Devising a learning journey for D&T (a)

The final post in this set of three was to deal with the issue of devising a learning journey for design & technology that teaches the knowledge required for pupils a) to have a grasp on the enduring ideas that comprise design & technology knowledge, b) to develop technological capability and c) to develop technological perspective. I now realize that trying to cover all three elements in a single post is unwise, readers would need an unusual amount of persistence. So this post will just consider a) the place of teaching enduring ideas in a design & technology learning journey. More on b) and c) in future posts.

I believe that in a learning journey the teacher should make the enduring ideas explicit to pupils, visiting them regularly and frequently so that pupils are taught to know, understand and use them. This approach will provide an intellectual coherence to learning across a wide range which for pupils is often fragmented and disjointed. The enduring ideas identified in previous posts were materials, manufacture, functionality, design, critique and the nature of the subject. I will discuss the place of each in the learning journey.

In the case of knowledge about materials whenever pupils are choosing materials for themselves or considering the choices of others I suggest there are four key points to be stressed:

  • Properties – what is this material like and how might it be manipulate?
  • Sources – where does this material come from and how is it obtained?
  • Footprint – what is the impact of acquiring and using this material?
  • Longevity – if the material is a finite resource how long will current stocks last?

These are general questions to consider and can be applied to all materials and so can be used consistently across all material (focus) areas. I don’t want pupils to learn long tables of properties off by heart but I do want them to develop a curious approach to the enduring idea of the nature of materials as relevant to design & technology. The four key points can be used regularly and frequently throughout the learning journey.

In the case of knowledge about manufacture whenever pupils are learning to make or making a product then whatever processes are being used they can be considered under the following five activities:

  • Subtraction
  • Addition
  • Forming
  • Assembly (sometimes with additional processing)
  • Finishing

These processes can be applied to all materials and be used to describe how a maker moves from materials in available forms to finished products. Pupils can use the same headings to describe their own making whatever material (focus area) they happen to be working in and also plan their making in terms of the sequence in which they will use the five activities. They can also describe the manufacture of commercial products in this way. These ideas can be used regularly and frequently throughout the learning journey.

The case of knowledge about functionality is more complex and I’m grateful to my colleague Kay Stables for suggesting that functionality should be subdivided into three separate areas. Taking her idea I suggest that these might be social function, aesthetic function, and technical function. A first consideration in thinking about the social function of a product is to be clear about the purpose of the product and what it has to do to achieve this purpose. But I suggest that this thinking needs to be extended to include how the product might affect the user, those in contact with the user and the wider society in which the product is used. Will the products enhance or detract from the quality of the human relationships? In broad term this is asking pupils to think about the worth of the product they are being asked to design and make or the worth of products developed by others. These are general questions to consider and can be applied whatever material or materials pupils may be intending to use. Hence they can be used at regular and frequent intervals throughout the learning journey.

Clearly the social function will play out by the way the aesthetic and technical functions are achieved. I suggest that achieving aesthetic function is broader than developing an attractive appearance although this is important. The designers Dick Powell and Richard Seymour have praised products that have ‘visceral appeal’ “I want it as soon as I see it even before I know what it is!” Hence in developing their own products and considering those of others I suggest pupils should be asked to think about how the design enables the product appeals to all the senses, how it makes them feel and how it piques their curiosity. This thinking would apply to products derived from all material areas and hence can be revisited and reinforced regularly throughout the learning journey. I suggest that achieving technical function can be conceived in terms of meeting structural, power and control requirements. All products whatever their material have structural requirements although the nature of these requirements will vary to a considerable extent according to the materials involved. But there are some underlying ideas that cross material boundaries e.g. how particular structural components can be joined or combined, how they might meet requirements for strength and stiffness, how to achieve stability in free standing items. So asking pupils to identify structural requirements and to consider how these are met in their design proposals are questions that can be revisited time and again as they move through their learning journey. I suggest that the areas of power and control are less easy to embrace across all material areas and within all products so it is especially important that when they are visited in the learning journey they are dealt with in a robust way. There are of course opportunities to integrate power and control into textile and graphic products as well as those products more typically associated with so called ‘systems and control’. In the majority of products that pupils design and make that require power the powering involves the slow release of stored energy. Such energy may be stored in batteries, capacitors, springs, material stored at a high level or a compressed gas. In some cases the energy can be stored by a person ‘doing some work’ e.g. lifting a weight or pumping a reservoir. The use of renewable energy sources such as solar or wind power to drive products adds an additional complication as such sources may not be reliable and this has to be taken into account when they are used. Often the power source is a given in that pupils have little or no choice as to which power source to use but this need not always be the case. In designing simple moving toys, for example, giving pupils a choice of power source will greatly increase the variety of outcomes. Whether choice is available or not it is important for pupils to appreciate that a power source is required, and think about the rate at which it can supply energy. An interesting challenge is to ask what changes need to be made to a proposed design if the power source is to last longer? If pupils are to gain insight into the efficient use of power sources then it is important that they move beyond ‘using what I’ve been given’ and consider different possibilities whenever they are required to power a product or consider the power sources used by others.

