The Emperor’s new clothes…………….how not to review the curriculum.

Yes, this is a student sat in front of an interactive whiteboard with a quill pen. Read the post and find out why.

Perhaps it is to do with the high levels of caffeine coursing through my bloodstream as a result of the espresso maker that was my Christmas present.  Perhaps it is just having some time to think.  Whatever the reason several ideas and thoughts have been bubbling away for me over the last day or two.  Priorities suggest that this post should be first so here goes.  In the dead (or very nearly dead if you are a teacher) days before Christmas a report slipped quietly into the public arena; a report which could have far reaching consequences for education in the UK.

Produced by an expert review panel, the report, in their own words, “focuses in particular on a number of recommendations, some of which have the potential to result in radical change to the National Curriculum, beyond change to curriculum content. We recognise that this will  present challenges to policy-makers, practitioners and stakeholders at many levels of the system. For this reason, we hope that the report will help to generate public discussion and  constructive contributions to the Department’s review of the National Curriculum over the weeks and months to com.”

If you want o find the full text follow the link. https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/eOrderingDownload/NCR-Expert%20Panel%20Report.pdf  If you would like to read a thought provoking take on the changes as they effect Design and Technology then you might like to check out a post entitled, “Mr Gove’s Splendid New Irrational Curriculum over on  http://tristramshepard.wordpress.com.  Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to find that I agree with much of what Tristram has to say, and yes, you have guessed it, there is a  “but”.  Lets start with the basics.  The review states that one of the intentions is to set out a compulsory core curriculum, thus allowing schools greater flexibility to tailor their offering to their locality.  It notes that high performing education systems share a broad curriculum up to the age of 16 and it suggests that the UK should do the same.  The group go on to suggest that Design Technology should be retained as a compulsory part of the curriculum through to age 16 but that there should be no national prescription for what should be taught in the subject.  Part of me agrees with Tristram at this point, what a great opportunity for teachers to develop their own local or perhaps regional expertise, let those who wish to embrace a developed view of Design Technology teach it their way and let those who  want to teach a more traditional craft based skill set carry on.

I sense in his statements a frustration that there is still a huge range of teachers and more importantly teaching styles in the Design Technology community.  It is also the case that recent developments in vocational courses for 14 to 16 year olds have been an amazing opportunity and the current governments apparent dislike of these vocational courses is nothing less than ill informed prejudice, we are in danger of scrapping a lot of very good work and the opportunity for many of pupils to study in a meaningful and productive way just because of the Telegraphesque perception that exams are getting easier all the time.  At the moment Design Technology is a very broad church,  those who teach it do so for very many reasons and from many different backgrounds.  Some focus on the design side, some see it as a skill based subject, some, James Dyson included have a vision of it which tends towards engineering design, some see it as a cousin of the arts.  In one sense this is a great strength for the subject community as it encourages teachers to teach from their enthusiasm.  All of us would be able to recognise good Design Technology when we saw it in a school but how much of that recognition would be to do with good, energised teaching?

The lack of a fully articulated theory of Design Technology has given rise to a number of issues, not the least of which is the observation but the review body that,  “Despite their importance in balanced educational provision, we are not entirely persuaded of claims that design and technology…(and other subjects)….have  sufficient disciplinary coherence to be stated as discrete and separate National Curriculum ‘subjects’.  It is perhaps churlish of me to mention that none of the reviewers have any background in a subject that might remotely lead them to have any other conclusion.  Tristram makes  a suggestion that readers will know I would agree with which is that now is the time for us to re position ourselves as purveyors of 21st century skills, music to my ears.  However Mr Gove appears to have no interest in such skills and it seems neither does his review panel.  Fascinating to see that their response to the infamous EBacc is a concern that the arts are being squeezed out in favour of academic subjects. Their conclusion is that all children should study Design Technology until 16 but that schools will be free to determine the content.   Ask yourself what your school would do given that freedom.

Having been a part of the community of committed teachers who have thrashed out the ground work for Design Technology over the last twenty years of the National Curriculum I recognise the significance of the process and the value of what has been achieved.  One of the problems facing the4 review group in their research is that as far as design education is concerned it is almost impossible to make comparisons as the subject is not taught in this discrete way in other countries.   Two points spring immediately to mind, the first is that perhaps this has something to do with the significance of British designers on the international scene, the second that it is perhaps why other high performing economies are looking to Britain for the answers to their educational woes in terms of teaching creative, problem solving, team working skills.    The quill pen, (Coincidentally wielded in my photo by an articulate, intelligent, creative problem solving award winning design student) in front of the IWB seems to be a representation of the direction in which we are in danger of heading, I would love to be wrong.

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