning 12 this year, and by 2049 will be 49. But unlike the 1960s and 70s when the next 25 years seemed relatively easy to anticipate, there’s now little indication as to how things will be in the future. The only prediction we can perhaps make, based on the fact that technology has clearly entered a highly disruptive phase, is that the next quarter of a century is completely unpredictable.

Thus the so-called ’21st Century Learning and Skills’ might well be hopelessly out-dated and inadequate to deal with living and working in the later years of this century. I suspect (and hope) they will still have some value, but who knows what things will actually be like in the brave new world our current generation of school-children will find themselves?

Perhaps the most important thing we should be focusing on is to ensure the inhabitants of tomorrow’s world are as flexible as possible in their thoughts and actions, well prepared for and accepting of discontinuous change as something normal, and more than willing to take risks and deal with failure. But surely the most important thing of all is to ensure that 21st Century children gain a positive view of education, and the ability to be able to learn for themselves in whatever future they encounter? Sadly, at present, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Image credit: Photo-Extremist:

The art of anticipation

Today’s futures forecast – major disruption is expected…

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, things didn’t change very much. Tomorrow would be very much like today, which was much the same as yesterday and the day before was. But slowly, ever since around the 1960s, the rate of change has started to speed up a bit. The pace really began to pick up in the 1980s and 1990s, but even then many people believed things would stop changing after a while and go back to normal – and after all computers “are just another tool aren’t they“? But things just kept on changing, and increasingly we started to accept the fact that frequent change was inevitable, albeit in evolutionary, predictable ways that were perhaps not too difficult to cope with. Today, a few brave souls are finally beginning to realise that tomorrow’s changes are becoming increasingly unpredictable, discontinuous and disruptive, and that the reality is that tomorrow is unlikely to be like anything we’ve ever had to deal with before.

Predicting the future is, in itself, not that difficult – science fiction writers have being doing it for years. But what they consistently get wrong is how long it is going to be before their visions become a mainstream reality. 1984 is still on its way. The voyage to Jupiter due to depart in 2001 has been indefinitely postponed. And somehow I don’t think that by November 2019 Los Angeles if going to be full of flying cars, or off-world colony replicants for Harrison Ford to identify and terminate. But one day, I’m sure all these things will come to pass.

Meanwhile this video link appeared the other day. A group of schoolchildren had asked delegates at the LWF12 conference for their views on the future – what it will look like, and what are the skills that will be needed to be successful? Full credit to the school and children involved in making the video – however many of the responses were somewhat predictable – digital literacy, more engaging computer technology,  global communication through utopian technological fixes, or the more dystopian, ‘we’ll all have to save more to survive’. And it may be more honest, but is it acceptable anymore to admit you don’t really know what the future will bring?

Now, given that I’ve had more time than the delegates did to think of clever answers, what struck me was that they were generally speaking providing essentially wild, uninformed guesses, aspirations and fears. Which is worrying really, because, assuming things continue to change discontinuously at an increasingly fast pace, my prediction is that one of the most essential successful survival skills of the 21st century will be the ability to anticipate and predict what’s going to happen next, and even more importantly, when. And that’s something that’s yet to make it onto the curriculum.

Futures forecasting is, of course, by no means new, and there are plenty of well established techniques and methodologies. Essentially there are two main approaches. The first is ‘predictive’, where subjective guesses are made about expected desirable and undesirable outcomes, supported by likely evolutionary time-scales, projections and statements made about the social, economic, technical and political circumstances that will need to be in place for that particular future to occur. The second type is a ‘predictive’ forecast based on detailed and sophisticated data analysis and extrapolation of current market and social, cultural, and economic trends and cycles – and ‘web analytics metrics‘ derived from computer-generated user behaviours is an approach that’s already very big business. A third approach is called ‘scenario writing’, which usually involves a mixture of normative and predictive forecasts.

In our future world the holy grail for our global corporations is to be able to predict what you are going to do or want before you even know it yourself, and then push it at you. And as a result we are going to need to be a lot clearer about what sort of a future we really desire for ourselves and others. More than ever before we are going to need a rich mixture of creative and logical thought and action to be able to survive by knowing how to learn from the past to understand the present and anticipate the future. And a new hybrid approach to the recently denationalised subjects of Design and Technology and Information Technology would be an excellent place to start.

Flippin’ Tech!

It seems that the Khan Academy continues to get funded and promoted as the transformational answer to the future of education we’ve been waiting for all these years..

At one level I have no problem with students watching short video clips that support a broad-based learning experience, and maybe the Khan Academy will eventually get round to providing some that are actually inspiring and accessible. My main concern is that politicians, school managers, parents and even students themselves will come to accept that this is the apogee of what digital learning has to offer.

For example, one of this year’s new buzzphrases appears to be ‘Flip the Classroom‘, or ‘Flip-thinking‘. Essentially the idea is that instead of using classroom time to deliver fact-based learning, students watch knowledge-led video lectures for homework and spend their time in class applying what they have learnt, under the direction of their teacher. The suggestion is that “they can stop and review things when they want, do things at their own pace, do it when it’s convenient”, and that they need time out of class to “reflect, ponder, get to grips with the ideas“. That is of course assuming all children have access to the internet whenever they want or need it.