Control is a wide domain and for the purposes of this post I’ll restrict consideration to mechanical, electric and electronic control and for the later I’ll concentrate particularly on programmeable control. To some extent all of this control activity can be seen in terms of a systems approach involving input, process and output with, in some cases, feedback. Mechanical systems use mechanisms that produce different sorts of movement and change the size, direction and point of application of forces and motions. Pupils can use this description to design systems that meet the requirements of their designs. It will always be a case of defining the input movement, identifying the desired output movement and choosing a mechanism or group of mechanisms to turn the input into the output. It is important that pupils are able to practice using this procedure rather than simply being given a mechanism that the teacher knows will work. Whilst the latter might ensure success it almost certainly guarantees very limited learning. Electrical circuits at their simplest use switches of various kinds to control a variety of output devices – lamps, LEDs, motors, buzzers and again it is far preferable for the pupil to identify the requirements of the electrical control system and devise circuits to meet this than for the teacher to provide a ready conceived solution however elegant or foolproof. It is when the circuit devised by the pupil fails to perform as expected that most learning takes place. My colleague Torben Steeg has argued that programmeable systems should be the core of electronics teaching from Year 7 upwards Such work enables pupils to use simple microprocessors to develop products with embedded intelligence and for the outcomes of their own designing and making to begin to mirror the electronic products they use in everyday life which all now contain microprocessors. The products developed initially by pupils are inevitably simple – products that use sensors to respond to changes in conditions, products that are in fact simple robots. But they lay the ground for pupils to consider the impact of such technology and to be able to design more sophisticated products that could be, for example, part of the Internet of Things.

A key question is how often across Key Stage 3 will pupils get the opportunity to consider technical function. Consideration of structural function should be a regular and frequent affair; less so perhaps for the considering power sources. Considering control in ways that build pupils capacity ‘to control’ will take some significant curriculum development. Introducing simple programmeable control should be possible in year 7 especially if the design & technology department can collaborate with those responsible for teaching computing. Devising items that require both electrical and mechanical control should be possible in year 7 and 8. Extending this learning to embrace programmeable control should be possible in Year 8 and 9. But this will need to be done in a way that leads to pupils developing ‘products of worth’ in which the exact nature of the outcome is uncertain. So there is a lot of work to do on this aspect of the learning journey.

I suggest that ideas concerning critique can be linked to ideas concerning social function but these will need to be extended. It is important to distinguish evaluation from critique. Evaluation is generally concerned with whether a design does what it was supposed to do i.e. does it meet the specification. Such evaluation does not question the overall purpose of the design. It does not ask the question “OK the design does ‘this’ but is ‘this’ what we should be doing?” which requires the questioner to consider the consequences of the design. For example I’m a great fan of teaching pupils about robotics and getting them to envisage possible robots for the future as well as designing, making and programming simple robots. But the impact of robotics on our society won’t necessarily be benign. They will almost certainly make some workers redundant and drones, for example, can be used for both good (mapping farm land to enhance agricultural efficiency) and bad (killing enemies at distance with considerable collateral damage). Hence I think it is necessary for me to teach pupils to critique – not just about robots but the use of any technologies and their associated products. There are two particular lenses that it is useful for pupils to use. The first is justice. Does this technology give rise to a society in which people are treated fairly or does this technology advantage some and disadvantage others? The second is stewardship. Does this technology harm the planet in ways that that will seriously affect for the worse the lives of future generations of those, human and non-human, living on the planet? I believe it is an essential aspect of the design & technology learning journey that all pupils are required to critique technology and associated products regularly and frequently. Case study reading for homework with short follow up presentations from members of the class are efficient ways to do this.

