What does good Design Technology look like?

Sometimes when I sit down to write a post the ideas flow easily and sometimes they do not.  I started this post last night and got as far as the title which I really think needs some attention at the moment.   Regular readers will know that the cat has been thrown firmly among the pigeons as far as Design Technology is concerned by the actions of the current secretary of state for education.  The curriculum report by an expert panel served to re ignite the debate and I am sensing two views from those of us who are concerned about the future of Design Technology.  One argument has been that the subject is crucial to any notion of a rounded education for all pupils, it is this position that is adopted by DATA and if you have not already take a moment to visit their campaign website and sign up; http://www.believeindandt.org.uk/    The second position is expressed by other such as Tristram Shepherd; http://tristramshepard.wordpress.com and Daniel  Wakefield who commented on an earlier post of mine about why Design Technology should be at the heart of the curriculum.  I think I am fair to both by summarising their view to be that the subject has missed its opportunity to demonstrate what really good Design Technology should look like and that decision makers have been left with a limited understanding of its potential as a result.

Until quite recently I would have found this view hard to accept.  Throughout my career, and it is now a long one, I have been working with enthusiastic and committed teams who were developing a vision for what the new subject of Design Technology should be, what its aims were and what it had to offer to an up to date education system.  Each of those teams worked out a slightly different vision to the others but all were keen to push the boundaries while in many cases feeling a concern that what was already fine should not be dispatched too quickly.  I had assumed that what I experienced was the norm, that all schools and all teachers were working in the same way.  I have since come to realise that this is not the case.

One problem has been the range of subjects who have come together to form the curriculum grouping now known as Design Technology.  Woodwork, metalwork, cookery and needlework have been transformed, sometimes painfully into product design, graphics, food technology, textiles.  There have been low spots, under the influence of early curriculum designs we suffered the ‘design a sandwich’ experience as well as the, ‘sketch your pizza’ moment as teachers struggled to develop their understanding of how the subject was changing and what direction it should go in.  Teaching rooms were refurbished, often by the staff who were going to use them as very little money was put into these developments.  Equipment was scrounged or created, resources were scavenged and teachers spent hours learning new skills.  In recent years some schools have been fortunate to secure funding under a range of government initiatives though sometimes the money was used in ways that the politicians did not intend and never made it to the emerging Design Technology departments.

Given the starting point and the enormity of the task it is remarkable that a fairly small number of enthusiasts should have made the progress that they did.  Design became a discipline in its own right,  it became the subject of academic study and a philosophy began to emerge.  At the same time the pace of technological development was unabated.  Teachers wrestled with Sinclair Spectrum home computers, then with BBC or Acorn machines and finally PCs.  All this summed up for me by a colleague who complained bitterly that her exam syllabus had changed twice in ten years while mine had changed ten times in ten years.

In the last five years we have arrived at a point where really first class Design Technology teaching is happening in many schools.  Subject reports have often said that while the teaching of making skills is usually good the teaching of design skills is less well done and therein lies the problem.  We have expected makers to teach design.  Some have become adept at it.  A respected colleague and I were reflecting the other day that we both had the word handicraft in our degree titles but we were both passionate advocates of Design Technology taught well.   We have managed to develop our skills and understanding, not everyone has seen the need to do so.  Some because they never were designers, they were makers, some because they believed that teaching making was of value and did not want to lose sight of that, some for other reasons.

Perhaps it is the case that in those schools where Design Technology is really well taught it will flourish in spite of what the government of the day accomplishes by intent or ineptitude.  Perhaps where it has been successful as a subject in communicating the value of the contribution it can make to the education of all pupils it will develop.  Perhaps it is time to let those departments who have not risen to the challenge to wither and die back.  What deeply saddens me is that the abilities, the skills, the mental competences, the attributes and attitudes that are an integral part of good Design Technology will not be available to all our children if this is the case.  Having invested so much time and effort in the development of a world class curriculum in Design Technology it seems criminal to draw back rather than to push forward and ensure that the same high quality provision is available to all.  To be fair the expert panel who reviewed the curriculum did propose that some form of Design Technology should be taught to all pupils up to 16.  As usual the devil is in the detail.   The form and extent of that provision are very much up for debate.

If you have an interest visit the DATA website and have your say.  Write to your MP and make sure that at least those of us who have fought for a top class curriculum have our views considered.  We may have failed to educate our leaders as we  wrestled to develop the subject but it is certainly not too late to remedy that mistake.

One Response to “What does good Design Technology look like?”
  1. tristramshepard says:

    Great post! I agree that it is will be sad that ‘the abilities, the skills, the mental competences, the attributes and attitudes that are an integral part of good Design Technology will not be available to all our children’. However, in my experience I suspect that there are other ‘non D&T’ teachers who are actually better equipped to take the lead in delivering those qualities. I also believe it is better for a pupil to have a first-rate ‘handicraft’ experience than a third-rate ‘design a sandwich’ lesson. Indeed, sadly from a D&T perspective, some of the best lessons I have seen have been just that.

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