Teacherhead and thoughts on D&T at KS3

Tom Sherrington is an author whose books include two that for me have been influential and highly recommendable; The Learning Rainforest: Great Teaching in Real Classrooms and Rosenshine’s Principles in Action. He runs the teacherhead blog and is a teacher trainer and consultant in much demand. Though I have never met him I, like many others, hold him in high regard, based on what he has written.

I say all this as preface to this post in which David and I respond to some thoughts that Tom has posted on his site under the title Curriculum Review at KS3: Some common issues. In that post, as the tile suggests, he reflects on his work with a wide range of schools and

…share(s) some of the common themes that emerge from discussions with subject leaders across the KS3 curriculum.

I have to say that my initial response on reading this was delight that D&T had been included – so often when one reads about the KS3 curriculum at the moment D&T isn’t even mentioned. However, we did feel that that there were aspects of the themes that he was reporting that we wanted to either take issue with or expand upon – and since he asked for comments, we thought we should provide some.

What follows has already been added to his original post as comments, but we felt it would be helpful to also copy them here where we know many D&T practitioners will see them. The comments are in two parts, the first relates to D&T and the second to the relationship between D&T and ‘The Arts’.

Concerning D&T

In relation to D&T, Tom made the comments shown in the table below, our responses follow this:

  • What are the areas we can cover: Food, Resistant materials, textiles, electronics, graphics?  Is there time/resource/expertise? What gets priority?
  • Is CADCAM integrated into the curriculum – or even taught discretely?
  • Do our projects offer experience with good range of materials, reference good range of designers, blend rigour of skill development with room for real creativity at the right point?
  • Do we assess knowledge of terminology, concepts in design process, the work of designers?

Point 1

We feel it is important to get the name of the subject correct – Design & Technology (D&T), this is not a trivial point as the Parkes Report spent some time establishing this as follows

1.5. . . . Our understanding is that whereas most, but not all, design activities will generally include technology and most technology activities will include design, there is not always total correspondence.
1.6 Our use of design and technology as a unitary concept, to be spoken in one breath as it were, does not therefore embody redundancy. It is intended to emphasise the intimate connection between the two activities as well as to imply a concept which is broader than either design or technology individually and the whole of which we believe is educationally important. (Page 2 DfE&WO 1988)

Point 2

What are the areas we can cover: Food, Resistant materials, textiles, electronics, graphics? Is there time/resource/expertise? What gets priority?

This question isn’t helpful as it undermines the integrity of the subject; both the KS3 NC and the new GCSE have dropped materials as a key way of thinking about the subject. A more useful approach is to frame the curriculum as repeated access to the Big Ideas of the subject (Barlex et al 2017a): e.g. materials, making, functionality, design and critique, with each getting appropriate time and being supported through a wide range of material experiences including ones that combine materials.
The issue of expertise is an important one; certainly at KS3, there is nothing in the content that a competent D&T teacher couldn’t manage, though there is a need for appropriate CPD to support this.
Prioritising against time and resource; we know that both allocated curriculum time and availability of D&T teachers are issues for some schools. We strongly (if naively?) believe that SMTs shouldn’t use availability of D&T teachers (or lack thereof) as an excuse to shrug shoulders and reduce curriculum time; the subject is no less important than any other and it deserves the same effort to support it as any other – including through retraining internally if necessary.
However, prioritisation will be a fact of life; and should be viewed through the lens of big ideas noted above.

Point 3

Is CADCAM integrated into the curriculum – or even taught discretely?

CADCAM is an approach to both designing and making and should be seen as part of teaching both of these, in which both digital and non-digital ‘tools’ are used. That is, not taught as a separate ‘unit’, though there may well be the need for focussed teaching as appropriate.
It is worth noting that some designers have been reported as saying it is important to leave using CAD to as late as possible in any designing activity as it limits creativity – (See The Glass Cage by Nicholas Carr).

Point 4

Do our projects offer experience with good range of materials, reference good range of designers, blend rigour of skill development with room for real creativity at the right point?

It is important not to see the curriculum as a series of projects (things to be made) but as a learning journey involving different sorts of learning experience (things to be learned).
We would suggest such a journey should involve the following sorts of experience: designing without making; making without designing; designing and making; and considering the consequences of technology (See Re-Building D&T, Barlex et al 2017b).
Each of these activities can be devised to enable the learning of important Big Ideas so that across a sequence of activities there is significant progression in learning.
Any activity involving designing should enable pupils to be creative, but this will only occur if they are given the opportunity and support to develop their own ideas. This means providing increasingly ‘open’ design contexts – something that, in any case, preparation for the GCSE Contextual Challenge will require.

Point 5

Do we assess knowledge of terminology, concepts in design process, the work of designers?

It is important to assess pupils’ learning against the teaching intentions, and these should be linked to the Big Ideas.
Hence, in each of the devised learning activities the teaching intentions should be clear and pupils should be assessed against the extent to which they have met these intentions. This requires that the learning experiences be devised according to what is to be learned as opposed to what the pupils will do/make.