My colleague Bill Nicholl describes designing as exploring, creating and evaluating and insists quite rightly in my view that this is an iterative process with pupils working through the ECE sequence many times in any design activity. Informing this design activity of course is pupils’ knowledge and understanding of materials, manufacture and functionality and intriguingly some of the detail of this understand is enhanced as it is used in the pursuit of design goals. Designing can’t be taught from the front. It doesn’t really matter how much you read about designing the only way to get good at it is to do it. In this sense it’s a bit like riding a bike. No one can tell you how to do it you have to learn for yourself but of course once you have managed to travel a little distance without falling off there’s plenty of very useful advice and guidance available as to how to improve your skill and stamina as a cyclist. So it is with designing. The learning journey must involve regular and frequent opportunities to design. But of course once you’ve started there are all sorts of strategies to be learned that will develop pupils’ design abilities. Some of these are concerned with generating design idea, some with developing them and some with communicating them. And of course there are techniques for on going review and evaluation. All have their place in enhancing pupils’ design abilities as do the knowledge and understanding of materials, manufacture and functionality. Clearly a lot of different learning informs designing, some before, some during and some after the design activity. Hence building designing into the design & technology learning journey requires considerable orchestration on the part of the teacher and the curriculum developer.

Underlying all the enduring ideas so far considered is of course the nature of the subject; that through design & technology we intervene in the natural and made world and whether such interventions are worthwhile will be a matter of judgement with the surety that there will be unintended consequences. The learning journey I’ve described enables personal intervention on the part of the pupils through their own designing and making and also a scrutiny of the intervention of others. It provides significant understanding of materials, making and function to inform this intervention and scrutiny. Through the use of critique it develops pupils’ abilities to make judgements as to the worth and possible consequences of their own design & technology and that of others. Be in no doubt this learning journey is extremely demanding, intellectually and practically. It will be challenging for all pupils but not I hope daunting. That of course is where teachers are so important. We will need to display a powerful demand for effort, support that enables the struggle required for achievement and the infectious enthusiasm that evokes pupil commitment to their design & technology learning journey throughout Key Stage 3 and beyond.


OK so what about some questions?

I’m arguing for a written examination to assess knowledge and understanding in design & technology in addition to an examination based on performance in tackling a significant designing and making project. In a previous post I’ve outlined some general possibilities but where the rubber really hits the road is when I try to come up with specific examples of questions. Ultimately I will have to take strong note of the assessment uncertainty principle posted by headguruteacher but for the moment I’ll just develop some examples. Note these examples will not include long-winded designing assignments as capability in designing will have been assessed through the designing and making assignment.

If we want to assess knowledge and understanding concerning manufacture how about …

Providing the following information:

  • A clear photo of a particular product
  • A clear, labeled, exploded diagram of a particular product
  • A clear labeled diagram showing a range of possible starting materials in available forms that might be used in manufacturing the product

The question would require candidates to develop a multiple path flow chart describing how the different parts of the product would be made and then assembled into the finished product.

Supplementary questions might require candidates to comment on their answer in terms of:

  • Where might the manufacturing be located,
  • To what extent does the process involve machines, artificial intelligence and humans,
  • What would be the impact of replacing one material with another?

This question can be seen as generic in that it could be adapted for many different product types consisting of different materials.

If we want to assess knowledge and understanding concerning materials how about …

Providing the following information:

  • Illustration of a large hanging basket of flowers being watered from a watering can
  • The designerly dilemma is which material to use to support the basket safely.
  • Table giving the tensile strength of nylon, mild steel and aluminium
  • Table giving the diameters available for nylon, mild steel and aluminium
  • Mass of hanging basket
  • Mass of water poured onto hanging basket

The question would require candidates to choose material of a particular diameter to support the basket and justify their choice in terms of why that material at that diameter and why not the other alternatives.

