The GCSE D&T Curriculum Reform Consultations

This is the first of a series of posts on the GCSE D&T Curriculum Reform Consultations that David and Torben have written together.


Design and technolog GSCE subject contentThere are currently two separate consultations open that relate to proposed changes to the GCSE in Design & Technology. The consultation from the DfE focuses on the subject content of the new GCSE (this is what we have come to know as the GCSE criteria for D&T) whereas as the consultation from Ofqual focuses on changes to the assessment arrangements.

The proposed D&T Draft GCSE subject content is to some extent the result of collaboration between the Design & Technology Association and the Awarding Organisations. The D&T Association working group consisted of Richard Green, Andy Mitchell, Richard Kimbell, Kay Stables, Bill Nicholl and David Barlex. SDesign and technolog GSCE assessmento if you find the proposal not to your taste then perhaps these are the folk to blame. However the journey from the working group to the proposal via the Awarding Organisations, the DfE and Ofqual does not necessarily reflect the entire thinking of the working group. This may be due to the natural timidity of Awarding Organisations in moving away from the status quo but we think that it is important to put the proposal into the context of ‘what might have been’ if more of the working group’s recommendations had found their way into the proposal.

Why a single GCSE for D&T? I.e. why no separate focus area GCSEs?

The feeling of the group was that having the separate material areas had always been rather artificial and the subject could offer pupils a much richer experience of designing and making if it was the norm for them to be able to draw on a wide range of materials to design and make with (the group realised this does happen in some cases but that these were the exception rather than the rule). The group believed this could make for a much richer working environment for D&T teachers.

We are pleased by the idea that embedded control is an element of the ‘Technical Principles’ for all pupils, having watched the GCSE numbers for Electronic Products and Systems sliding inexorably towards zero. Here is a real opportunity to protect this aspect of D&T – an aspect that seems to be more than ever central to understanding the products that future citizens will interact with, as more and more of these products contain embedded processors, sensing and the ability to connect to the Internet (leading to what is often called the Internet of things). It is likely that there will be significant pushback against this proposal and we want to encourage a broad lobby to keep it in place.

Consultation Action

If you agree that embedded control should be an element of the ‘Technical Principles’ for all pupils, then please explicitly say so in your response – and encourage your contacts, including those from industry, to also support this proposal by responding to the consultation.

We do think that the logic of the proposals suggests that D&T departments will need to rethink their way of working to maximise the opportunities of working across a range of materials. We think it would be a pity if the response to the ‘areas of interest’ was to simply see these as proxies for the ‘old’ material areas and just carry on as before. But we believe that once over the pain of change, teachers will find working collaboratively to be more interesting and stimulating. However this change is not without risks, which we see as follows.

Firstly Head Teachers could see D&T as a single GCSE rather than a suite and use it as an opportunity to reduce the offer for GCSE options. However, we note that within Progress 8 there are three subject slots, the ‘Open group’, in which “any GCSE can count”. This then puts D&T back in the frame as a subject that can ‘count’ in the school’s accountability measures.

Progress 8 measureThe consultation also makes the case that the new specifications will “place greater emphasis on the knowledge and understanding requirements for this subject”, which provides another basis for arguing for its importance in the curriculum.

Each department’s response to this ought to be to use the revised specifications as a lever to raise the profile of D&T as a GCSE subject with all relevant parties; governors, SLT, parents, employers….

And of course it will be essential to have a KS3 D&T curriculum that is so irresistible that pupils and their parents insist on it being available at KS4

Another major risk is that the subject gains programmable components etc. as a part of the ‘Core’ but the required teacher support to enable this to actually happen is neglected. This support needs to include both CPD and access to the right kind of equipment. We’ve seen our ICT colleagues going through a similar change as they morph into teachers of computing – supported by CAS and, critically, some government and industrial funding.

We believe it’s within the ability of the D&T community to similarly embrace and support similar modernisation – but it will require some hard work to make this happen.

Consultation Action

If you agree that D&T teachers should be supported in high quality CPD to allow them to teach the programmable components element of the ‘Technical Principles’, then please highlight this in your response – and again encourage your contacts to do the same.

The second post in this series discusses the DfE’s D&T subject content consultation and, as in this post, suggest Consultation Actions.



8 thoughts on “The GCSE D&T Curriculum Reform Consultations

  1. Maybe I am a minority and I accept that but much of what is being mentioned in these reforms simply makes my heart sink. In particular the idea of only one GCSE fills me with fear especially as being a product designer and product design teacher it does not even appear within the areas of interest. For some of those who were consulted, sitting in posh design studios the idea of a multi disciplined student dipping in and out of a variety of fields, drawing those skills and found knowledge together to make the perfect product may seem like a great thing. However I fear the reality will be less perfect.