Barlex D., Givens N., Steeg T (2017a) Big Ideas for D&T; A working paper David and Torben for D&T. Available at https://dandtfordandt.wordpress.com/working-papers/big-ideas-for-dt/
Steeg T., Barlex D., Givens N. (2017b) Re-Building D&T; A working paper David and Torben for D&T. Available at https://dandtfordandt.wordpress.com/resources/re-building-dt/
Carr, N. (2015) The Glass Cage, who needs humans anyway? Vintage, London
Department for Education and Science and Welsh Office (DfE&WO). (1988). National curriculum design and technology working group interim report. London: HMSO. Available at https://www.stem.org.uk/resources/elibrary/resource/27697/national-curriculum-design-and-technology-working-group-interim

Concerning Arts/D&T general issues

D&T appears a second time in Tom’s post as shown in the table below, again our responses follow this:


General Issues

  • In general, do students have enough time in each area? Do we have the right balance of breadth of experience across art/DT areas versus depth in each?
  • Is there a carousel? If so what does this do to continuity year to year?
  • Is there a period per week? If so, does this allow time to sustain development of skills across a range of projects?
  • Is there the possibility of a Year 9 option structure where, before GCSE options, students choose and art/DT subject or two to specialise in?
  • What does excellence look like?  Are we pitching high in terms of student outcomes compared to other schools at KS3 (given absence of official moderation process?)

Point 1

As noted in our comments on the D&T specific section, it is Important to get to get the name of D&T correct; not DT.

Point 2

In general, do students have enough time in each area? Do we have the right balance of breadth of experience across art/DT areas versus depth in each?

We do not think it is helpful to anyone (especially students) to bracket ‘the Arts’ with D&T. Arts develop outcomes that are primarily concerned with expressing and/or evoking some sort of personal, emotional or political response. D&T outcomes are primarily concerned with developing interventions into the made and natural worlds usually with the intention of making improvements to a particular situation. Given these different intentions, comparing these two curriculum areas in particular does not seem that logical. We can see that creativity is required to develop outcomes in both areas (other subjects will also make a claim on creativity) but the different intentions means that although there will be some overlap with regard to the use of, for example, particular making techniques or technical ways of working, Arts and D&T will call on different bodies of knowledge. Also the arts are to some extent indifferent to the nature of response they generate in that the responses will be subjective and the creative artist does not necessarily want a positive response. However in D&T the aim of the activity is usually predicated on identifying user needs and wants and trying to meet these. So it is probably better to consider them as independent subjects with their own unique purposes as opposed to linking them on the grounds that they are both ‘creative’. As independent subjects they would each require equal time in the curriculum. If planned carefully it is possible to capitalise on areas in which there are overlaps.

Point 3

Is there a carousel? If so what does this do to continuity year to year?

We understand that for various reasons some schools combine aspects of the Arts and D&T in a KS3 carousel, but even here there needs to be clarity about what the elements of such a carousel ‘represent’.
More broadly we think the notion of a carousel arrangement should be challenged. We understand that the idea of a carousel arrangement is attractive in that it assigns teachers with particular expertise to groups of learners on a rotational basis and hence puts the learner with those who have expert knowledge. The downside is that the time spent with such teachers is limited and the teacher does not get to know the learners as well as if they were teaching them for a whole year. it also often leads to a poor overview of subject knowledge development over a whole year. To overcome the difficulty of subject expertise, teachers need to work in teams, ideally co-teaching but if this is not possible then co-planning with on-going progress reviews. Whichever system is used it is important that progression is built into to sequence of lessons.

Point 4

Is there a period per week? If so, does this allow time to sustain development of skills across a range of projects?

With regard to time available, the simple rule of thumb that appears to work is that to prepare learners for a single subject GCSE course at Key Stage 4 requires one double lesson per week each week across Key Stage 3. It is essential that the sequence of lessons, however organised into topics or projects, is underpinned by the teaching of knowledge, understanding and values as well as skills in a way that builds into a coherent whole over the time of the course. Again, these will be different for the Arts and for D&T.

Point 5

Is there the possibility of a Year 9 option structure where, before GCSE options, students choose an art/DT subject or two to specialise in?

We believe that students should experience as broad a curriculum as possible right through KS3. (For this reason, we are not fans of two-year KS3 arrangements as these generally force students to make subject choices after less than 18 months of secondary experience of subjects.)
Also, as we note in our specific comments about D&T, neither the KS3 National Curriculum nor the new single-subject GCSE D&T view the subject as a series of separate material areas. An attempt to use materials as a basis for organising the KS3 D&T curriculum is not going to be helpful to student progress in the subject.
We realise that the EBacc is something that many schools feel they can’t ignore (and we note reports that recent Ofsted inspections have criticised schools’ low EBacc entries).
However, not all schools feel beholden to the Ebacc, for example some schools support both Art and D&T at Key Stage 3 with the opportunity to take both to GSCE level at KS4. We know of one student who is taking triple science, D&T, Computer Studies and Art at KS4 with the result that he has dropped humanities and modern foreign languages. That school organises its KS4 timetable based on the subjects the pupils wish to take so their choice drives timetable structure rather than them having to fit into a ready given structure.

