Fixated by Design


So as the academic year desperately drags to its inevitable conclusion and teachers’ thoughts turn to escaping for a long, hot summer somewhere nice, it’s kind of the DfE and Ofqual to set everyone some holiday homework. Yes, with typical impeccable timing, the latest draft GCSE D&T specifications have just been published for consultation, due for return by the 26th August.

Along with the consultation forms, the specifications can be downloaded from here and here.

Generally, for Product Design-fixated teachers everywhere, the draft looks very encouraging. There is a clear approach to the use of explore/create/evaluate iterative design processes and of multi-materials and technologies. And the slightly odd jumble of proposed contexts from the previous drafts has been replaced by a list of suggestions for ‘contextual challenges’ that essentially read as ‘anything that does not prompt the use of a specific material, technology or discipline’. As expected though, coursework, or NEA (Non Exam Assessment) as it is curiously now known, is reduced to 50%, with a 50% completely inappropriate written paper: if Art and Design can be 100% NEA, why can’t D&T?

All that really remains is for one or two important details to be sorted out and clarified, and for the Awarding Bodies to get busy over the summer starting to develop user-friendly final specifications and examinations. Oh, and of course over the next couple of years, an awful lot of CPD to help the more traditional single-material specialist teachers who will have to develop a somewhat broader approach to delivering coursework, and to work out what the word ‘iterative’ actually means.

Obviously it’s up to each individual to decide for themselves how they wish to respond to the consultation, but here is All Change Please!‘s list of things it thinks would be worth mentioning, which you may or may not agree with, but you are welcome to include in your response if you wish – though do make sure you suitably personalise your comments!

1. It’s important to send a positive message supporting the multi-material, iterative design approach, and the specification as a whole.

2. On page 3 the explanation of the word ‘prototype’ is generally helpful, but the understanding of ‘product’ less so. A prototype might not need further design development as such, but simply require the use of manufacturing technologies not available in a school workshop. The final ‘outcome’ of design practice is likely to be a ‘proposal‘ rather than an actual finished, saleable object, except perhaps where the item is a ‘one-off’.

3. On page 5, point 7, there is a requirement for ‘at least one prototype and at least one product… based on a brief they develop..’. This lacks clarity, and possibly confused thinking on the part of Ofqual. It needs to be replaced with ‘at least one prototype or one product’ (which is how it is expressed in 2. in the Introduction).

4. In the Technical knowledge and understanding section the content seems a bit muddled. Ideally there would be a clearer distinction between the general, broad core of knowledge of materials and tools and a more in-depth knowledge of certain areas or aspects, chosen by the student.

5. In Designing and making principles (9) again some clarification is required. Ideally it should read:… ‘one design brief and at least one design specification‘ (as distinct from a manufacturing specification). It would also be useful to add.. ‘even though the design requirements might change during the development of the design’.  And presumably they mean ‘from their own consideration of…, supported by those identified by others‘, rather than a separate brief and specification for a problem they have identified and a separate brief and specification for a problem someone else has identified? Are students expected to undertake one or two pieces of coursework?

6. On page 7, re. ‘use different design strategies’, the term ‘design fixation‘ is not currently in common usage in D&T. It does of course mean fixated by a single design idea, rather than with design and designing itself!

7. Then, still on page 7, ‘design and develop at least one product…’ Again this needs to read one prototype or product. The explanation of innovation, provided at the bottom of the page, needs improvement. It would be more appropriate to use the word ‘creative’ to cover something new or novel, and perhaps unusual or unique. The word ‘innovation‘ indicates a design that will potentially lead to the widespread adoption a new type or class of product as a solution to a problem.

8. And re. ‘appropriate materials and components…‘, again there is the confusion between ‘one prototype and one product.’

9. While it is good to see the links with Science and Maths at the end, thus helping establish the contribution of D&T to STEM, it’s a shame there are no links with Art & Design (the clue is in the name!). This would help identify the important aesthetic dimensions of design, which are not otherwise directly mentioned.

And last, but by no means least, while the specification potentially succeeds in encouraging a high quality, rigorous, intellectual and academic learning experience in design & technology, it does little for students who have traditionally sought the D&T department as a refuge where they can make potentially useful artefacts and develop valuable workshop skills. What’s also urgently needed are alternative specifications to meet their needs and wants.

Please forward this post to any D&T teachers you know!


Image credit: Flickr/ ji young Yoon

Chinese Takeaways


Creativity lessons in China: How many different uses can you think of for a pair of chopsticks?

China turns to UK for lessons in design and technology – Education

All Change Please! didn’t quite know whether to laugh or cry when it read the above story. It covered the announcement that there’s a crisis in China and they need to adopt a more creative approach in their schools to enable their nation to be able to design as well as make stuff in the future. To help solve the problem they paid for a delegation of D&T teachers from the UK to go out and advise them.

Partly because no-one had invited it on a freebie trip to China, but mostly because it wondered what effective advice the delegation might be able pass on, All Change Please! thought it would provide its own D&T ‘Takeaways’ for the Chinese Government, based on established UK practice:

1. Get a politician to develop the specification for D&T, based on her limited experience of what she did in school in the early 1990s. Ensure Horticulture is included simply as a result of pressure from a powerful parliamentary lobby group.

