A new, gold-standard design and technology (D&T) GCSE

D&T Interim Report

Perhaps the title of this article should be “Back to the Future” for we have been here before.

I am not really sure where to start in commenting about the new “Gold Standard” GCSE Design and Technology subject content. [i]That is not because there is little to say, quite the opposite. In fact I want people to be very much aware of what is going on, and what has gone on, in D&T that has led us around in a circle and again with the same drivers but without the same critical resources.

Although we have gone around in a circle returning to where D&T was in 1977 the circle is very much smaller than it was.

In 1977 we had CDT, not just an additional letter but an important aspect of design,  “Craft”. It is there again in this version, well the objectives is, but not in the title:

develop a broad knowledge of materials, components and technologies and practical skills to develop high quality, imaginative and functional prototypes

Perhaps it’s not “Gold Standard” speak to mention “craft”!

So much is hidden away in the aims and objectives and the content of the Gold Standard that shows we have come full circle you can understand the need to keep quiet about it.

It would be rather foolish to admit that D&T has been torn apart, devalued, and marginalised despite saying

design and technology is important to the creativity, culture, sustainability, wealth and well-being of the nation and the global community.

You would think with a billing like that it would be a core subject let alone a Foundation Subject as it was in in 1988[ii]. No D&T remains optional and excluded from the EBacc [iii]

What of the “guidance” the government sought, well this is what internationally-renowned designer  (any designer is not good enough for a gold standard) James Dyson says:

Design and technology is a subject of fundamental importance. Logical, creative and practical – it’s the only opportunity that school students have to apply what they learn in maths and science – directly preparing them for a career in engineering. But until now, this subject’s tremendous potential has not been met.

I wonder why this subjects “tremendous potential” has not been met. Really!  No I don’t, I know why and it’s not rocket science (which, by the way, without D&T would not have got off the ground).  I’ll come back to why later. Let’s look at the other issues first.

According to Dyson, and the government for why else would they include the statement, D&T is

the only opportunity that school students have to apply what they learn in maths and science

So that is why it is there, to make sense of and to give a purpose to maths and science. Well if student’s fail D&T we know who to blame or will D&T have to do the work of these core subjects and make sure students know their maths and science. I happen to believe D&T is way more than a way of making sense of maths and English. The process of recognising a need, developing a solution and evaluating the impact is a very rewarding one too. There is also a link to the ability to manage our environment to meet or needs. This is even more important if we see learning as an environment to master. Perhaps this is the greatest benefit of D&T – developing life long learners.  My work on developing Learning Intelligence certainly puts the D&T approach at the centre for it provides the tools to manage your own learning.

LQ and design

Looking back to 1988 we can see the original blueprint for D&T in the form of Attainment Targets within the now dated document shown at the start of this article.

“Initially, within the design and technology profile component, five ATs were proposed:

AT1: Explore and investigate contexts for design and technological activities

AT2: Formulate proposals and choose a design for development

AT3: Develop the design and plan for the making of an artefact or system

AT4: Make artefacts or systems

AT5: Appraise the processes, outcomes and effects of design and technological activities.”

Lady Parks, Chair of the D&T working group declared,

Our approach to design and technology is intended to be challenging and new. The aim of our proposals for design and technology is to prepare pupils to meet the needs of the 21st century; to stimulate originality, enterprise, practical capability in designing and making and the adaptability needed to cope with a rapidly changing society.

Sound familiar?

Without going over too much history I believe it is fair to say little has changed in the ambitions for or the scope of D&T, only some of the specific subject areas have been omitted (e.g. food)  and the language and presentation differ, and then only slightly.  So we should ask the question why are we reinventing the wheel?  It must be, surely, because D&T has failed to achieve its potential and needs radical reform  but if so why? It cannot be the subject itself because even the “Gold Standard” version reiterates the value and scope of D&T we had way back in 1988, so little in the way of reform. No,  it must be something else.

I would claim a general lack of support for and understanding of D&T is at the heart of why this essential subject has become little more than glimmer of its former self on the timetable.

Perhaps we need a simple example to make the point. How about expecting somebody who sees only in black and white to understand and support the intrinsic values of rainbows.

Those who are not involved in designing and making have little understanding of its value even if they make the right noises. How else would we account for the now lowly position of D&T in the curriculum?

D&T needs a vocal champion. Either a group or an individual that is able to promote the specific and broader benefits D&T has to offer.

I would also argue that those who were in a position to lobby for D&T have failed to step up to the mark and defend its position in the curriculum when it counted the most. My evidence for this is the on-going call for engineers, for designers, for STEM and for STEAM and the many other voices without substance that have gone before.  These initiatives keep bubbling to the surface only to be washed away and re-surface years later. This to me demonstrates the need but not the understanding.

My own experience is that those in engineering, many who have a maths and science background, have little understanding of the subject of D&T and therefore do not champion it. We are still recruiting students into engineering who do not know one end of a hammer from the other.


Where there have been great initiatives such as the Technology Enhancement Programme (TEP) we have seen a lack of continued support and funding undermine their impact. Schools have shown their ability to innovate and develop initiatives such as my own Centre for Industrial Studies but once again they need recognition and support if they are to fight off the narrow drive for standards and a limited view of what constitutes an education.

