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