Point 6

What does excellence look like? Are we pitching high in terms of student outcomes compared to other schools at KS3 (given absence of official moderation process?)

Aspiring to excellence appears laudable but needs to be unpacked. Do we want excellent outcomes? No one is going to answer ‘no’. It seems to us that the curriculum in the Arts and D&T should be designed such that excellent outcomes are definitely possible but it is unrealistic to expect that all learners’ outcomes will be excellent. And perhaps excellence should be viewed as a function of the individual as much as a measurement against external standard. This approach towards creativity was advocated in the Robinson Report. Possible features of excellence should include things beyond the final artefact (which might be a prototype), so the ability to engage with an open context, to really get under the skin of users’ needs, to consider sustainability and wider values including possible impacts on climate change and those who might use or produce such artefacts in the wider world.
In planning a particular course of study it will be essential to teach knowledge, understanding, skills and values that can be used in executing outcomes. In this way every learner has the opportunity to deploy their learning to the best of their ability. There will be a range of performance across a class with some outcomes significantly better than others but such a rank order snapshot does not tell the whole story, in that the outcomes have to be put in the context of individual students’ learning journeys and improvement may well have taken place for those learners whose achievements are modest. A useful mantra is ‘progress not perfection’.

Comments and thoughts, as ever, welcome.


Engaging Students in STEM

It’s always pleasing to host guest blogs from those involved in D&T ITE so it’s a great pleasure to post this from Ruth Seabrook Principal Teaching Fellow and Head of Secondary ITE Partnership.

So many facts regarding the future of STEM are available to bamboozle us, yet this is where I chose to engage you first.

  • By 2020, the EU (not withstanding Brexit) could face a shortage of up to 900,000 ICT professionals.
  • 47% of jobs will disappear over the next 20 years due to technology but for every one lost, two will be created.
  • 132,000 job opportunities possible in big data over the next 5 years.
  • Only 12.8% of the total STEM workforce in the UK are women.
  • The UK has the lowest number of female engineering professional in Europe (WISE)

Figures supplied by TeenTech see Why we do Teen Tech

The situation needs to change.

Picture 1A few years ago, I met Maggie Philbin from TeenTech www.teentech.com at a STEM conference we held at the University of Roehampton. Instantly inspired by her passion for STEM, her want to reach those children who would not even dream of a career in STEM as they felt it so out of their reach, I wanted in. Roehampton has been running a City of Tomorrow event each year with upwards of 300 pupils and student teachers participating to create the cities of the future, which will be smarter, kinder and safer. Pupils from year 6 and year 7 come together as engineers, designers and creative teams to design eco-friendly future proof communities.

‘Our Year 6 students loved this project and we plan to run it with all our students next year” Teacher, London

‘The best thing we’ve done in school all year’, Teacher Bristol

‘The content was inspiring, the students engaged and animated, it was wonderful to witness’ Employment Skills Lead, East Hampshire District Council

TeenTech is so much more though than this one event however. They run engaging, hands on, sharply focused events to help young people understand real opportunities in industry right from year 6 to year 13.

Picture 2Their Festival Days bring together Science and Tech Industries that run workshops and experiments for the pupils to participate and engage with, the sheer wonder of it all is amazing. Voting buttons guage the pupils understanding and their interest in a STEM career at the beginning and end of the day. 53% of pupils say they are fairly or very interested in a STEM career but this rises to 73% by the end of the day. The events open their minds to the idea that any individual can succeed in this industry if they wish to. Exhibitors include, Siemens, Rolls Royce, Atkins, Airbus, Google, JVC, Accenture, Bae Systems, Universities, EDF, ConnectWise and Symantec to name but a few.

Picture 3The TeenTech Awards, which I judge and give feedback to teams, is so inspiring and the creativity of the pupils and their determination to succeed is infectious. This project is for 11-16 and 16-19 students, many of whom have grown up and been encouraged by other TeenTech events. The best projects go forward to the TeenTech award final at the IET London for judging and each winning team gets £1000 for their school. Some schools around the country have embedded the awards scheme into their subject curriculum, engaging even more pupils. One such school is Evelyn Grace in Brixton.

‘Many of our students do not realise life beyond Brixton but TeenTech has given them access to some of the largest science & technology companies in the world. TeenTech has had an incredibly positive impact on our students allowing them to recognise a future for themselves in careers they had not thought about… Before we did the programme there were only 12 students in our Computer Science class – now the majority of Year 9 select the subject.’ Teacher Evelyn Grace school

There are so many events and projects running that there is an event or project for every school to engage their pupils.


Public Interest Technologists

I think it’s broadly accepted, in principle at least, that one element of D&T education should be the development of a critical sensibility in relation to what is designed and made – to, in short, the technological world. The KS3 National curriculum for D&T requires that pupils should be taught to:

understand developments in design and technology, its impact on individuals, society and the environment, and the responsibilities of designers, engineers and technologists

And the GCSE Subject Level Conditions and Requirements for Design and Technology (that all the Awarding Bodies have to base their D&T specification on) require that

…students will need a breadth of technical knowledge and understanding that includes:

  • the impact of new and emerging technologies on industry, enterprise, sustainability, people, culture, society and the environment, production techniques and systems
  • how the critical evaluation of new and emerging technologies informs design decisions; considering contemporary and potential future scenarios from different perspectives, such as ethics and the environment

In Re-building D&T David and I made two related points. Firstly, that one of the purposes of D&T education is a social one:

In their communities, their workplaces, and through the media, people encounter questions and disputes that have matters of design and/or technology at their core. Often these matters are contentious. Significant understanding of design and of technology is needed to reach an informed view on such matters and engage in discussion and debate.

Secondly, that amongst the Big Ideas of D&T that should underpin curriculum planning in D&T is  the development of “Knowledge of critique regarding impact for justice and for stewardship”.

I’d love to be shouted down as wrong here (please use the comments for this!), but my impression, from an admittedly thin sampling, is that the development of a critical attitude doesn’t have a high priority in D&T schemes of work.

Bruce_SchneierWhich brings me to Bruce Schneier. Bruce is a widely acclaimed Security Technologist and author of many books including the really very good Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World, a go-to book on Big Data.

Last month Bruce gave a talk at the Royal Society Why technologists need to get involved in public policy?.

I highly recommend the watching of this talk; it’s 15 minutes of your life that I think you’ll find well-spent. Bruce lucidly makes the case that we need what he calls ‘Public Interest Technologists’ and notes that there is both a supply and demand problem with such people at the moment.

This strengthens the case for D&T educators to take seriously their responsibility on the supply side. If we can start to take this strand of D&T education seriously then, as the need for Public Interest Technologists becomes more widely appreciated, it strengthens the case for D&T as an important strand in the education of all future citizens.

One difficulty I think that D&T teachers have with teaching this area is the lack of resources to support it. If you know of good resources and are willing to share the source, I’d be delighted to give them exposure here.

David and I have made a modest start here with our Technological Perspective Readers; there are three readers plus a student guide available at the moment and I intend to add more in the next few weeks. If you have used these with either students or teachers (or student teachers) we’d be really pleased to hear your comments on how the exercise went, how the readers might be improved etc. And if you looked at them and decided they weren’t for you, please tell us why.

If you are interested in reading more about the role of Public Interest Technologists, Bruce maintains a website of Public-Interest Technology Resources.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

With thanks to Boing Boing for the link to Bruce’s RS talk.

It’s the folder work that puts them off!

Recently there have been comments in social media concerning the negative effect that producing folder work has on learners who like to make and that this is turning D&T into an unattractive subject for such learners. I agree that folder work can be real turn off especially for those learners who really just like to make. There’s nothing wrong with ‘just making’ far from it. As someone who received and PhD in political philosophy and then went even further to become a motor cycle mechanic, Matthew Crawford in his book Shop class as soul craft makes the case for the intellectual sophistication of making. He writes ‘Given the intrinsic richness of manual work – cognitively, socially, and in its broader psychic appeal – the questions becomes why it has suffered such a devaluation as a component of education?’ I have more than a little sympathy with this position but there is more to D&T than making although making is a very important component. So the issue we have is how to enable these sorts of learners to produce the required evidence is ways that do not de-motivate them? I like the idea of minimally invasive assessment. In such an approach the learner would record, by what ever means, nothing that did not help them move forward on the designing and making task. They would use whatever they recorded to decide on whether the previous step was in the right direction or not, make a note and then move on accordingly. This needn’t be arduous and should enable them to tell the story of their designing and making in a way that doesn’t hinder  progress or de-motivate. A useful approach to such recording might be the use of dual coding which requires the use of extremely simple diagrams and minimal annotation linked into an organised form by connecting lines, see Oliver Caviglioli’s website and his book Dual coding for teachers.

9781912906253In the book he describes four types of graphic organiser for presenting information/story telling – Chunking, Comparing, Sequencing and Identifying Cause and Effect. These are all simple to draw and with training I think learners would be able to use them fluently as the main means of developing their contextual challenge portfolios. And I think they would enjoy it.


As always thoughts welcome



The demise of secondary school D&T?

s216_Amanda_Spielman__1_On 10 July Amanda Spielman, the head of Ofsted, gave a talk about design & technology education. In a previous post in response to her comments, David explored some of the issues she raised in relation to primary D&T.

Here we want to extend the discussion to include what she said about secondary D&T.

Amanda Spielman acknowledges that the decline in the uptake of D&T at KS4 is very serious but argues that since this decline began in 2000 the introduction of the EBacc in 2010 cannot take all of the blame. However since the introduction of the EBacc non EBacc subjects across the board have not fared well compared with EBacc subjects. Tom Richmond in his report A step Baccward has questioned the value of the EBacc both as a performance measure and as a means of achieving social justice. His description of the decline of non-EBacc subjects since the EBacc was introduced gives pause for thought.

The subjects included within the EBacc have mostly thrived over the past decade. The single sciences (+38%) and both history (+23%) and geography (+42%) have seen substantial increases in GCSE entries. Languages have fared less well as both French (-27%) and German (-36%) have fewer entries than in 2010, although Spanish has performed much better (+51%) – albeit from a lower base. Teacher numbers have changed commensurately, with many EBacc subjects experiencing a growth in staffing levels since 2010.

The contrast between EBacc subjects and non-EBacc subjects could hardly be greater. After initially seeing a slight boost in GCSE entries post-2010 due to changes in the qualifications included within school performance tables, Art & Design (-6%), Dance (-46%), Drama (-29%), Media/Film/TV Studies (-35%), Music (-24%) and the six Design & Technology subjects (-65%) have all seen a decline in entries and are now falling year-on-year. The number of teachers for these subjects has also dropped, with many non-EBacc subjects experiencing a fall of over 1,000 teachers (the number of D&T teachers has fallen by over 3,500).

So even if one agrees with Spielman that the rot set in for D&T long before the EBacc was introduced, its introduction has certainly not helped. We believe that there are fundamental reasons outside the EBacc as to why D&T has not fared well. We see these as follows:

  • The nature of the subject as a coherent body of knowledge, understanding and skills supported by relevant values has been absent. As the late Geoffrey Harrison once remarked to David, “Is it about ball bearings or ball gowns?”
  • The lack of a single title D&T GCSE, until recently, has compounded the fragmentation of the subject.
  • As a result of this fragmentation pupil experience at KS3 has been disjointed to say the least. Teaching on a circus with regard to particular material areas has led to the curriculum becoming a succession of ‘pitches’ to encourage pupils to opt for a particular focus are GCSE at KS4.
  • Pupil experience at KS3 can lack coherence where it is a succession of projects which are not well related to one another and do not build up a set of related knowledge, understanding, skills and values. That is, where each project is a ‘one-off’, unconnected to the learning in other projects.

Spielman understands this when she says

Despite the efforts of the Design and Technology Association, there hasn’t really been a strong and united community that holds all the wisdom, as there is for some other subjects. … With this subject, as with many others, there is a strong link between knowledge and skills. An important characteristic of design and technology is that it contextualises knowledge and puts it into an active setting. … I mentioned defining the D&T essentials. … The thinking about knowledge and skills determines the sequencing and organising of the curriculum and the weight given to each strand at each point. … In design and technology, sometimes more obviously than in other subjects, we can see the interplay between procedural or tacit knowledge, what we sometimes call the ‘knowing how’. And then there is propositional knowledge, the ‘knowing that’.

Spielman acknowledges that the subject is expensive but argues that the decline of D&T began well before budgetary difficulties.

Another problem often cited is school budgets, a very real concern for many schools today. But school budgets were steadily increasing in real terms in the decade until 2011, the period in which take-up of D&T dropped so much. Since then, I know that schools have had to make difficult choices to balance their budgets. And teaching D&T is expensive, not just in terms of space and raw materials but also equipment of increasing sophistication, computers, 3D printers, laser-cutting machines. This may have contributed to squeezing D&T out of the curriculum.

Add to this that the rhetoric of those decrying the demise of D&T is couched in terms of its economic utility. This leads to the subject being seen as vocational, with many parents then taking the view that it is not relevant for their offspring. The result is that you have a combination of factors that create the perfect storm she referred to:

And broadly speaking, design and technology education has faced a perfect storm over the past 20 years.

Where we do think that Spielman has been badly informed is where she says:

At the risk of stating the obvious, these curricula and specifications have a number of strands that don’t belong with each other. Teaching children to cook is very distinct from designing a garden or working with textiles. There’s not a great deal of point trying to make this into a seamless whole. What’s needed is clarity about each strand and where we want to start and finish.

Putting Food and Nutrition to one side, we think that the current combination of the KS3 Orders and the new D&T GCSE specs do and should enable D&T departments to present D&T as a seamless whole, secured through the Big Ideas of the subject, rather than through an outdated view of the subject as a series of disparate material areas.

We have had fair warning that Ofsted will be focussing on the KS3 experience, in relation to this Spielman said:

The KS3 curriculum shouldn’t just be a means of preparing pupils for GCSE or a BTEC. If people are thinking about working backwards from the GCSE curriculum, that’s going in the wrong direction. When planning a KS3 curriculum, teachers should think about a coherent offer for those pupils who perhaps won’t carry on after age 14. About the skills and knowledge they should they take away with them. About how you can know if they’ve made progress. The curriculum itself should be the driver of progression. It should be sufficiently clear and developed, coherent and well sequenced to be the progression model.