This question can be seen as generic in that it could be adapted for situations involving material choice with regard to particular properties e.g. different sorts of quilting for warmth, different ingredients for nutrition

If we want to assess knowledge and understanding concerning mechanical control how about …

Providing the following information about motor performance, wheel size and speed of rotation for toy cars:

  • Car A – 5cm diameter wheels with a motor that turned the wheels at 5 revolutions in 10 seconds
  • Car B – 2cm diameter wheels with a motor that turned the wheels at 10 revolutions in 10 seconds
  • Car C – 3cm diameter wheels with a motor that turned the wheels at 6 revolutions in 10 seconds

Candidates would be asked to show which toy travels the fastest and suggest changes to wheel size to enable the slowest car to travel the fastest.

If we want to assess knowledge and understanding concerning the understanding of user need how about …

Providing a high quality line illustration or photograph of people at a particular place or in a particular situation e.g. at a railway terminus, on a long bus journey, waiting at a bus stop at night. Candidates would be required to look carefully at the illustration/photograph and identify the following categories of need:

  • Physical
  • Social
  • Emotional
  • Intellectual

And suggest products or services that might meet these needs

For questions requiring a synoptic response how about …

A question concerning justifying the worth of a particular product in which candidates are provided the following information

  • An illustration of a product
  • An illustration of the product in use

Candidates would be required to:

  • Comment on the way the product works
  • Comment on the needs or wants that the product meets
  • Comment on how the product might be brought to market and hence become available to people
  • Comment on the extent to which the product will be acceptable in society
  • Make an overall judgment as to the worth of the product


A questions considering the disruptive effects of particular technologies in which candidates are provided with a short description of a situation in which an elderly person is being looked after by a care robot

Candidates are required to:

  • Comment on the extent to which care robots might change the way the elderly are cared for
  • Comment on the extent to which care robots might alter the way people live and work
  • Comment on the extent to which new businesses might emerge and existing businesses fail as a result of using care robots
  • Comment on the extent to which care robots might operate in other situations
  • Make an overall judgement on whether care robots for the elderly should be used and developed further

The above is only a preliminary foray into very tricky territory but I’d welcome comments and examples of other possibilities


Tinkering Fundamentals: A Constructionist Approach to STEM Learning | Free on Coursera

It’s no secret that I’m really interested in exploring the relationship between formal education and the maker community. Now a free course, Tinkering Fundamentals: A Constructionist Approach to STEM Learning, is being offered, organised by the people who run the Tinkering Studio in San Francisco’s Exploratorium. This looks like a great opportunity to spend some time thinking through how maker approaches could be applied to support high quality learning in D&T.

Fundamentals of Tinkering – Course Overview from The Tinkering Studio on Vimeo.

It’s slightly bad timing for UK teachers as it falls during term time (I think it will be in the US vacation period). But it does seem too good an opportunity to miss; I urge you to at least look at the course page and view the video.

They note the materials required for the course and they all look like things most of us will either already have or could buy in the UK; it would be easy enough to create a shopping list.

I’m seriously thinking about engaging with this course and it occurs to me that if we get a group of UK-based teachers, makers, tinkerers etc. following the course we could set up a discussion/support group on the side where we could discuss implications for UK practice without boring our US colleagues (or the course organisers might be able to set us up a sub-group within the course – we could ask).

So, if you are planning to do this course, please let me know so that we can share experiences and discuss implications.

Deciding what to teach and how to assess it in design & technology (2)

This post (the second in a series of three) is to consider what might constitute valid and reliable means of assessing the acquisition of knowledge in design & technology. Tim Oates has robustly defended the Expert Panel decision to abandon levels of attainment in this short video clip. I do urge you to watch it. Tim makes the case for teaching pupils to understand enduring ideas as the basis for the decision. He cites this as the approach taken in other countries with higher educational performance than England, countries that do not assess on the basis of levels. In Tim’s view concentrating on levels does far more harm than good, should be abandoned and that it is essential to embed teaching of subjects in the acquisition of knowledge, skill and understanding embodied by those subjects.

His view is that in a system without levels the assessment needs to be based at the point of teaching on whether the pupil has ‘got it’ or not. Tim’s argument is that at a particular point in time with regard to teaching a subject some aspects of enduring ideas will be appreciated whilst others will not. He maintains that it is teachers who can discern whether such understanding has been achieved by probing question and answer sessions with the pupils that stimulate discussion and require/allow the pupil to reveal their grasp or lack of it of the enduring ideas being taught. Tim argues for teachers to be able to use such question-answer sessions effectively. In short to become expert assessors in their day to day practice.