    Personally I teach product design and while graphics, resistant materials and electronics seem to stick to their fields, product design is often given freedom within the spec and department to be a little more creative and free. Within the same class I can have wood, metal, lighting and textiles all being used by different students in the same class to suit the needs of their project. It may seem that a single DT GCSE may force more classes to be this diverse but I fear the opposite will occur. Schools will either offer DT but classes will be segregated to the students area of interest so in effect RM, GP and electronics will continue to inhabit their own areas (while product design goes completely) or the school will just do one class and limit scope for choice and variety and limit the number of teachers they need to employ. In product design the kids get to play with 3d cad, laser cutters, 3d printers, do dovetails joints, pewter cast, make furniture, lighting, pewter casting whatever they feel a passion to explore and the removal of this subject will not help DT in my school and I imagine this may be the case in more than just mine.

    Also having taught textiles, electronics, product design, resistant materials, systems and control and graphics at gcse I know each subject has a huge amount of knowledge to be taught if students are to master that discipline. I can not imagine how they can cram all that into one specification without watering it down and I can not imagine how they expect to find teachers who know what a nand gate is and at the same time what a Ragland sleeve is. Also breadth always hold fear for me as I have experienced GCSE graphics exams with questions like ” discuss the benefits of transdermal medication patches” in them in the names of breadth when not one graphic designer I know would know or care about nicotine patches in their line of work.

    I may be a pessimist but this fiddling makes me fear for the subject more than it makes me rejoice.


  2. Stuart

    You are right to point to the involvement of teachers as important and with hindsight I see that it would have been better to involve some teachers. There is however plenty of opportunity for teachers to comment on the proposals and this is being led by the D&T Association through their regional meetings. The tenor of the meeting I attended in London was in fact very positive with regard to the move to a single title. It is, as you point out not without risk. But I think the risk is worth taking for the following reasons.
    First, it enables the subject to establish a set of enduring ideas that define the subject in terms of knowledge, understanding, skills and values independent of any particular material area focus. Such a move is a robust reply to the criticism of the Expert Panel that wanted to lower the status of the subject because it had weak epistemological roots. And it will also prevent ill informed interference at ministerial level in any future attempts to subvert the nature and purpose of the subject.
    Second it enables all young people studying D&T to learn these enduring ideas whatever Area of Interest they might choose. It provides an education in the subject as opposed to simply transmitting a set of skills.
    Third it has the potential to redress the inexorable slide to zero take up of electronics, system and control in the subject. As a pupil, what ever your Area of Interest, whatever you decide to design and make, you will be expected to know something of the enduring ideas related to technical principles. This is has the potential to widen young people’s understanding of and participation in the technical matters that will influence their lives.

    This of course will place a great demand on both pupils and teachers but if we are to modernize the subject and take advantage of the possibilities listed above then I think it is worth both teachers and pupils taking up this challenge. The work of Carol Dweck on Mindsets and John Hattie on Visible Learning both point to the hugely untapped potential of pupils in many classrooms. In D&T we need to use these approaches to enable pupils to become better learners so that they can adopt the T shaped approach. And as teachers we need to collaborate with each other in our teaching. This need not be seen as ‘passing off’ to another teacher but enabling pupils to work with each other and a team of teachers to acquire both breadth and depth.

    The curriculum is a Darwinian space, in no sense a level playing field and only subjects that are ‘fit for purpose’ will survive and thrive. The proposed approach to D&T will I believe enable the subject to demonstrate its worth in a much more coherent way and to stand comparison with other subjects similarly vying for a place in pupils’ education portfolios. This will require those planning their pupils’ D&T learning journey from the outset of KS3 to work as a team to introduce the enduring ideas in a progressive manner so that those who opt for a GCSE in D&T are well positioned to build on and extend this foundation.


  3. Revising the examinations in D&T is long overdue. I recall trying to explain to parents the career paths for children thinking of opting for resistant materials. The same would happen with graphic products. What does a ‘non product’ graphics project look like?
    I share Stuart’s concern over the potential conflict of trying to cover a wide range of general knowledge and skills and expecting depth in an assessed project. Some of the very best projects are when the student has really understood the design challenge, come up with a workable concept and put in the effort and hard work to refine their design through several iterations. As always, ‘the devil is in the detail’.
    Whether we like it or not, schools have become exam factories and teachers are under immense pressure from managers to ‘get results’. Teachers spend lots of time developing approaches that get the best examination grades rather than improving the quality of designing and making.
    I see parallels n the so-called Engineering courses being taught in schools, academies and UTCs. Most are ‘hands on’ with little or no requirement to show design skills or theoretical understanding of materials, manufacturing processes or mechanics. The courses may be addressing the needs of industry for technicians who can make and mend things but they do very little to teach pupils how to “use mathematics and science to create new products”.
    Designed well, a single D&T qualification could reward equally those pupils who have worked across a range of materials and others who have delved much deeper into a narrower field.
    Are those who are developing the new specifications and examinations up to the task of designing something that does this?

