Are Bill and Ben now working at the DfE?


Was it Bill or was it Ben? And is Little Weed really Michael Gove?

The proposed new design and technology curriculum* is of course, a huge joke. It’s actually hilariously funny, until you realise that it isn’t. DATA have already made it clear that this was not in any way what they had submitted. The unconfirmed, but easy to believe, rumour is that Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men at the DfE drastically pruned the various submissions with a pair of secaturs, and re-potted them along with an old seed packet from the 1950s that they found in the shed at the bottom of the garden, while deciding to add ‘horticulture’ in just for a bit of fun, or perhaps out of some sort of self-interest. As a result it’s incoherent and inappropriately written, obviously by a wooden-headed puppet who has no knowledge of the subject whatsoever, and probably had a really bad experience with a CDT teacher while at public school. Who else could possibly have written:

Through working in fields selected from those listed in the introduction (materials (including textiles), horticulture, electricals and electronics, construction, and mechanics), pupils should be taught to…‘ ?

All Change Please! is surprised Mr Gove approved such a clumsy statement such as this. I wonder what he’s really up to? And perhaps even more worrying is the thought that Andy Pandy, Looby Loo and Big Spotty Dog might currently be in charge of the Departments of Health, the Treasury and Foreign Affairs.

Perhaps the most curious element is the sudden inclusion of ‘horticulture’ as a material to be studied and used. Where on earth has this come from? And then there are the strange references to pupils ‘working in the field’ – presumably the answer must lie in the soil..?  Essentially the proposals appear to signal a return to children being taught how to grow food and cook it, to knit, stitch, patch and mend, and to undertake motorcycle maintenance – albeit with missing Zen – just as they did in the 1950s. There is little emphasis on creativity or open-ended problem-solving, and design is largely relegated to ‘decoration‘ and making ‘things that work‘. Meanwhile: ‘Pupils should be given the opportunity to work in emerging areas of design and technology, such as food design, design for disability, and age-related design‘. That is to say, areas that actually emerged way back in the 1970s. I can’t imagine this is going to exactly impress Sir James and Sir Jonathan?

And does it really refer to the long-ago discredited and largely forgotten about ‘design cycle’. Yes, it does. Meanwhile I also look forward to some interesting conversations about how teachers should approach the challenge of the formal assessment of a pupil’s ‘love of cooking’.

All Change Please! has no problem with the introduction a slimmed-down specification of basic D&T concepts that define the basis of the subject. It’s just that this isn’t it as far as D&T is commonly taught in schools today. The question becomes what to do about it? The DfE are unlikely to admit to their incompetence and agree to re-conceive the whole document, and they currently seem even less likely to respond to the advice of subject associations or teachers.

But wait!  All Change Please! just wouldn’t be All Change Please! if it didn’t take an alternative, disruptive view of the situation. In fact it has come to the conclusion that the new D&T specification is actually a brilliant, forward-looking, post-modern, localised approach to 21st century convivial technology and sustainable self-sufficiency in the forthcoming age of austerity. And let’s be honest, in many schools a single well-taught woodwork or cookery lesson often provides a far better educational experience than a term’s worth of misapplied and misinformed, meaningless 1960s mass-production orientated D&T where all most pupils do is end up with a pile of sawdust and cake crumbs, supported by a dozen or so identical templated A3 development sheets.

Meanwhile, thinking back, some twenty or so years ago All Change Please! had an interesting discussion/argument/fight/bloody battle with some local authority advisors in which it unsuccessfully tried to persuade them that a project involving ‘designing with flowers’ for a large scale festival was every bit as much of a good D&T project as any other, if not more so in that it involved developing colour-coded graphic modelling systems, technical issues concerning how the seasonal flowers would be prepared, securely held in place and sustained, alongside the obvious aesthetic issues of combinations and contrasts of colour, texture and smell. Detailed planning and costing was essential. And back in the 1980s All Change Please! used to run ‘The Backdoor Project’ where students identified a small area of waste or derelict outdoor space and proposed how it should be re-planned, planted and landscaped. And there was the student who once did an excellent project on continuous-flow hydroponics, and the A level candidate who did a landscape architecture-based major project.  On these matters All Change Please! is of course speaking horticulturally, as Miss Prism once said, and therefore actually welcomes it as an area that perhaps should always have been included, particularly in terms of design for sustainability. As All Change Please! always used to say: ‘It’s not so much what you design that matters, it’s the way that you design it..