2. Develop an examination system that makes is as easy as possible to objectively assess performance, and consequently penalises students who take risks and demonstrate creativity and initiative.

3. Ensure the final examination includes a rigorous written paper that does not in any way measure design capability but is worth at least half of the marks.

4. Encourage every school to buy a 3D printer so they can mass-produce little green dragons to sell to willing parents in order to raise money to buy another 3D printer to produce even more little green dragons.

5. Decrease the status of the subject by significantly undermining its value in school league tables, so as to suggest it is only suitable for low-ability children.

6. Fail to give D&T a central role in unifying STEM (or better still STEAM) subjects, and build Great Walls between all subjects.

7. Ensure a substantial shortfall of suitably qualified teachers by drastically cutting back the number of available teacher training courses.

8. And – most important of all – fail to make any substantial investment in staff development over an extended period of time, i.e. a minimum of 25 years.

Fortune Cookie* say:  if China can manage to completely ignore All Change Please!‘s Takeaways, then we might indeed soon be seeing more things that are labelled Designed and Made in China. Especially as All Change Please! has every confidence that the DATA delegation will have passed on rather more positive advice of its own.

‘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’.

‘However we are planning to stage the John Adams’ Opera Dyson In China.’

* Myth-busting fascinating fact: Chinese Fortune Cookies were actually invented in Japan and popularised by the US in the early 20th Century. They are not eaten in China. Well that’s what it says on Wikipedia, anyway.

Image credit: Flickr/Simon Law

Little Missy Morgan: The Impossible Girl


When we last met Sir Humphrey Appleby and Malcolm Tucker, Tucker had just got the part of Dr Who and had gone back in time to ensure Michael Gove never became Education Secretary in the first place. However Sir Humphrey had his concerns about the alternative post holder. We catch up with them 15 months later (in Earth Years).

Sir Humphrey: Ah Doctor, it’s been a long time. How are things?

Doctor Who: Well it’s been a very short time for me of course, and it’s jolly tiring travelling through time and space all the time I can tell you. You wouldn’t believe the jet-lag. And of course I never get to sleep or eat anything. What’s more I’m really busy at present trying to decide whether I’m good or bad.

It’s so strange to hear you talking without swearing all the time.

Yes, I had to go through this regeneration thing to make me more suitable for prime-time family audiences. Anyway, how are you getting on?

Oh dear, well, things seem to be going from bad to worse really. After you got rid of that dreadful Gove chappie we got this Morgan woman who seems to think she can say what she likes. She’s supposed to be Teacher’s Friend to raise morale amongst the profession, but quite frankly she hasn’t a clue. I’m starting to suspect she thinks she’s The Master in disguise. Whatever, she’s a quite impossible girl to deal with – and definitely a suitable case for treatment.

I mean to say, last week she was speaking at a launch of a campaign to promote STEM subjects and she said that a decade ago young people were told arts or humanities were useful for all kinds of jobs but that: ‘Of course, now we know that couldn’t be further from the truth’, thus implying that taking arts subjects now limits their career choices.

You wouldn’t believe the fuss and curfuffle that caused because all the teachers of the arts seemed to think she was saying that children who chose to study their subjects at GCSE would be ‘held back for the rest of their lives’, when what she actually said was: ‘figures show us that too many young people are making choices aged 15, which will hold them back for the rest of their life’, which of course is something entirely different.

We immediately got a spokesperson to explain that Ms Morgan “had not meant to advocate one over the other, but wanted to stress the importance of STEM”, but naturally no one believed us.

Meanwhile the real problem is that she thinks that all we need to do is recruit more students to take Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths courses and Britain will be Great again, but until we find a way of moving from teaching each subject separately and adopting an unappealing academic, theoretical approach all we are going to do is get more students dropping out. And of course what we really need is for everyone to study a balance of Arts and STEM subjects.

Hmm. Well here’s a thought. I have some experience with impossible women. Perhaps I should take her on as my new travelling companion? I could show her some real schools – just like the one where I pretended to be the caretaker. I thought I was rather good at that, and of course as a result I know everything there is to know about teaching and learning.

Ah, yes, that sounds like an excellent idea. Hmm. While you’re at it, she’ll need some sort of whimpering, male side-kick won’t she? Perhaps you could take Nick Glibb along as well? He’s no better than she is. Just as we were beginning to appease the more progressive teachers, along he comes and says traditional ‘chalk and talk’ is the best method, because that’s how they do it in China. He’s completely lost the plot – all he seems interested in is securing the votes of Daily Mail readers.

Minister tells schools to copy China – and ditch trendy teaching for ‘chalk and talk’: Teachers speaking in front of a class ‘much more effective than independent learning’

And look, he’s at it again here:

Get textbooks back in class, schools are told: Minister says teachers must end reliance on worksheets and the internet during lessons

Obviously he’s not bothered to read Now this is what I call a textbook, otherwise he’d understand a bit more about the educational publishing business and that schools just can’t afford to buy class sets anymore. Maybe you could take him back to the 1950’s where he’d see that things weren’t better in the past? And preferably leave him there.

But if Morgan and Glibb still don’t get it after they’ve spent some time with you, perhaps you know of some alien race that could, err, exterminate them both?