The EBacc is dead…..long live the EBacc

A sophisticated response to a simple design brief from a year 9 student

A sophisticated response to a simple design brief from a year 9 student

It will come as no surprise to many that the weekend has been full of conversations about the surprising events of last week as far as education is concerned.  First of all there was the news that Michael Gove had announced that he would not be pursuing the EBacc.  Could it be true?  Well as it turned out, no.  The name was being dropped but the substance, (or should that be lack of substance?),   was still there.  Following some devastating criticism from the Education Select Committee and apparently some legal advice, Mr Gove backed away from two of his ideas; changing GCSE examinations to EBCs and assigning subjects to single exam boards.  I confess to announcing a minutes silence for the passing of the EBacc but it seems I was premature.  What also emerged under the cover as it were of the parliamentary announcements was the proposed National Curriculum.  If you are an enthusiast for Design Technology then you will I am sure already have passed through the stages of disbelief, hysterical laughter, and perhaps panic, though not necessarily in that order.  If you have not had a chance to look at the document then here it is, http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/n/national%20curriculum%20consultation%20-%20framework%20document.pdf    Page 156 for Design Technology, prepare to be amazed.

By happy coincidence I was meeting with other Design Technologists at Falmouth University on Friday and we had a chance to discuss the state of play.  The University provided a wonderful and inspirational setting, much at odds with the pervading gloom of the delegates who were to a degree dumbfounded by the news.  Sitting amid the exhilarating examples of digital design, art and craft in the Academy for Innovation and Research was a most welcome antidote to the feelings engendered by what we were hearing from the government.  It was also a moment to decide that nothing could be allowed to stop the incredible progress made in the Design Technology community over the last few years.  The irony of the fact that our welcome pack included a traditional, flat carpenters pencil was not lost on us.  Most commentators have suggested a date of around 1950 for what the government are proposing and I do find that imagining Harry Enfield doing a wonderful 50’s pastiche helps as you read it.

The blow was softened by a national figure in the Design Technology world assuring us that the quality of we do in Cornwall was a national and indeed international lead.   Encouraging words indeed but also a tragic reflection on what we stand to lose.  That I think is what seems so wrong headed about these current proposals, they seem to have no regard for the quality of the work that our pupils produce, nor for the level of intellectual work that they engage with to produce it.  It is almost as if the people responsible for writing the proposal knew nothing about what Design Technology looks like, does and teaches.  Oh but wait, perhaps they don’t know anything about it?    I have often shared, both here and at conferences that we should never assume that an intelligent person necessarily understands what we do or how the activity that we call Design Technology engages every faculty of  intellect, skill and creativity.  Part of what I encourage teams to do is to educate those around them and for similar reasons a respected and much missed adviser always argued against having coffee in the department, encouraging us to be engaging in debate with other staff so that no opportunity to communicate what was important about the subject was missed.

With that in mind I want to encourage everyone who cares about these things, and most of all cares that our children get a broad, balanced and high quality education, to take every opportunity to sell the subject.  Start with your own school.   When you have something really good going on invite the senior leadership team to come and have a look.  If they miss the chance make sure that they get to hear about it anyway.  Speak with your school governors, ask if you can give them a ten minute presentation about what Design Technology  really is.    I was horrified when, having done just that, one of our governors said, “If you are doing all this how come I don’t see it when I come around on open evening?”  My mistake was to imagine that what I perceived was obvious, in fact it is not.  I promised him that I would personally make sure that he saw it next time and credit where it is due, he came to see me and we had a very positive evening.

My point is that, to use Billy Connolly’s phrase, “You just don’t get it.”  I am sure that this is true for most of our colleagues, many of our school leaders, a significant body of our parents and seemingly most of our politicians.  What galls me is that while my governor was prepared to be shown and to learn it seems that our politicians are not.  The curriculum that we are in the process of tearing up was developed over a number of years by hammering out agreement between knowledgeable people, by trialing ideas and revising them; not by adopting a partisan view based on a little knowledge and pushing it into action in spite of all advice to the contrary.  Now there are some positives, Design Technology is part of the curriculum for all at key stage 3 and must be available to all at key stage 4.  Schools will have to offer at least one design subject to GCSE and all pupils must have access to it.  Some commentators believe that the end result of all this may be to free up what we do in schools to allow us to develop relevant and significant local curriculum models.  However the response of many school leaders, who do not know what Design Technology is all about, suggests that many will not see Design Technology as a priority and will effectively find ways around this stipulation.  Time for us to make our voices heard.  The consultation is open, now is your chance to have your say.

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