Asking James Dyson to be part of the process of review was a brilliant stroke in PR terms but little else unless changes actually happen in terms of D&T’s status in the curriculum.

We have also failed to recruit D&T teachers over the years.  My own career in teaching D&T was partly due to a recruitment campaign in 1974! This year just over 40% of places in D&T training have been filled. [iv]  Nottingham Trent has closed its D&T teacher training course this year. You can’t teach a subject without teachers!

So let’s reflect on this “Gold Standard” D&T subject and ask will it live up to the potential offered by D&T or will it fall foul once again to those who look at the curriculum in monochrome.  Will it be given the opportunity to demonstrate how much an impact on learning it can make, not just act as a service that makes sense of maths and sciences, but a real difference to the way teach. Let’s hope so.

Step up a champion for D&T ready to take on those that continue to deny its rightful place in our curriculum.

A promotional video for D&T – well worth sharing:

What is Design and Technology and why we need it. 

[i] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/473188/GCSE_design_technology_subject_content_nov_2015.pdf


[ii] http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/pdfs/2009-CSFC-national-curriculum.pdf


[iii] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/english-baccalaureate-ebacc/english-baccalaureate-ebacc


[iv] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/380175/ITT_CENSUS_2014-15_FINAL.pdf



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About AcEd

"4c3d" (AcEd) is the abbreviation for Advocating Creativity in education, a company I set up to challenge how we think about and deliver education. The blog champions my concept of Learning intelligence, how we manage our learning environment to meet our learning needs as well as detailing those needs: Power Belonging, Choice and Fun - PBCF. Kevin Hewitson 2019

5 responses to “A new, gold-standard design and technology (D&T) GCSE”

    • Andy Mitchell says :

      Hi Kevin. I’m not sure if we’ve met before either actually or virtually. Thanks for posting this up – came across it in your response to David Barlex on Product Design Surgery FB page. Always interested in people who have a view about D&T and also have like me been involved in its evolution since its conception in 1988. Its really helpful when people engage and of course invite comment. So thank you for doing that.

      Not much time now but just a couple of points I’d make.

      You are quite correct in implying that because D&T is not an EBacc subject, it is not enjoying the status and gaining the value it should. But of course the decline of its uptake at GCSE and typical curriculum time allocated at KS3 has been prevalent for much longer than the emergence of that construct. Indeed the linear decline in entries has been since 2004 when the ruling over compulsory study at KS4 was removed.

      The report that Government at the time commissioned Dyson to produce was largely ignore and his further involvement in for example the 2014 rewrite of the Nat Cur PoS and subsequent 2015 GCSE and GCE Subject Knowledge was completely buried. (He did however make comment periodically throughout via the James Dyson Foundation).

      So the significance of the specific Dyson quote relating to mathematics is not great particularly taken out of context. What has been the intention in the more recent public documentation is to recognise the contribution of a non exclusive range of subjects when designing, hence the use of the word ‘including’ followed by a list. That is however not to detract from the point that Dyson was making at the time.

      D&T does indeed need champions. It has the group in the D&T Association which with its limited reserves, has achieved a huge amount in the past few years. But one thing it has not managed to do is secure the really active patronage of significant industrialists in either design or related industries, although it has worked very hard to do so, even employing the services of three PR companies during this period. We have of course gained support from many who fall into the category of the ‘great and the good’ as you will be aware from following the campaigns, and exploring the various media they produced.

      But my question to you is who with influence and position, do you think could be enlisted that might take up the challenge? Some names would be helpful.

      In terms of your assertion that we have gone around full circle and ended up back where we were in 1977, I can’t agree. I was teaching CDT around that time and when I reflect on the curriculum that existed then and what exists now, they are very different. To start with there was no published National Curriculum PoS and what was taught was largely informed by material specific examination specifications. (Of course there is a similarity in the position of food as a material was not included then as it is not now at KS4. But lets now forget that for the KS1-3, food technology is still a requirement for state maintained non academy schools). What I would concede is that much of the content of the new documents and is reinstated as central, is deliberately closely related to the early thinking (greatly informed by David Layton) expressed in the 1988 interim report. Working from contexts and identifying needs and opportunities being just one example. This needed doing, as in many respects, D&T in many schools has remained more closely related to subjects that preceded it, rather than the established and DfE authoritative definition of what D&T states, – irrespective of which definition one choses to use.

      With respect to impact on learning, there may be many shortcomings in the current, documentation underpinning D&T and published by DfE. But what there is, in my opinion providing real opportunity for the subject to demonstrate D&T’s worth, if (and it may be a big if), schools choose to run with it and take up those opportunities working with what it promotes. It has been no mean achievement to turn around the original view of Gove’s Expert Panel, which consigned D&T to the ‘basic curriculum’ due to it not having a sufficient epistemological basis, working around two ministers Truss and Gibb, to end up with what we have. It could have been and nearly was, twice, disastrous!