An allied problem with the statements of attainment for design & technology was that they were couched entirely in procedural terms, concerned with ‘knowing how’ but ignoring ‘knowing that’ as exemplified by this example from the 1999 design & technology National Curriculum shows. At level 8:                                                Pupils use a range of strategies to develop appropriate ideas, responding to information they have identified. When planning, they make decisions on materials and techniques based on their understanding of the physical properites and working characteristics of materials. They identify conflicting demands on their design, explain how their ideas address these demands and use this analysis to produce proposals.

Tim is not alone in in supporting the significance of pupils learning enduring ideas. Neil Postman (1993) in his prescient polemical attack on the impact of technology on society refers to education as enabling young people to take part in the ‘great conversation’ and that such education is “… not child-centered, not training centered, not skill centered, not even problem centered. It is idea centered and coherence centered”  (Page 188). More recently E. D Hirsh (2007) has argued convincingly that in the USA it is a lack of knowledge that disadvantages those for whom education is expected to do the most. Most recently Ian Leslie (2014) has made the case for being knowledgeable if one is to be curious and use curiosity effectively.

So in response to these positions on the importance of knowledge we need a design & technology curriculum based on the teaching of enduring ideas i.e. we need to construct a curriculum that mirrored the contents of the hexagon diagram in the previous post. Such a curriculum should reflect the nature of the subject and teach ideas concerned with materials, manufacture, functionality, design and critique. It should deal with aspects of these ideas in a way that is progressively more demanding. It is the teacher’s task to devise a curriculum that meets the requirements of progression taking into account what we know about the complexity of such ideas and how they might be learned. This is straying into post 3 territory (devising the learning journey) but if the teacher has this vision of progression then at any one point in time she will be able to ask pupils the questions necessary to probe whether her teaching of enduring ideas has been successful.

Of course for design & technology ‘knowing that’ is only part of the story. The essential interaction of ‘knowing that’ with ‘knowing how’ will require that the teacher has developed the curriculum such that what has been taught and learned is deployed through tasks in which the pupils take action using the knowledge and understanding they have learned. Again the sequence of such tasks should require that progress is made and such tasks should be devised and managed by the teacher such that they become more demanding as pupils move through the sequence. And on completion of such a task the teacher should be able to make judgement as to how well a pupil has tackled the task. And again this would be without reference to levels; more of this anon. Clearly there is a whole host of issues to be considered with regard to tracking pupils’ performance as they move through KS3 and KS4 towards GCSE assessment including the thorny issue of using end of primary school assessment data to predict performance 5 years hence at GCSE. I want to park the discussion on this until a later post and for the moment concentrate on the sort of assessment that could operate at GCSE which deliberately assessed acquisition of knowledge (knowing that) in the context of the particular significance for design & technology of ‘knowing how’.

My position is this. If we limit what young people should know and understand and be able to do to that which is required to successfully tackle a major design and make task we are selling the subject short. Not that tackling such a task is an insignificant endeavor. It is not. It requires hard investigative work to appreciate the nature of the problem the design has to address, what we might call ‘knowledge of the problem’. For an authentic task this knowledge cannot be ‘taught from the front’ or looked up in a textbook. It has to be sought out through a user centered approach to design. Techniques for doing this can of course be taught. Then in responding to the problem there are all sorts of knowledge, understanding and skill needed – what we might call ‘knowledge for the solution’. Some of this a pupil may have been taught but some may well be beyond what has been taught and the pupil will need to find out for herself. This of course is where Ian Leslie’s main argument in Curious is particularly pertinent – the more you already know the easier it will be to find out about what you don’t know and need to know. But however demanding any one project might be it cannot cover the breadth of knowledge required to appreciate a whole subject. So limiting assessment of design & technology to the procedural competence, albeit knowledge, understanding and skill dependent, is to my mind insufficient. We are fortunate that there is now significant and substantial expertise in assessing design & technology project work. The e-scape project  carried out through the work of Richard Kimbell and colleagues at TERU, Goldsmiths has shown that we can do this in a way that is both valid and reliable and I would certainly want this aspect of assessment to continue. But I want more than this. I want to assess the extent to which pupils have really grasped the enduring ideas that are important in design & technology in a way that is true to the nature of design & technology i.e. an assessment that takes into account ‘knowing that’ and its relationship to ‘knowing how’ for the subject as a whole.

