A new, gold-standard design and technology (D&T) GCSE
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.”
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.
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.’
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: