Helping Ofsted get better!

There can be little doubt that Ofsted has become the bane of teachers’ and headteachers’ lives. The appointment of Amanda Spielman and her pronouncements about the purpose of the curriculum and its inspection has, to my mind, indicated that there might be light at the end of this particularly dark tunnel. Another source of such light is the writing of Frank Coffield in his short monograph “Will the Leopard Change its Spots A new model of inspection for Ofsted”.

914zrke0J0LI have always felt that a single framework for inspecting primary schools, secondary schools and FE Colleges must be flawed and that the complexity of schools, even small ones, made the judgement in terms of four possible grades a completely inappropriate simplification. Schools are like ecosystems within which a wide variety of stakeholders interact in complex ways and reducing the outcomes of inspections to one of four grades is completely unsuitable and highly damaging. Frank Coffield has just gone public with a petition calling on Ofsted to drop its 4 point grading scale. You can read more and sign the petition here

What it needs now is as many signatures as possible so I’m asking you to give this petition serious consideration and send details, via email and social media, to all your friends, acquaintances and colleagues who are likely to sign.

As always comments welcome


Volume 2 is here!

images  Schools and teachers are being asked to adopt “research informed practice” and this is as it should be. But in areas that are under-researched this can be a problem. For design & technology teachers the Contemporary Issues in Technology Education published by Springer goes some way providing some of the answers. In particular the latest volume in this series should be of particular use: Explorations in Technology Education Research; Helping teachers develop research informed practice edited by myself and John Williams, a distinguished Australian academic and technology education expert. This is the second volume in a series in which educators who have recently successfully completed their PhDs in technology education describe their research and its relevance to teaching. In short it provides cutting-edge research, together with clear guidelines on how it can be used to inform practice. It presents research in an easily accessible format to ensure its relevance for teachers and includes practical advice on how practitioners can become researchers. The authors come from across the world and their work covers a wide range of topics. The book is divided into six sections according to the focus of the PhDs.

Findings concerning curriculum content (from research in Saudi Arabia, Botswana, Sweden and Northern Ireland)

  • Abbad Almutairi’s research concerned a study of policy, curriculum and practice in primary education using comparison between technology education in New Zealand and Saudi Arabia
  • Victor Ruele explored the impact and implications of localising the technology curriculum in Botswana
  • Eva Björkholm’s research concerned the learning in primary technology education
  • Kieran McGeown considered secondary pupils’ perceptions of their experiences of practical work in technology and design

Findings concerning stories of technology (from research in Sweden and India)

  • Cecelia Axell’s research explored technology landscapes in children’s literature
  • Sachin Datt describes the use of narratives for communicating the nature of technology

Findings concerning planning and pedagogy (from research in Sweden, England and the USA)

  • Eva Hartell’s research investigated teachers’ assessment practices
  • Mary Southall explored approaches to planning that encourage creativity in technology teaching and learning activities
  • Thomas Delahunty explored how problem conceptualization might enhance the teaching of problem solving in technology education
  • Jason Power investigated the influence of task difficulty on engagement, performance and self-efficacy

Findings concerning cognition (From research in the USA)

  • Greg Strimmel considered design cognition and student performance
  • Michael Grubb’s research used characterization of design cognition to identify strategies for teaching

Findings concerning girls and technology (from research in Finland and Australia)

  • Sonja Niiranen vonsidered how practical approaches might increase girls’ interest in technology education
  • Vicki Knopke identified factors that encourage and facilitate female students to participate and engage in Technology Education

Findings concerning information technology (from research in Ireland and the USA)

  • Adrian O’Connor’s considered the nature of learning protocols in design & technology education focusing on how discourse might be supported using technology mediated communication
  • Scott Bartholomew explored the impact of mobile devices on students self directed learning when tackling open-ended problems

In the final chapter John Williams and I discuss each of the chapters in a synoptic review. We thoroughly enjoyed working with these colleagues from across the world and hope that teachers will find the research findings useful in informing both curriculum planning and day to day practice. As always comments are welcome and both John and I would be delighted to hear from teachers who have used the research described in the book. And note, Volume 3 is already in the pipeline!


Is it time to big up the T in D&T and forge more links with science?

It’s always a pleasure to run a session for the PGCE D&T Students at Goldsmiths. This Wednesday afternoon was no exception. I had the brief of helping them to consider new and emerging technologies. Here is an account of some of the issues discussed. I thought it would pay dividends to start by considering the nature of technology. The members of the group were not short of ideas and between them managed to identify four aspects of ways of reflecting on the nature of technology:

  • Technology as artefacts
  • Technology as knowledge
  • Technology as processes
  • Technology as a property of humans

With this established we considered the impact of the Enlightenment on the way we think about the world and as a result the relationship that developed between science (finding out new knowledge), technology (exploiting that knowledge) and capitalism (investing and profiting from the finding out and the exploitation). We concluded this part by considering the following questions about technology:

  • Is it inside or outside our control?
  • Overall is it beneficial or harmful to humans?
  • Does it detract from what it means to be human and the possibilities of being human or enhance human potential and possibilities?
  • In its relationship with capitalism is it beginning to marginalise human activity and the availability of paid work for humans – or will it provide as yet un-thought of work activities?
  • Did they find themselves aligning with Jacques Ellul, an anarchist Roman Catholic priest, who was a declared technological pessimist or with Kevin Kelly, Founder of Wired magazine and an avowed technological optimist?

Then we moved on to the significance of science as revealing phenomena that are exploited by technology – the thinking of economist Brian W Arthur. In the past it was possible to exploit phenomena with only a minimal, or indeed no scientific understanding but this has changed over time and recently scientific discovery is more often than not the start of new and emerging technologies. Exploiting the properties of silicon is an interesting example. In Paleolithic times this led to beautifully crafted had axes and the highly skilled designer makers didn’t need to know anything of the atomic structure of silicon. Similarly the production of beautiful stained glass windows in medieval times which exploit the properties of silicon and transition metals required no knowledge of atomic structure. But in the 20th century the exploitation of the properties of silicon to produce transistors cannot be done without knowledge of its atomic structure.

from gsppt

We then moved on to consider the 18th century discoveries of Michael Faraday (moving magnets create electric currents) and Hans Ørsted (electric currents create magnetic fields) because these discoveries resulted some 50 years later to the development of electric motors and electricity generators. This eventually led to the group tackling the following task:

  • What new and emerging technologies utilise electric motors?
  • To what extent are they likely to be disruptive.

The resulting discussion was fascinating. Here are some points that emerged.

  • Robots in all shapes and sizes utilise electric motors and their use in various contexts sparked considerable debate especially in the light of recent events at Gatwick Airport involving drones. The impact of automation through robots and AI gave cause for concern.
  • Electric cars, coupled with automation and AI were also considered, with the idea that the nature of travel and the design of cities are open to significant cultural change.
  • The humble electric tooth brush which of course requires an electric motor did not escape the group’s attention which led to a consideration of the use and effectiveness of such brushes being monitored. At one level simply to remind children to brush their teeth but at other levels impacting on medical insurance if the data revealed inherent weaknesses in a person’s teeth.
  • And one group considered the smart home in which there would be many electric motor operated devices and how these might be activated by talking to Alexa, Amazon’s home assistant. This led the group to wonder what Alexa looked like. Just shut your eyes, listen to her voice and imagine that she is a person. What would she look like? The overriding view that she would be white upper middle class late twenties/early thirties, highly successful and very attractive in a conventional sense. We wondered who decided on the voice, it certainly isn’t an accident that she sounds as she does and evokes such imagery, and what does she do with all that information she collects; after all she is listening all the time.

Towards the end of the session we considered how they might initiate this sort of discussion with their pupils in d&t lessons. And as a final point I suggested that D&T itself might need to be disrupted so that the current situation in which the D is dominant and the T subservient should be reversed with much more emphasis on the T. This will require:

  • Greater emphasis on the nature of technology
  • Greater emphasis on the science – technology relationship
  • Greater emphasis on critique and developing technological perspective
  • A move away from justifying D&T as a vocational subject

The session covered much more than outlined here and the PowerPoint presentation I used is available here.

As always comments welcome.

Books for D&T teachers!

A recent post on the Design and Technology Teachers Facebook asked for suggestions concerning books for A level D&T students as monies were available from the library fund. Good news, books for students are always welcome. I suggested that some of the funds might be spent on books for teachers. This was well received so here’s my list of books for the department library.

Ascent of ManThe Ascent of Man, by Jacob Bronowski, published in 1973. Although over 40 years old, with quote such as “The hand is the cutting edge of the mind” this still provides one of the best rationales for the teaching of D&T.



technopoly-the-surrender-of-culture-to-technology1Technopoly The surrender of culture to technology, by Neil Postman, published in 1993. The rational for education, according to Postman, is that it is not child centred, not training centred, not skill centred, not even problem centred. It is idea centred and coherence centred. It is an excellent corrective to the anti-historical, information saturated technology loving character of Technopoly.


