A couple of days ago Andy Mitchell Deputy CEO of the Design & Technology Association posed this question to members of the D&T ITE community. I thought it deserved wider consideration – particularly from d&t teachers. So I’d be please if the post below provokes you to comment
Initially Andy asked for nominations of schools that might be considered high performing on the grounds that observation of such school would lead to identification of key characteristics. Seemed to me that this was a bit circular in that those nominating the schools would have certain characteristics in mind which they used to make the nominations. However the question got me thinking along the following lines.
Point 1 must be that whilst we want schools to aspire to being high performing a one size fits all model would be inappropriate.
Point 2 the D&T Association has given lots of awards at its annual dinner e.g. subject leadership and mining these would surely give a list of schools where good practice was likely to be present. Scrutiny of such practice should give a range of features likely to be relevant to defining characteristics of a high performing department.
Point 3 the situation is complex as different stakeholders will almost certainly have different views of what constitutes ‘high performing’ and even within a particular stakeholder group there will be variation. Head teachers are clearly a stakeholder group but there will be considerable variation across head teachers as to what constitutes high performing – some might, for example see d&t as a subject which provides useful learning and respite for those pupils who find the ‘academic’ curriculum over demanding and irrelevant. The view from this perspective will be different from that of those head teachers who see the subject as providing their most able pupils with highly challenging activities. Alison Hardy at Nottingham Trent University is currently in the middle of a PhD looking at stakeholder values with regard to d&t so I think she will be able to make a significant contribution to the debate.
Point 4 – related to point 3 – is that a high performing department will have a clear rationale for teaching the subject and some broad learning intentions that are consistent with that rationale. Such a rationale might read …
Imagining what might exist in the future and using tools and materials to create and critically explore 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. Design & Technology introduces leaners to this field of human endeavour and encourages 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.
Note this is a cultural justification as opposed to economic or utilitarian justifications and reflects my view that these latter justifications do not give sufficient reason to teach d&t to a majority of pupils to the age of 16.
The broad learning intentions might have two main features:
- Developing a perspective on technology such that pupils develop a view of technology and how it might be used. Such views should be developed through discussion and reflection as opposed to being taught through instruction.
- Enabling technological capability so that pupils experience what it means to ‘do’ technology as opposed to just learning about technology. This implies that pupils will devise and produce technological outcomes in a variety of forms.
It would be interesting to find out just why d&t departments thought the subject was worth teaching. Steve Parkinson of Archbishop Holgate’s School has probed this to some extent in his recent MA dissertation so it would be useful to have his views.
So what constitutes high performing is likely to be strongly linked to the rationale and learning intentions for the subject. Hence for any department that might be judged as high performing in terms of other criteria I think it would be important to know about that departments view of rationale and learning intentions. It might be that there are patterns with regard to different sorts of high performance according to underlying rationale/learning intentions.
Point 5, which again reflects the need to take a stakeholder perspective is the need for any such list of characteristics to take into account the roles and needs of those working in the department – NQTs, RQTs, those with subject responsibilities, those with department/faculty responsibilities, technicians, teaching assistants. Enabling them all to be reflective practitioners with a clear vision of their developing role and its contribution to high performance would seem a necessary characteristic. This relates strongly to the quality and availability of ITE and CPD.
Point 6 – meeting requirements of other stakeholders will be important so identifying the range of stakeholders concerned with a school d&t department will be important. In some cases requirements will overlap e.g. achieving good GCSE results will be important for parents, pupils and SLTs but we know that it is possible to achieve good results with relatively mediocre projects so looking below the surface will be very important. Note also that Keri Facer challenges the simplistic view that what parents want from education is good qualifications. It is also worth noting that in some cases different stakeholder requirements might be in conflict.
So if any out there have comments or views on such characteristics I, and I’m sure the Design & Technology Association, would be pleased to hear them
I’m not wild about the term ‘high performing’, somewhere lurking in the idea of high performance is that it is practice as opposed to reflection driven. Nevertheless the question posed by Andy is worth more than a little thought