And in the future, when the oil runs low and gets prohibitively expensive, it’s going to be extremely useful to be able to maintain and repair everyday mechanical devices such as bicycles, sewing machines and wood burning stoves. For most people, tomorrow is not going to be about about innovating more and more sophisticated high-tech gizmos to be made by robots in China, but recycling, reusing and making things at a local level. Creative D&T teachers could really make this approach work, while perhaps the rest will actually be able to deliver the craft-based knowledge and skills they are actually good at.

It is of course important to remember that the proposed requirement is defining only the basics of what must be covered, and not what can’t be developed or included in addition. Does the document actually prevent good D&T teachers in any way from delivering good quality D&T? Perhaps the problem is not so much the intended content, but simply the way it has been written? Maybe the way forward is to confuse the DfE by congratulating it on its impressive vision, and politely offer help to improve the vocabulary and exemplification to make it more understandable to teachers? And that is exactly what All Change Please! is in the process of doing, as it will reveal in a further post in a few days’ time.

* The new proposed curriculum and consultation document can be downloaded here. The D&T section starts on page 156

Michael. You’re not listening are you?

If you are not familiar with Joyce Grenfell’s monologues, then do spend a few minutes listening to this one.  And even if you are, this classic called ‘Free Activity Period’ is well worth hearing again.

“Right class, now pay attention.  Yes, that includes you Michael.

There’s a lovely surprise this morning – it’s been announced that you can now take Computer Science as part of the EBacc Certificate., even though we don’t have anyone who can actually teach it.  Yes, I knew you’d all be pleased.  Of course this won’t mean you can all go on to earn lots of money in later life writing computer programs, because IT companies now prioritise things such as creativity, flexibility, evidence of being able to work collaboratively and having a good awareness of how business works.  Which I’m afraid will count you all out, but never mind.

Michael, you’re not listening are you?

Now of course as you know, here at the Russell Group Academy it’s extremely important that you all manage to achieve the EBacc Certificate, partly because we want you to go on and get a good education at a prestigious university, but mainly because our Academy needs to maintain its reputation.  Why’s that, you ask?  Because if we didn’t all those nice mummys and daddys might not want to continue send their darling children here, and I would lose my job, and we wouldn’t want that to happen now would we?  No, we certainly wouldn’t.  And also of course because if you do all get the EBacc certificate it will mean a jolly nice performance related pay-rise for me.

Michael, I won’t tell you again. What’s that Michael? No, you can’t be excused.

What was I saying?  Oh yes, who has heard of the phrase ‘Hobson’s Choice’?  No-one?  I would have thought you might know, Michael?  Well I’ll explain – it basically means having no choice at all.  Now, the reason I’m telling you this is because last week all of your teachers got together – well at least the ones that are left: we were so sorry that Miss Art, Ms Drama, Mr Design and Mr Technology all had to leave, weren’t we? – and we all talked about the fact that if any of you failed just one of your six EBacc subjects it would mean that you wouldn’t get your EBacc Certificate, and our Academy would fall even lower in the league tables.

Michael, I think you had better put that in the bin, hadn’t you? No, not later, now.

Anyway, as a result we thought it important that, just in case you don’t pass some of them, it would be best if you just concentrated on the subjects that are part of the EBacc.  So that means that next year you’ll be studying English Language, English Literature, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Computer Science, History, Geography, French and German. Let’s see, that makes 11 subjects.  Hmm.  Oh well, it’s better to be safe than sorry isn’t it?  So, that’s all jolly super as it means that next week when you hand in your EBacc subject option choices it won’t take you any time at all to fill in the pre-completed form.

What’s that Michael?  You wanted to do an Arts subject, RE and PE but now there won’t be any time?  Well, you should have thought about that before shouldn’t you?

No Michael.  Don’t do that.”