Nature of TechnologyThe Nature of Technology What it is and how it evolves, by W Brian Arthur, published in 2009. Arthur makes a persuasive case for technology making its greatest strides through the understanding and exploitation of phenomenon that have been revealed, explored and explained by science



Homo DeusHomo Deus A brief history of tomorrow, by Yuval Noah Harari, published in 2015. Taking the current and likely future achievements of science and technology Harari describes the challenges that will face society as we develop powers completely beyond any we have had so far with the prospect of creating new life forms both digital and biological and even cheating death.



The-Glass-CageThe Glass Cage Where automation is taking us, by Nicholas Carr, published in 2015. Carr argues that the current trend for technology to make things easier, friction free, requiring less effort is counterproductive and leads to a diminishing of what it means to be human and human endeavours. How we develop and engage with technology so that it requires effort has implications for teaching.


Human PlanetThe Human Planet How we created the Anthropocene, by Simon Lewis & Mark Maslin, published in 2018. For Lewis and Maplin the writing is on the wall for the human race and our life on this planet as we know it. The evidence which they provide for human activity changing the way the planet is behaving is highly convincing and being reinforced almost on a weekly basis by further reports from the scientific community. Crucial that young people understand this and are not deceived by the climate change deniers.


Synthetics AgeThe Synthetic Age, by Christopher J Preston, published in 2018. Preston echoes Harari in arguing that humans are moving from being caretakers of the Earth to being shapers of it through the new and emerging technologies that provide us with powers that previously had been the province of Nature. He asks who should we trust to decide the contours of our synthetic future? He suggests it is too important to be left to the engineers!


As always, comments welcome.


We have developed a survey to explore the range of views of different stakeholders about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). The survey enables those in teaching, initial teacher education, CPD and research to give their views as to the nature, place, purpose and worth of STEM in the school curriculum. We intend to report on the data in one or more papers submitted to research conferences and/or journals and it will also be used to inform the revisions for Edition 2 of “Teaching STEM in the Secondary School” by David Barlex and Frank Banks.

We will also publish a summary of the main findings here on our blog. We have designed the survey so that it is likely to take less than 20 minutes to complete.

You can find the survey here

We hope that you can find the time to respond and please do pass on the link to colleagues with an interest in STEM

As always comments welcome

Food A-Level Content Survey

From Marion Rutland:

I and Angela Turner (from Australia) are co-editing the book “Food Education and Food Technology in School Curricula – International Perspectives” for Springer Education and we have invited a wide range of international authors with a specific interest in the teaching of food in schools to write the different chapters.

As part of this project, I am writing a chapter about progression in food education in the English school curriculum. The chapter focuses on the current loss of a food related A-Level course providing access into higher education courses for pupils interested in food as a pathway to a range of careers such as nutrition, dietetics, nursing, the health related professions, teaching and the food industry.

To inform this chapter I have created a survey asking for views on what the content of such an A-level should be. Some colleagues have already responded to a paper version of this survey; many thanks if you have already responded to that.

However, I would very much appreciate additional responses from a wider audience to strengthen the focus of the research on a key issue that will help consolidate and support the future of food teaching in schools. To this end, there is now an online version of the survey available:

If you are interested in the future of food at A-level, please do contribute your thoughts via the survey – and if you know of others with similar interests, please send them a link to this post or direct them straight to the survey.

I do hope that the task is not too onerous and look forward to receiving your responses.

Electric cars and meat as a treat – what is the world coming to?

sr15_cover_placeholderThe latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provides stark warning about the impact of climate change as these extracts from the summary for policy makers indicate

  • A1. Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warmingabove pre-industrial levels, with a likely range of 0.8°C to 1.2°C. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate. (high confidence)
  • B5. Climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth are projected to increase with global warming of 1.5°C and increase further with 2°C.
  • C2. Pathways limiting global warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems (high confidence). These systems transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale, but not necessarily in terms of speed, and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant up-scaling of investments in those options (medium confidence).

Clearly they are making no bones about it. We have to change our ways or the human race will suffer.  Planet Earth will survive even if we humans don’t. We need Planet Earth far more than Planet Earth needs us. If we do not mend our ways the Planet will become more and more inhospitable. There will be a few who will be able literally, to ride out the storm because of their extreme wealth giving a safe haven for those who are employed to maintain their safety and security in artificially constructed environments. But for the majority of humans the prospects look bleak. What can be done? Well there may be some light on the horizon.