    “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” John Dewey.


  4. So no teacher involved in the working group (how typical and how sad! Easy for those who do not currently teach it to proffer on the ideology of how it should be taught). Looks more like we are supporting a carousel system, cross curricular projects, and potentially developing ‘Jack of All’ and ‘Masters of None’!! What about mastery of an area?


    • Hi Stuart
      In response to your first point about involving teachers it’s not that easy given timetable commitments and workload. But all those invited onto the working group do a lot of work with teachers in schools and are in touch with some of the best d&t teachers in the country (yourself included). Working with such teachers has influenced the group’s thinking about what’s possible and desirable for the subject. The mastery question is interesting. It boils down to a breadth versus depth discussion. If we are clear about the enduring ideas that underpin the subject and that these are dealt with in a broad way for a core understanding which is examined by the written paper and in an in depth way through the NEA in the chosen AoI then we have appropriate yet different masteries as required. This is of course a T shaped approach to mastery and as you probably know advocated by IDEO.


      • David,
        Given the importance of what is being discussed, timetable commitments and workloads would of taken a back seat. It is too important not to include the voices of teachers who will eventually have to deliver what is presented.

        I think that what is proposed will severely hit D&T provision in schools. It has already been muted to me that we may not need as many specialist areas under one title i.e. jobs & specialisms removed to only offer that which gets the highest residual / value added! Schools are facing huge financial shortfalls and if areas / jobs are to be cut then Heads / Principals will look to those that cost the most, but are optional.
        The breadth versus depth discussion goes on and on (in CAD as a range of software or mastery of one) and it is easy for practising designers to quote how they resource from pools of knowledge from other areas, however these are educated people, with a desire and willingness to learn more to solve the problem (without the lack of Key Stage time allocated!). When I undertake (or am asked) any design project then I research what I need to know and learn further as and when. A T shaped approach, as you state, desired by IDEO, however we are talking about 14-16 year old students who spend little time in D&T to start with (in comparison to the core). The multi disciplinary approach may be more suited to University level, or maybe not? My own degree was multi-disciplinary and to that end gave me a general design knowledge but mastery of none – I watched others go for jobs that I couldn’t apply for which at the time was very depressing and made me consider that I had chosen the wrong degree. It is an interesting debate and can be argued from either side!
        Personally, I don’t want to teach lots of different areas that may or may not be applicable to projects – in most instances they would not be applicable, and I also don’t wish to ‘pass off’ students to another teacher so that they gain that specialist knowledge (carousel!) because I don’t have the knowledge. If we need to find out something else then we will but don’t prescribe what areas I have to work in, and then be examined on it. I feel, and I may be a lone voice, it to be a detrimental move for D&T (certainly for me here it will be although that will be determined by what the awarding bodies present) and I am not looking forward to the far reaching consequences it may have.


    • There are many teachers who would have loved the opportunity to contribute to the new D&T syllabus process and many that would of been actively supported by their schools. What a CPD opportunity?

      I think it fair to say that the draft syllabus is better than the repair and maintenance edition from a few years ago- but the Areas of Interest are weak. The AOI specialism will, let’s face will be applied in schools, as RM, PD and GP have been and they still do not reflect authentic professions in the industry or courses at university level.

      The AOI read like the CAT’s in the Product Design Specification or in fact the Resistant Materials specification. The design profession includes job titles such as: Fashion Designer, Product Designer, Product Engineer, Graphic Design + Media. With the AOI not authentically connecting to these professions, I suspect the confusion, lack of understanding for design as discipline will become increasingly confusing to our community- certainly take some explaining at parents consultations/evenings.