And allied to this wider interpretation of what is worth knowing about and learning through a broad and balanced design & technology course is developing ‘technological perspective’. By this I mean giving young people insight into ‘how technology works’ such that they develop a constructively critical view of technology, do not become alienated from the technologically based society in which they live and are able to consider how technology might be used to provide products and systems that help create the sort of society in which they wish to live.

Of course rigorous assessment of the enduring ideas in design & technology will be difficult as this territory is not that well explored. However here is an initial foray into thinking about questions (harking back to some extent to Tim Oates’ position on the significance of questioning) for consideration.

  •  Some questions will need to probe specifics, others should be synoptic in nature requiring candidates to draw on knowledge and understanding from a range of specifics.
  • Most if not all questions should require the use of knowledge to show understanding as opposed to simply being able to recall particular pieces of knowledge. In fact I see many questions as requiring candidates to respond to/resolve different sorts of designerly dilemmas.
  • Some questions can require explanatory writing; in some cases quite extended writing and how such answers can be marked will be a challenge. However English and History teachers have that expertise and we can look to them for advice and guidance.
  • Some questions can be structured into parts that scaffold the candidate in developing a solution to a problem.
  • Some questions will require quantitative as well as qualitative reasoning.
  • Some questions can be multiple choice. I remember assertion reason questions which consisted of three parts: statement 1 and statement 2 separated by the word ‘because’. Statement 1 could be true or false; statement 2 could be true of false; if both statements were true then statement 2 might or might not be a justification/explanation of statement 1. The candidate had to decide which of the possible permutations was represented in the question. Demanding to write but really probing in terms of knowledge and understanding.
  • Some questions will be like none of the above as we work out different sorts of questions for our purpose

Developing such questions will be a challenge but one to which we must rise, particularly at this time when new GCSE specifications are being developed by the Awarding Bodies in collaboration with Ofqual. There will be a consultation about this in the coming months and I think it will be important to respond to this with a robust position that requires assessment of knowledge as well as process for the reasons outlined in this post.

The final post in this set of three will deal with the issue of devising a learning journey for design & technology that teaches the knowledge required for pupils a) to have a grasp on the enduring ideas that comprise design & technology knowledge, b) to develop technological capability and c) to develop technological perspective.


Hirsch, E. D. (2007) The Knowledge Deficit New York: Houghton Mifflin

Leslie, I. (2014) Curious The desire to know and why your future depends on it. London: Quercus

Postman, N. (1993) Technopoly The Surrender of Culture to Technology New York: Vintage


Deciding what to teach and how to assess it in design & technology (1)

This is the first of three blog posts concerning the content of the school subject design & technology and how it can be assessed.

This first post will deal with the historical development of the subject and the nature of the knowledge that the subject should embrace.

The second post will deal with how the acquisition of this knowledge can be assessed.

The third post will deal with the issue of devising a learning journey for design & technology that teaches this knowledge.

Knowledge in design & technology is tricky in that involves both ‘knowing that’ and ‘knowing how’. Design & technology involves at its core the idea of taking action, some form of intervention. This was explicitly acknowledged when the subject was being considered for inclusion in the National Curriculum way back in 1988. An Interim Report (Department for Education and Science and Welsh Office 1988) submitted to the government of the day asked the question, “What is it that pupils learn from design and technological activities which can be learned in no other way?” and gave this answer:

In its most general form, the answer to this question is in terms of capability to operate effectively and creatively in the made world. The goal is increased ‘competence in the indeterminate zones of practice’. Page 3

The report made clear the distinction between homo sapiens (man the understander) and homo faber (man the maker) and acknowledged that these ways of knowing were not mutually independent but did not clarify the relationship between knowing and doing.

The current administration puts great store on the idea of the essential knowledge (e.g. facts, concepts, principles and fundamental operations) that children need to be taught in order to progress and develop their understanding. Such knowledge may be seen as being composed of enduring ideas.