4 blogThe government has indicated that a ban on the sale of new diesel and petrol vehicles should begin in 2040 but some MPs have argued that this should be brought forward by eight years to 2032. A report Electric Vehicles: Driving the transition from the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee said the government’s deeds did not match the ambitions of its words calling the government’s current plans to ensure all new cars are “effectively zero emission” by 2040 “vague and unambitious”. In addition, it called for plans to slash subsidies for less-polluting vehicles “perverse”. The report is long and detailed as is to be expected but the summary, just under three pages, makes excellent reading for teachers and students of science and D&T at both KS4 and KS5. The BBC covers the issues well. And the way the electricity is generated is key and that too must change. As electric cars become more and more ubiquitous the country’s ability to generate electricity will need to increase to provide the energy that was once provided by petrol and diesel.

And it doesn’t end with electric cars. It’s well established that rearing livestock generates lots of methane which contributes to global warming and the removal of large areas of forest to create grazing land adds to the problem as it diminishes the planet’s ability to remove CO2through photosynthesis. The BBC covered this in a piece on its news website entitled Is meat’s climate impact too hot for politicians? The item reported that the climate minister Claire Perry has told BBC News it is not the government’s job to advise people on a climate-friendly diet. She said: “I like lots of local meat. I don’t think we should be in the business of prescribing to people how they should run their diets.” When asked whether the Cabinet should set an example by eating less beef (which has most climate impact), she said: “I think you’re describing the worst sort of Nanny State ever. Who would I be to sit there advising people in the country coming home after a hard day of work to not have steak and chips?… Please…”Ms Perry refused even to say whether she agreed with scientists’ conclusions that meat consumption needed to fall. When in the past we have been faced with a serious crisis the government has intervened. The government didn’t think it was a nanny state approach to provide advice and guidance that helped people understand the AIDS epidemic and change their behaviour accordingly. The possibility of a global AIDS epidemic which we faced towards the end of the last century pales into insignificance when compared to the environmental crisis we now face with regard to global warming. So I hope that the climate minister changes her view.

So what’s all this got to do with design & technology? This quote from the Parke’s report which laid out the foundations for the subject in the National Curriculum is very telling, the last sentence in particular

1.14 Much of what we have considered so far about the contribution of design and technology to the school curriculum is based on the assumption that pupils will actively engage in the processes of design and technology. Our view is that such practical involvement is fundamental to an education of this kind. There is, however, an additional dimension to consider and this entails critical reflection upon and appraisal of the social and economic results of design and technological activities beyond the school. Our terms of reference refer to pupils being able to ‘appreciate the importance of design and technology in society, historically and present day, particularly as it affects the economy’. Understanding of technological change and of the ways in which it is restructuring the workplace and influencing life styles is a crucial aspect of an education in design and technology. The consequences of technological change are profound and pervasive. Furthermore, technological revolutions are irreversible; no technological change can be uninvented after it has taken place. We need to understand design and technology, therefore, not only to solve practical problems, to invent, optimise and realise solutions, but also so that we can acquire a sense of its enormous transformatory power. Used wisely, they bring new and worthwhile goals within reach. By the end of the period of compulsory education pupils should have some understanding of the value options and decisions that have empowered the technological process in the past and which are doing so today.

The implications are clear: plenty of designing and making but that alone will be insufficient; a consideration of technology and its consequences is also necessary. So an interesting question is how might a teacher relate some designing and making to considering the consequences of technology? Designing and making a working model of an electric car for the future might be a starting point with associated case study reading and discussion about climate change and why a change to electric cars might be important. This approach to curriculum design that links technological capability (through designing and making) to technological perspective (through considering the consequences of technology) might be worth adopting as each activity could reinforce the other.

One of opportunities in considering the consequences of technology in the context of global warming and climate change is to introduce new and emerging technologies that might play a part in undoing the damage caused by previous technologies, in this case the internal combustion engine and the automobile. And that brings us back to the IPCC report. One new and emerging technology noted in the IPCC report is that of Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR). This isn’t a new and emerging technology usually considered in design & technology but in current circumstances it might be worthwhile and it would provide the opportunity to develop links with the science curriculum. The IPCC report indicates that this technology alone to reduce CO2emissions would be inadequate but it does have a part to play. And the article in this week’s New Scientist about Enhanced Geothermal Systems Technology indicates that other new technology options are becoming available. Perhaps ‘technology can save us’ after all although it won’t be easy with international politics having a large role to play. The contrast between the position of the British Government informed and to some extent berated by the work of the cross party Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committeeis in stark contrast to that of the Trump administration in the US and the changing role of its Environmental Protection Agency. The rationale for design & technology often centres on the needs of the economy but it seems to me there is an equal, if not more important reason for its place in the curriculum – educating our young people to be active in supporting our government’s environmental efforts in both what we do in our country and in influencing the efforts of other countries. In short our subject has a role in preparing young people to be responsible global citizens.

As always comments welcome