      I think the result of this work, although well-intended, is naive, lacking in authenticity, and will potentially fail to heighten the awareness of design and secure any nation that is adopting it to fulfil it need to ‘Think Big’ as suggested in Tim Brown TED, and provide the creative, innovative and entrepreneurial folks that we need if we are to get out of the problems that humanity faces right now


      • Hi Paul

        You make very good points with regard to the Areas of Interest. Torben and I gave them a hard time in our response to the consultation. Here’s what we wrote:
        1. Areas of interest (see point 13 of the proposal)
        We welcome the idea of Areas of interest in principle; in particular, in the light of our previous comments about the importance of context, we note that the proposals do, to some extent, offer support for the importance of context.
        We do have a broad concern. It would be easy to see these areas of interest as simply the previous focus areas in disguise. This would not be in the spirit of modernisation that we see reflected in the rest of this new guidance.
        We note, firstly, that the nature of the six proposed Areas are not the same and, secondly, that the examples provided are not always suitably challenging for GCSE.
        The proposed Areas of Fashion, Interiors and furnishing, Advertising and promotion and Leisure are not the same kinds of thing as Consumer electronics and Mechanical systems. The former are ‘areas of life’ (or, possibly, fields of work) that allow for a wide range of product types to emerge from the area of interest, including, importantly, those utilising mechanical and electronic control. Consumer electronics and Mechanical systems, on the other hand, are technical disciplines that require a particular mode of functioning. We must emphasise that we very much do want more pupils to engage with the ‘technical’ aspects of D&T, especially programmable electronics. But it is not clear that trying to force this by contorting the Areas of Interest will be successful; it would be much better to ensure that the technical content that all GCSE D&T students will have to cover is robust enough to provide a basis for them to feel confident that they can apply, say, programmable systems in any Area of Interest.
        We think that the three problems we have identified
        • the interpretation of the new Areas of Interest as a pre-existing focus area
        • the differing nature of the defined Areas of interest
        • the need to encourage students to utilize their understanding of technical principles in their work can be overcome by a change of name that more emphatically signifies the open and interventionist nature of the design & technology endeavour.
        We strongly recommend that the term “Arena of Challenge” replaces the term Area of Interest.
        It is important that the examples given do in fact indicate challenge. Those currently present under Consumer electronics are particularly weak e.g. “products that fulfil a practical need such as torches or light sensors” compared to the other areas of interest. Torches can, clearly, be very sophisticated, but the above could easily be read to suggest that a simple torch (often a KS2 project) might be a suitable GCSE project. The reference to ‘light sensors’ is even more puzzling since it is a peculiarly specific reference to a component or sub-system in an electronic circuit rather than something that (by itself) is a product “that fulfils a practical need”.
        We think that the following would provide suitable Arenas of Challenge:
        • Exploration
        Possible outcomes could include remotely controlled devices to visit, record data and/or take samples from a range of hostile/distant environments
        • Disaster relief
        Possible outcomes could include items concerned with providing short/medium term shelter, clean drinking water, communication with the outside world
        • Living and working spaces
        Possible outcomes could include models for elements of the intelligent sustainable city
        • Waste Management
        Possible outcomes could include items concerned with safe disposal, minimising waste, utilization of waste or eliminating waste
        • Climate change
        Possible outcomes could include items and systems to help individuals and small communities to reduce their carbon footprint
        • Protection
        Possible outcomes could include items for individual protection for people in different situations (leisure pursuits, different occupations, travelling)
        • Safety
        Possible outcomes could include items to keep possessions free from theft, individuals or groups free from harm
        • Comfort
        Possible outcomes could include items to provide physical comfort in a variety of situation or emotional security in times of stress,
        • Hygiene
        Possible outcomes could include systems and devices to be used in the wild, in rural areas, in urban areas, and be concerned with individuals, groups and /or communities
        • Looking good
        Possible outcomes could range from items of apparel, accessories, hair-styles, cosmetics all in the context of occasion, culture and personal intent
        • Challenged communities
        Possible outcomes could include items to enable disadvantaged communities to self-help
        • Health and well being
        Possible outcomes could include items to enable changing lifestyles, to enhance well being in the elderly, promote whole family well being
        (We have taken inspiration for the chosen Arenas of Challenge from the work of the All Party Parliamentary Engineering Group.)
        Much will depends on the way that teachers enable their pupils to learn within Arenas of Challenge and then respond effectively in response to open starting points (we have discussed this further in our response to the Ofqual consultation that is running in parallel with this consultation) and we see this as an area in which many D&T teachers would benefit from relevant and appropriate CPD to help them work in a more integrated way across the traditional material areas.
        As the Arena of Challenge approach to NEA becomes successful it should be possible for schools to identify their own challenges

        It remains to be seen as to whether the DfE take these criticisms seriously. I suspect they will be under some pressure from the Awarding Organisations not to, but leaving the AoIs as they stand will result in little if any movement forward.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s