In his book Technology’s challenge to science education David Layton strongly endorsed the idea that scientific knowledge of varying sorts was needed to support ‘know how’. Jacob Bronowski makes the same point many times in The Ascent of Man but particularly well in his description of the manufacture of the samurai sword – a process discovered by trial and error which could only be maintained and repeated by turning the practice into a traditional ritual that always worked but was not understood. There is no doubt that much scientific knowledge needs to be reorganized and remodelled to make it useful and more accessible to practical users. It is clear that there is other important knowledge that can only be acquired through practice. It is this knowledge ‘set’ embracing both knowing that and knowing how and the relationship between the two that has to be defined and that taken together forms the enduring ideas that comprise design & technology in the school curriculum.

However the development of this relationship between ‘knowing that’ and ‘knowing how’ as exemplified by schools’ practice in design & technology was initially insufficient to convince the Expert Panel set up by the current administration to review the contents of the National Curriculum that the subject taught enduring ideas. To quote from the Panel’s report (Department for Education, 2011)

4.8 Despite their importance in balanced educational provision, we are not entirely persuaded of claims that design and technology, information and communication technology and citizenship have sufficient disciplinary coherence 58to be stated as discrete and separate National Curriculum ‘subjects’. We recommend that:

  • Design and technology is reclassified as part of the Basic Curriculum. We recommend that design and technology programmes should be developed by schools in response to local needs and interests, which is why we take the view that a reclassification to the Basic Curriculum is desirable.

58 Implicit in this judgement is a view of disciplinary knowledge as a distinct way of investigating, knowing and making sense with particular foci, procedures and theories, reflecting both cumulative understanding and powerful ways of engaging with the future. In this sense, disciplinary knowledge offers core foundations for education, from which the subjects of the curriculum are derived. Some very worthwhile areas of learning apply such knowledge in particular ways or foreground particular areas of skill or competence – but have weaker epistemological roots. Our judgement about possible reclassification is based on the balance of advantage, given the need to reduce prescription in the National Curriculum. Page 24

Lobbying by the Design & Technology Association convinced the Minister that the subject should be included in the National Curriculum and further lobbying, particularly by the Royal Academy of Engineering using the document New Principles for Design & Technology in the National Curriculum (E4E 2013) led to the introduction of a Programme of Study (Department for Education 2013) which seems to be well regarded with Elizabeth Truss being quoted as saying, “I believe the draft you have submitted is strong and welcome in particular the way in which it embodies the coherence and conceptual rigour of design & technology”.

However to my mind the relationship between ‘knowing that’, ‘knowing how’ and enduring ideas still needs to be clarified. I developed the following diagram to describe six areas of enduring ideas that taken together can be used to define design & technology as a school subject.



Importantly one of the ideas concerns the nature of the subject and should include the idea of intervention through design activity, its consequences and using knowledge from a wide variety of sources in addition to the knowledge delineated in the diagram. The other ideas all involve an interaction between knowing that and knowing how.

  • For materials pupils use what they know about materials to choose materials that are appropriate for their designs
  • For manufacture pupils have to turn their knowledge of manufacturing methods into skills so that they can make their designs
  • For functionality pupils need to use their knowledge of structures, power and control to devise the functional performance required by their designs
  • For design pupils have to know about a wide range of design strategies and learn how to deploy them in developing their designs
  • For critique pupils need to use their knowledge of how design & technology is being used in the world to make value judgements as to the worth and appropriateness of such use with, to my mind, particular regard for justice and stewardship.

Underpinning this knowledge based description of design & technology must be a statement as to its worth in the place of human endeavour and hence a justification for its place in a school curriculum. The following seems a good starter.

Imagining what might exist in the future and using tools and materials to create that future is a unique human ability which has led to the development of successive civilizations across history. Such activity embodies some of the best of what it means to be human. Learners study design & technology because it introduces them to this field of human endeavour and empowers them to become people who see the world as a place of opportunity where they and others can, through their own thoughts and actions, improve the world in which they live.

 If we can be confident that this is what we have to teach and why then the next step is to devise valid and reliable means to assess this acquisition of knowledge.


Bronowski, J. (1973) The Ascent of Man. London: British Broadcasting Corporation

Department for Education (2013) Design and technology programmes of study National curriculum in England. London: Department for Education

 Department for Education, (2011). The Framework for the National Curriculum. A report by the Expert Panel for the National Curriculum review. London: Department for Education

Department for Education and Science and Welsh Office. (1988). National Curriculum Design and Technology working group interim report. London: HMSO

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