Edging forward…….the tide turns for design in schools.


Forgive me for starting this post with an image of what is very much a post industrial landscape but in the last few years it has felt a bit like this if you are involved in or concerned about design in schools.  The persistence of the DfE in pushing forward the so called Ebacc with a target of 90% entry has left many of us feeling rather battered.  However the growing tide of voices calling for change is making this part of public debate and there does seem to be a consensus now among those in the creative industries that the current direction of travel in the curriculum is bad news for Britain.  Nicky Morgan, until recently secretary of state for education,  made it to Design Week’s top ten list for those who had influenced design in 2016, if that is making your blood boil then best you check out the story here and when your pulse rate has steadied then come back to this post.

So let’s look at some good news.  Another ex secretary of state, Kenneth Baker, has recently produced a report for the Edge Foundation and if you have not come across it then you probably should have a  look .  Or, of course, just read on for my summary.  Following a general review of the changing nature of the world of technology and the need for Britain to remain competitive in such a world Baker’s analysis of the current situation is devastating, he points out that the Ebacc is almost identical to the curriculum formulated in 1904 by Morant except that at least drawing was included in the 1904 version.  He argues that the curriculum was devised by those , “whose own direct experience of education was based on the classical curriculum provided by English public schools….”  If you have been following the debate you will remember that Michael Gove’s rationale for introducing the Ebacc was based on the notion that the subjects included would get you access to Russell Group universities.  Baker points out, “The argument appears to be that if it works for ‘the most privileged schools in our country’, it will work for everyone. In fact, it doesn’t now; and it won’t in the future.”

Baker also suggests, “As more young people are directed towards this narrowly academic curriculum, the risk of disengagement will increase. The symptoms of disengagement start with boredom, but can develop into disruption, disobedience and truancy. The point has already been made by the Social Mobility Commission:”  Any practicing teacher will readily recognise this indeed many pupils are quite happy to articulate the same thought as they are pressured into taking Ebacc subjects and steered away from the ones they know they want to pursue.  Baker goes on to say, “focusing on a narrow set of subjects, we automatically devalue all others. We also give a clear signal that bright, capable young people should actively avoid technical subjects and pathways, including apprenticeships. Many young people are now paying the price, having taken on enormous student loans only to find they cannot get well-paid, graduate-level employment.”  For many of us this is a stark summary of what we have been seeing in action in our schools, if you measure success by a narrow range of subjects and if the price of failure is so high then of course leadership teams are going to push the subjects that will help them succeed.  They would be mad to do anything else.

What Baker suggests is a blending of educational provision across the 14 to 19 range.  Known as an advocate of UTCs he makes much of the type of learning that he sees as being characterised by them but which many of us would see as being integral to good design technology teaching.  He suggest that Young Apprenticeships should be resurrected and that the key to making these work is to allow students to spend some of the week in schools or colleges and some in the world of work.   In some areas he also suggest that students might spend some of their time at school and some at FE colleges who can deliver industrial standard training.  Now I don’t know about you but the school I was working with were doing just that ten years ago.  What we have thrown away!  Baker also questions the end of year 11 hurdle and says that a cumulative diploma should record achievement over the whole 14 – 19 period rather than hang everything on exam performance at 16.  He is quite explicit in commending the Tomlinson report which he identifies as having achieved a broad consensus of support but was ignored largely because of a fear of the political consequences of having been seen to mess with A levels.

Some of the key points that come out of the report are these:

“ Primary schools should teach coding using educational apps and have 3D printers.

Secondary schools should teach Computer Science to half of 16 year olds.

We should reintroduce Young Apprenticeships from 14.

We need a strong technical stream for 14-19 year olds.

Universities should provide part-time funded courses for apprentices to earn a degree.”

The suggestion for a revise curriculum or a revised Ebacc would be this:

English and Maths

Two Science GCSEs, one of which could be computer science

A humanities GCSE from a list which would include history, geography, religious education and foreign languages

A creative GCSE from a list which would include art and design, music, dance and drama

A design and technology GCSE or an approved technical award: examples include the Cambridge National Certificate in Engineering and the Pearson BTEC First Award in Construction and the Built Environment.


And in summary the report suggest, “The revised EBacc is broader in conception. It paves the way to higher level learning in academic, creative and technical subjects. It closes no doors. It links to the needs of the economy. Above all, it enables young people to study subjects which support their personal talents and ambitions.”  I suspect that very few of us who care about design education would disagree with that statement and those of us who are witnessing the frustration and the waste of talent engendered by the current framework would welcome this.

The title for this post implies that things are taking a turn for the better and perhaps that is too optimistic.  It is hard to see how the current Ebacc can be maintained in spite of the governments mantra about rigour when the growing clamour of voices calling for a shift is so evidently justified.  For those of us who have witnessed the levels of application, rigorous thinking and maturity of outcomes engendered by good design technology teaching, for those of us who have seen the relief on the faces of students coming into our classrooms to do something real, for those of us who have known the joy of seeing a student find the area of learning in which they excel the changes suggested in this report cannot come soon enough.


3 Responses to “Edging forward…….the tide turns for design in schools.”
  1. tristramshepard says:

    Sir Kenneth Baker’s vision is indeed to be welcomed – although one can’t help thinking what a pity he didn’t realise it back in 1988 when he launched the National Curriculum – but the worrying indication is that a number of UTCs have ‘failed in the market-place’ due to lack of demand.

    The political propaganda of the last seven years have led parents to believe that academic is the only sort of education that counts and that Gove et al. have significantly improved our schools. Until ministers such as Gibb stop peddling nonsense such as this: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/nick-gibb-the-evidence-in-favour-of-teacher-led-instruction
    there would seem to be little hope for a curriculum and teaching methodology that prepares our children for the impending Fourth Industrial Revolution instead of the administrative necessities of the long-lost former British Empire.

  2. Lucy Coleridge says:

    Nice photo 🙂 If we could edge forward quicker and the tide show more signs of changing I’d be happier!

  3. dbarlex says:

    Your support for and passion about D&T is praisewrthy but both practice and perception in many schools has lead to a significant decline in uptake over many years. I’d really like your view on the paper I, Torben Steeg and Nick Givens have written – Re-building D&T, which identifies features than need clarificatiuon and agreement to re-establish the subject in the current and future schools’ curriculum. You can find it at https://dandtfordandt.wordpress.com/2016/12/19/re-building-dt/

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