We have sympathy with this view, especially about ensuring that the KS3 experience for all pupils, whatever their curriculum journey after KS3, is coherent and worthwhile. However, we believe it is naïve to ignore the need to ensure that pupils going on to GCSE D&T are well-prepared (that would be true for any subject). It seems to us that there need be no conflict here; develop a KS3 curriculum that takes seriously the idea that pupils’ learning should focus on the Big Ideas, while supporting the capability to engage with increasingly open design contexts, using the most appropriate materials for the situation. Such a curriculum certainly has the capacity to both engage learners in KS3 and prepare them for GCSE.

This is why we wrote Re-Building D&T which set out to define the substantive knowledge base, identify several justifications, and explore appropriate pedagogy leading to a set of recommendations for stakeholders including the D&T Association.

The responses we received could be grouped into three camps:

  • First, some said it was inappropriate to identify a body of knowledge that should be taught as design tasks might call on all and any knowledge and it was the student’s task to learn relevant knowledge on a just in time basis. Procedural competence was the name of the game and as this is tacit it couldn’t be taught. Our view was that this position had prevailed since the introduction of D&T into the National Curriculum and has done, and is doing, more harm than good especially now as the idea of a knowledge rich curriculum and the importance of propositional knowledge in informing procedural knowledge is gaining ground.
  • Second, others argued that it wasn’t radical enough; what was needed was creative destruction for a newly envisaged D&T to emerge phoenix like from the ashes of the old. We had deliberately adopted re-building as a strategy as we thought there would be little appetite or resource for creative destruction, but we were not unsympathetic to the idea.
  • Third were those saying that it was a useful document that pointed a way forward, but the way would be hard and it would require leadership. We were in agreement with this position but as far as we can see there has been little if any leadership in taking the recommendations forward particularly with regard to defining an agreed knowledge, understanding, skill and values base to which all members of the community can subscribe.

So what is to be done? We finished Re-building D&T with a list of recommendations for action to be taken by key stakeholders (pages 35 – 37). The three top recommendations were:

  • Achieving good practice
  • Achieving sound epistemology
  • Achieving clarity of purpose

For us a key question is how might teachers in schools respond to these recommendations. Our view is that good practice in D&T must be informed by research in the way that practice in many other subjects is research informed. This research includes that disseminated by The Education Endowment Foundation, John Hattie’s Visible Learning and ResearchED, amongst others. Although the data behind the research being talked about doesn’t come from D&T education, there are lessons to be learned by D&T from this research.

In addition, it will be important that research to identify and understand what constitutes good practice in D&T takes place as a matter of some urgency. So we wonder if a D&T department should talk with SLT about how they might develop research informed practice and perhaps suggest that they are supported in contacting their local university to work with the education department to explore which particular theories of learning might be useful and how to apply them to their teaching.

Those teaching D&T need to reach agreement with regard to the core of knowledge understanding, skills and values that underpin the subject. Hence department meetings where this is discussed and debated, attended by SLT with curriculum responsibility is a way forward. Reaching agreement on this will take time, but it will give all those teaching in the department a common platform to act as a springboard for their teaching. If possible it would be good to have these discussions with D&T departments from other schools as well.

Our view of the purposes of school design & technology is that they should to include personal, social and cultural as well as economic aims. As with epistemology, department meetings where this is discussed and debated, attended by SLT with curriculum responsibility is a way forward allowing the D&T curriculum to be scrutinised with regard to how these various purposes impact on what is taught and the way it is taught.

We think these three endeavours should be built into the five-year plan of all D&T departments. If this can be achieved, the level of debate about the subject will be raised, those teaching it will become articulate advocates and the status of the subject will surely rise.

As always comments welcome.


Re-designing Design and Technology Education

This is a longer post than is usual for this site but we (that’s Dawne Bell, Matt McLain and David Wooff) think it’s worth a read because it is clear that D&T can’t stay as it is and the post deals with the possible future nature of D&T.

Amid our growing concerns for the continued decline of design and technology education within the school curriculum, last year we instigated a programme of research which sought specifically to illuminate stakeholder perspectives from the community about the potential future of design and technology. Building upon aspects of our previous work, which was noted within an earlier blog post on this site, acting as a catalyst, this new line of enquiry was swiftly followed by the instigation of a ‘state of the nation’ national survey by the Design and Technology Association (DATA) and The Royal Academy of Engineers (RAE), and amid this groundswell of support, this renewed interested prompted the Head of Ofsted Amanda Speilman’s public address in support of the subject at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (Spielman, 2019). Having presented the initial findings of our research programme at a national (UK based) conference in May, we subsequently published our first phase findings to the International community in Malta at the PATT Conference in June. The paper was very well received and has sparked further debate and, pending publication of the full paper, further work is already in progress.

Hence it is timely to present an update, an interim report of our current work and as such we are delighted, once again be invited by David and Torben to pen this second blog post.