Flip the classroom every teacher should do this

Hopes that the internet can improve teaching may at last be bearing fruit


As a result the suggestion is that learning technologies – such as computers – should be removed from classrooms, which can then be transformed into more friendly ‘learning environments’. And of course that the Khan Academy continues to be hailed as the cutting edge of ICT for teaching and learning. Apparently Khan ‘gets it’. Well, I’m afraid I don’t. It’s still very much a case of ‘New Technology, Old Learning’. And the danger is that while Khan might say it is intended only as part of a wider learning experience, it may quickly become the only learning experience for some.

So is ‘flipping the classroom‘ really a revolution in teaching and learning? I think not. Because when I was at school we had primitive tech devices called ‘textbooks’ which were full of dull  ‘just in case’ facts and which we had to learn for homework for a memory test the next day. That never worked for me then, and it certainly won’t work now for the vast majority of today’s students. And the idea of watching short review or preparation video is hardly new either – I was producing similar resources for an educational publishers 20 years ago. The only difference is they were being delivered on CDs. And they contained a high proportion of images and short amounts of text.

Quite frankly, studying the most current ‘old-fashioned’ illustrated, activity-based textbooks is a lot more informative than watching a tedious lecturer in front of a blackboard droning on in a situation where you can’t ask any questions, and the presenter has no feedback about whether anyone is listening, let alone understanding what is being said.  And what happened to the idea of personalisation, in that factual content is made more accessible as it can be placed in the localised context of the learner? Or the need to learn how to ask questions and find the answers for oneself, or how to collaborate, communicate and be a flexible, creative problem-solver?

Now I’m a great fan of the appropriate use of educational technology, and while ‘flipping the classroom‘ might have value for a small academically-inclined minority, for the average learner it’s going to be a complete turn-off, particularly if it’s the Khan Academy we are relying on. Before we flip anything in that way we need to first create high quality digital learning resources that are truly inspirational, use familiar examples drawn from real-life applications, provide insightful analogies and a little bit of humour to make the complex seem simple. Based on what I’ve seen so far I’d much rather any students of mine spent their time watching finely-crafted, thought-provoking, inspirational TED talks than Khan videos.

And then there’s ‘Get ten in a row automated assessments right and you move on‘? Per-lease…! This is just old-fashioned academic fact-filling, teaching to the test and increasingly irrelevant grading and class position. Not to mention: ‘These videos will never go out of date” and “Learning is like riding a bicycle“. This isn’t reinvention. It’s automation of the past.

Meanwhile ‘Getting rid of technology in the classroom‘ entirely misses the point about the potential use of mobile digital learning, in which information is at hand 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – if you know where to look for it – and that hand-held devices provide highly sophisticated problem-solving modelling and communication apps alongside access to a global social network. Life is no longer based on received wisdom from the past, but on received wisdom of the present. What we really need to be doing is having the technology to hand, right there in every classroom so that teachers can be continually instructing students in how to use it appropriately, and increasingly independently.

The Industrial Revolution ‘flipped’ the way many people lived, worked and thought during the 18th and 19th centuries. We now live in the ‘Information age’, and there are already many examples of how it is causing things to completely turn previously accepted practices upside down and inside out, such as in the music, movie, book publishing and marketing industries. In education, what really needs to be flipped is the curriculum and teacher-led, knowledge-based learning, along with society’s attitude to vocationally-related learning.

And you don’t want to know what DH Lawrence used the word ‘flipping’ as a euphemism for back in 1911. Or do you?

Now where did I leave my Google?

Is this the fatally-flawed new iPad 3 tablet?

‘Too much internet use can damage teenagers’ brains‘ screams a headline in the Daily Mail.
How Googling can harm your memory’ announces the Daily Telegraph above a further, and entirely un-related, article headlined: ‘Fatal tablet dispensed in error‘, which as it happens, was nothing to do with accidently issuing a schoolchild with a faulty iPad, but just for a moment it made me wonder.

The Telegraph report is on some rather limited research data that suggests that the way we remember things may be starting to change. It’s interesting that they interpret ‘change’ as ‘damage’ and ‘harm’. What the researchers actually discovered was that people are making less effort to remember facts and more to recall where they will be able to find particular items of information when they actually need  them. We are thus apparently developing our ‘transactive’ brain abilities. And the researchers go on to suggest that as a result educators need to become increasingly focused on imparting greater understanding of ideas and ways of thinking, and less focused on memorisation.

Meanwhile the ever-dependable Mail goes a step further and provides a test to discover if you are already addicted to the web, with the sub-head ‘A terrible shame – It’s a wake-up call’. Apparently excessive internet use may be causing parts of teenagers’  brains to waste away, based on a study of 19 year-old students who spend between 8 to 13 hours a day, six days a week playing games online.

There’s no question that we do need to do more research to discover the ways in which the internet is disrupting the way we think and behave, and as a consequence changing the way we learn. There are some facts we do need to memorise, and it would be crazy to spend all day, every day living in a virtual world, but we have yet to work out which are the essential facts to remember, and when it’s best to be online or in the real world.

But to promote the idea that using computers is damaging our brains  makes it more difficult for teachers and parents to swallow the pill and accept that IT and learning are a positive development. Until then, we are just going to need to keep taking the tablets ourselves.