      Where we would agree I’m sure, is that part of the challenge – indeed the biggest challenge, is to do this against a back drop where specialist ITT has been all but dismantled and the responsibility handed over entirely to those in schools who have little experience and similarly little time to do what experts used to provide in centres like NTU and SHU. As worrying, is the very limited opportunity for those interested in taking up positions in a supporting and advisory capacity generally also associated with curriculum development and supported implementation. In simple terms we have a chronic lack leaders and leadership positions.

      But I still remain optimistic for the subject. But if it is to survive, it has to make some fundamental changes at grass roots, changes that are supported by not inhibited by recent documentation.

      I think there might be a broken link at the bottom of your blog relating to ‘A promotional video for D&T – well worth sharing: …’ I can’t open the link and am interested in knowing what it points to.


      • 4c3d says :

        I too am not sure if we have met Andy, happy to put that right though either virtually or over coffee if you are ever in the Northampton area.
        Thanks for you considered response.

        I agree about D&T loosing status when it was no longer counted as a core subject. D&T has always been vulnerable because perhaps it’s expensive, there remains a shortage of specialist teachers and it requires a lot of space and resources. I am not even counting the timetable implications that schools have to put up with. Being a core subject gave it some much needed protection. I have to come back to the point though that we are still looking at D&T as a subject and only measuring it in these terms. I believe strongly that there is a much broader legacy or impact to D&T firmly rooted in the skills, attributes attitudes and behaviours of learning. We need to make more of this.

        The Dyson quote was used to suggest how D&T was viewed by Government rather than Dyson.

        Who indeed to champion D&T ? The video link is to Dick Powell (now repaired– thanks for bring it to my attention). Two issues – we have to highlight the advantages of studying D&T beyond that of a subject. This will give us the more significant academic support D&T needs in a curriculum context. Next we have to develop champions at a local level. My example of a Centre for Industrial Studies provided local people with the opportunity to voice their support as well as give practical help and more importantly an element of status (subject and students) within the school. We can look to organisations too that are promoting entrepreneurs and enterprise which use many of the D&T processes and practices within their activities.

        Without wishing to offend Andy and not knowing your background it probably depends on what D&T training you had back in 1977. Yes the curriculum may have changed but the philosophy (epistemology) I encountered in my training (1974-77) has not changed. In fact what I learnt then has and continues to influence every aspect of my work in education. D&T is far more a way of thinking than it is a subject!

        I feel I am very much alone when I talk of the impact of D&T on learning. My work over the past 5 years has been to write about and promote a concept about how and why we learn I call “Learning Intelligence” or “LQ”. The way I urge people to look at learning is as a problem solving exercise. LQ is about managing our learning environment to meet our learning needs. Many of the skills, attitudes, attributes and behaviours are based on design practices. This is how we need to demonstrate the intrinsic value of D&T and why it is essential in any modern curriculum.

        We do indeed agree on the problem of training D&T teaches and leaders. After being a head of faculty in D&T it was my aim to move to an advisory level but in 2000 I watched many of the posts disappear. Even being involved in ITT I was dismayed by the lack of understanding of what it takes to train an effective D&T teacher. The loss of the Cert Ed was a significant backward step in my opinion. There are opportunities to support existing teachers though. I am thinking of things like TeachMeets that could have a specific D&T focus and self help workshops aided/promoted by the D&T association. Look to the Microsoft and Google models too.

        I too am optimistic for D&T, I have after all made the advocacy of creativity my chosen occupation and vocation. My caveat though is we need the two aspects of academic acceptance and the local voice to give it any form of a chance. Perhaps if we can get people to recognise LQ we can also get D&T the recognition it both deserves and needs.


  1. Andy Mitchell says :

    Hi Kevin, just stumbled on this again, as a consequence of engaging with others on the Facebook thread I started actually before you message on Monday. As you know it has attracted a huge amount of attention in the community, though I fear the less politically astute are attributing far too much importance to what was only a routine debate in the Lords. That said, it is a milestone in the campaigning I and others have been heavily involved in leading.

    I enjoyed your contribution above and I’d forgotten I’d responded back in December.

    For information and as you mentioned it, after my schooling in Lincolnshire, my initial ‘training’ consisted of 4 years at Loughborough in the 1970’s, followed by various OU courses including an MA with the OU (when it was still possible to do one containing predominately design education courses). I later set up and ran the MA in D&T Education at Sheffield Hallam University where I was an academic for 10 years. Sadly, just as the OU qualification is no more, neither is the SHU model although it did run successfully for some 15 years I think. I’ve been the Deputy CEO at the Association since 2005.

    We do need more people engaging and writing about the subject and as you have, drawing our attention to the importance of creativity and its centrality to both D&T and teaching and learning. I too bemoan the lack of evidence of the latter shining forth in many situations. But to end on a positive note, I would add that there is good work going on out there and much of what happens in schools is in fact a considerable improvement on what I reflect back on, in my days of teaching in schools. Important not to get too downhearted and dewy eyed but easily done. I have huge admiration for teachers coping with what is thrown at them, without the initial preparation we took advantage of way back, and the levels of support that in the past we could depend and rely on.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

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