For context, as a gentle reminder before presenting our update we feel it would be useful first to present a brief overview of the national context. Beginning with the removal of mandatory study at key stage in 2004, in England design and technology has been in decline for the last 15 years. Successive governmental reforms have each taken their toll, including most recently the subject’s exclusion from the EBacc. Practical and creative subjects like design and technology offer a rich experience and within the context of a broad and balanced curriculum (McLain et al., 2019) and make a unique contribution (Irving-Bell et al., 2019). However, framed by weak external boundaries (Bernstein, 1971, 1975, 1990, 2000), with ‘weak epistemological roots’ (DfE, 2013, p.234), subject to constant change (Mitcham, 1994; Bell et al. 2017), within a knowledge focused curriculum (Gibb, 2016, 2017) which fails to recognise the contribution this creative subject makes, design and technology will always be subject to disadvantage. As such, there is, and will always be work to be done to ensure those outside the subject understand the contribution this extraordinary subject can and does make.

In advocating the importance of such a subject to exist within the curriculum, in other recent work we have sought to illuminate the subject’s necessity, through our exploration of technology as a fundamentally human and humanising activity which is inextricably linked to our evolution as a species and hence to the development of our societies (McLain et al., 2019). And it is from this perspective that we argue that drawing on a wide range of knowledge and values, through designing technological objects, every student should have the opportunity to engage with technological activity.

In our previous post, we made clear the need to do something bold and significant if we are to have any hope of reversing the subject’s deterioration. Invited by David and Torben who of course have themselves written several exceptional thought provoking think pieces (Barlex, 2017; Barlex and Steeg, 2017), we wrote this blog post to prompt further debate, to keep the subject at the forefront of current discourse.

We see that there are frequent juxtapositions between the nature of design & technology and the subject’s fundamental intentions but wonder whether these are sufficient for the future development of the subject. Given our passion for the subject, and in the spirit of the living document approach we have adopted, we challenged the community to transcend current and historic understandings of design and technology.

4 Dawne jpeg

Evolved from research findings (Irving-Bell et al., 2019) Figure 1 is presents as a vehicle to instigate debate; the tensions and challenges, many of which are rooted in design and technology’s complex history and lie within the subject’s very heart. With full detail available in the paper, a brief articulation of each outcome is presented below:

  • activity (ideating, realising and critiquing)
  • curriculum intentions (knowledge, experience and dispositions)
  • tensions created by the subject’s relationship with materials and the STEM agenda

Activity: Under the outcome ideation and critique, design and technology is conceived as a subject which transcends traditional material areas. Focuses on the creation of authentic opportunities, contextualised within society, for learners to engage in speculative questioning and deferred judgement. Students are always being encouraged to consider alternative technological solutions to human centric problems; be mindful of the impact and consequences technological innovations may have; be open-minded in the generation of solutions; give meaning through their ideas’ connections to the past; to recognise and acknowledge the folly in creating unneeded solutions. Within realisation this included the development of autonomy and confidence building, eye-hand co-ordination, manual dexterity and fine motor skills. There is something unique about making, the ability to manipulate, to control a material to create an artifact that is cited as being a transformative pedagogy (Irving-Bell et al., 2019).

Within curriculum intentions a series of desirable dispositions for learners emerged. These included team building, communication and collaboration. Resilience, and the development of an ability to take informed risks and engage in ‘proud failures’ was also cited by participants. Experience emerged in relation to what learners ‘do’, what they experience, and what is important to know. This included authentic approaches to problem solving and an awareness of human needs and wants within a technological society. The working knowledge of materials alongside the development of physical skills including manual dexterity. Within this context knowledge extended beyond the boundaries of the subject and related political and global agendas, and included knowledge for action and situated knowledge, within the context of other subject disciplines.

Tensions: Commonly held tensions focused around political drivers, fiscal demands and constraints and the academic versus vocational debate and design and technology’s vocational heritage.

If the subject is to move forward in response to the challenge presented in Figure 1 it will be important that we acknowledge an underpinning of the subject by these features, celebrating the interdisciplinary strength of the subject, calling on knowledge, understanding, skills and values from within and outside itself AND include the diversity of the historic individual disciplines without this manifesting itself as division. Such division serves no other purpose than to further weaken the subject’s position in that it fragments any possibility of an holistic, coherent approach.

As always, comments welcome


Once again, we would like to thank everyone from the community who responded to our call, and for their support and continued encouragement

For access to the full conference paper please visit this link:


Irving-Bell, D., Wooff, D., & McLain, M. (2019). Re-designing Design and Technology Education: A living literature review of stakeholder perspectives. Paper presented at the PATT 37 Conference, Developing a knowledge economy through technology and engineering education, University of Malta, Msida Campus.

Key references

Barlex, D. (2017). Design and Technology in England: An Ambitious Vision Thwarted by Unintended Consequences. In M.J. de Vries (ed.), Handbook of Technology Education, Springer International Handbooks of Education, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-38889-2_11-1

Barlex, D. and Steeg, T. (2017). Re-Building Design and Technology In the secondary school curriculum, Version 2, A Working Paper. Available at https://dandtfordandt.wordpress.com/ Last accessed 31st March 2019.

Bell, D., Wooff, D., Mclain, M., and Morrison-Love, D. (2017). Analysing Design and Technology as an educational construct; an investigation into its curriculum position and pedagogical identity. Curriculum Journal. pp. 1-20. ISSN 0958-5176

Bernstein, B. (1971). On the Classification and Framing of Educational Knowledge. In M. Young (Ed.), Knowledge and Control. New Directions for the Sociology of Education (pp. 47-69). London: Collier-Macmillan

Bernstein, B. (1975). Class, codes and control: Towards a theory of educational transmission (Vol. III). London: Routledge.

Bernstein, B. (1990). The structuring of pedagogic discourse: Class, codes and control (Vol. IV). London: Routledge.

Bernstein, B. (2000). Pedagogy, Symbolic Control and Identity: Theory, research, critique (revised edition). New York: Rowman and Little.

DfE (2013). National curriculum in England: framework for key stages 1 to 4. London: Department for Education Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-framework-for-key-stages-1-to-4.

DfE (2014). The national curriculum for England to be taught in all local-authority-maintained schools. https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/national-curriculum Last accessed 31st March 2019.

Gibb, N. (2017). The importance of knowledge-based education: School Standards Minister speaks at the launch of the ‘The Question of Knowledge’ [Press release]. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/nick-gibb-the-importance-of-knowledge-based-education

Gibb, N. (2016). Nick Gibb: what is a good education in the 21st century? [Speech]. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/what-is-a-good-education-in-the-21st-century

Irving-Bell, D., Wooff, D., & McLain, M. (2019). Re-designing Design and Technology Education: A living literature review of stakeholder perspectives. Paper presented at the PATT 37 Conference, Developing a knowledge economy through technology and engineering education, University of Malta, Msida Campus.

McLain, M., Irving-Bell, D., Wooff, D., & Morrison-Love, D. (2019). How technology makes us human: cultural and historical roots for design and technology education. Curriculum Journal. doi:10.1080/09585176.2019.1649163

Mitcham, C. (1994). Thinking through technology: a path between engineering and philosophy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Spielman, A. (2019). Amanda Spielman speaking at the Victoria and Albert Museum (speech transcript). Retrieved from: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/amanda-spielman-speaking-at-the-victoria-and-albert-museum




Two philosophers with interesting views

Some time ago I posted about the book Reflections on Technology for Educational Practitioners. One of the chapters in that book dealt with the thinking of Kevin Kelly. I contacted Kevin about the book and the chapter and was delighted to receive this reply.

PortraitI really enjoyed your chapter. Thank you for reading so closely and taking my ideas seriously. Your chapter reminded me I should try to write up a simple version of my ideas teachable to kids. It’s a great challenge. I did write up some practical tips for techno-literacy but more is needed.



Here are some of Kevin’s practical tips:

  • Anything you buy, you must maintain. Each tool you use requires time to learn how to use, to install, to upgrade, or to fix. A purchase is just the beginning. You can expect to devote as much energy/money/time in maintaining a technology as you did in acquiring it.
  • You will be newbie forever. Get good at the beginner mode, learning new programs, asking dumb questions, making stupid mistakes, soliticting help, and helping others with what you learn (the best way to learn yourself).
  • Often learning a new tool requires unlearning the old one. The habits of using a land line phone don’t work in email or cell phone. The habits of email don’t work in twitter. The habits of twitter won’t work in what is next.
  • Understanding how a technology works is not necessary to use it well. We don’t understand how biology works, but we still use wood well.
  • Every new technology will bite back. The more powerful its gifts, the more powerfully it can be abused. Look for its costs.
  • Be suspicious of any technology that requires walls to prevent access. If you can fix it, modify it or hack it yourself, that is a good sign.
  • The older the technology, the more likely it will continue to be useful.

You can find the rest here.

VallrKevin is unashamedly optimistic about technology and how it will be beneficial to humanity. But I found another philosopher who is less sanguine. Her name is Shannon Vallor, Regis and Dianne McKenna Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Santa Clara University. She has written a fascinating book Technology and the Virtues. Her concern is that we simply do not know and cannot with any accuracy predict how the future will unfold with regard to technological developments. She calls this acute technosocial opacity. To confront this difficulty Shannon argues for the development of a robust ethical framework to decide what to do with and about technology. Using the philosophies of Aristotle, Confucius and Buddha Shannon makes suggestions for technomoral wisdom to enable us to move towards a future worth wanting. In particular she focuses her thinking on social media, surveillance and robotics as examples of new and emerging technologies that are already disrupting our lives and identifies ethical positions that enable critiquing to become a change agent. Kevin Kelly in his book What technology wants argues that technology will move forward in ways determined by its intrinsic nature and that humanity should align itself with this movement in ways that are ethically sound. Shannon Vallor gives us the tools to decide what ‘ethically sound’ might mean.

This is clearly heady stuff and at first sight you might well give a shrug and decide to give it all a miss, saying, “C’mon, I’ve got more than enough to do as it is.” But I wonder if we are selling young people short if we do not give them the opportunity to consider what a future worth wanting might be and how technology can contribute to this?

As always comments welcome